“ The last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. ”
– Viktor Frankl (1905–1997)
Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist
I was just in the People’s Republic of China, where I was invited to share my ideas on Western weddings with approximately 400 planners, designers, photographers and flower shop owners. While many of them had very little experience with how we do things in the West, they were all very much aware of one simple fact: there are more than 15+ MILLION weddings per year in China, and that number is on the rise. And these days, their clients are demanding more and more that their weddings employ Western influences. My head spun with all of the opportunity, awash in a sea of facts, figures and eager questions.
Han Shuo – founder of The Amazing Wedding Company and its subsidiary, The Amazing Wedding Academy – is a young, smart, go-getting businessman who has invested most of his life savings to make this venture work. He has assembled a wonderful team of hungry young professionals who are wide-eyed to what is in front of them, and it was the fruit of this endeavor, the 2011 International Wedding Industry Forum, to which I had been invited to speak. While those in attendance had paid a significant fee to further enrich their investments in the Chinese wedding industry, it was really the sincerity and eagerness with which they strove to learn that spoke to my heart. The hunger that was present didn’t come from greed, but rather from truly wanting to understand how to succeed in building a quality service business. It’s a strange feeling, walking up to a podium in front of 400 people and being met with radio silence. But the air of concentration was extraordinary. I spoke for three hours and it seemed that no one moved.
At lunch, I mentioned to Han Shuo that I had noticed some people who wanted to have their pictures taken with me – and of course that I was happy to oblige. His staff, however, swiftly swooped in and forbade it. It was curious. I told them I was perfectly fine with it, but Han Shuo grinned and told me if we allowed for photographs, we’d get nothing done. Still I persisted that after my talk, if anyone wanted pictures, I would be fine with it. It just seemed silly to me not to. He tried to warn me one last time but he conceded and then we didn’t speak again about it.
When I finished my speech, Han Shuo got up on stage to wrap up the days proceedings, and I noticed his tone change. He sounded like a stern father, which I was surprised to see coming from such a young face. My interpreter explained that he was giving the audience very clear instructions on how to line up for photographs with me. I was really shocked that this was becoming such a big deal. But then it happened. Before Han Shuo could even finish, I saw people running for the line. Han Shuo nodded to me and my interpreter and said “You’re on!” Back up on the stage we went and only then did I realize that almost the entire room had lined up to have their picture taken with us! I was equal parts flabbergasted and honored.
As we bowed, shook hands and smiled at the hundreds of cameras, I realized something so moving: each person was thrilled to be there. This was truly an enormous culmination of hard work and, for many of these people, a payoff for hard-earned money. These were professionals who’d risen to the top of their field, a moment for which they were immensely proud, and which they wanted to remember. I saw first-hand a community of people experiencing newfound freedoms that they had not previously known and I was absolutely thrilled for them.
I think in the West we sometimes have a tendency to take our opportunities for granted. I was definitely reminded the first night I arrived in China, when I went to sign in to Facebook and Twitter accounts, only to be met with government blocks. My interpreter just smiled when I mentioned it to her. I’m writing this from the plane to Newark, and I think, just maybe, when I sign in to my Facebook tonight and share some of my experiences, I’ll have a little more appreciation for my blessings. The blessing of freedom of expression. The blessing of landing in New York 15 years ago with something like $300 in my pocket. The blessing to have grown a company to where it is now. The blessing of opportunities to meet extraordinary people like the ones I met in China this past week.
The Secret Ingredient: Freedom of the spirit that cannot be quelled.