Have you ever done something totally out of character (and yet at the same time perfectly safe) and have it turn out to be the most awesome thing ever? Yeah, sometimes risks are like that. If we become too risk-averse, we are giving up joy without even knowing it
About Host Jen McFarland
Jen McFarland ditched her comfy C-suite tech project management job in pursuit of freedom. Jen’s goal is to help business leaders like you vet ideas, take ownership of their projects, and incorporate digital marketing from day one.
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Transcript: This is Why Risk Can Be Awesome
[music] My name is Jen McFarland. I help business owners like you lead, plan, and execute their projects for maximum impact. Women-lead businesses receive less funding, yet our businesses are more successful. As consumers, we hold the purse-strings. It’s time for us to take on the business world. Welcome to Women Conquer Business. [music]
Hey. Hey. Hey. It’s me, Jen McFarland. I’m sitting here on a Friday afternoon, at the Riveter, and I can tell you that hardly anybody came in today, and those of us who are here have had a very difficult time focusing. I don’t know why I felt like I needed to tell you that, but I’m sure everybody out there has had a day where they know that they need to do a lot of work, and yet the work is just not happening. More than anything, you’re not alone. You got this, and we’ll figure it out.
Today’s Topic Relates to An Experience in Kazakhstan
And I’ve just had this story on my mind for a while, and I think I finally figured out why, so I thought I would share it with you. I’ve talked before a little bit about Peace Corps, and one of the things I don’t think I’ve talked about is really how I met Rayhan who was my best friend.
I mean, Jon is my best friend, my husband. But my best friend during the entire time that I was living in Kazakhstan— she’s a wonderful, wonderful young woman, and I miss her every day because she’s not on Facebook or social media, and as far as I know, she doesn’t have an email account, or if she does, she wouldn’t know how to get mine because she didn’t have one when I left Kazakhstan in 2006.
So this is someone that was very important to me for a two-year period. Her family took care of me and my husband, cooked us food. We spent a lot of time drinking tea. We were teaching her English, but in any sort of exchange, you’re always learning something from the other person, and that’s certainly true in Peace Corps where you are learning so much, in any sort of cultural exchange, that sometimes it’s more than anything you could possibly each.
Rayhan is a Kurd: A Little Bit About Kurds
So Rayhan is Kurdish living in Kazakhstan. Her passport says she’s Azerbaijani, which if you don’t know, Kurds are people without a country. In fact, many times, when you hear in the news about Kurdish people fighting or wars that involve Kurdish people, really most of the fighting in terms of what Kurdish people want is they want their land or they want a country near where their people have always lived. So it’s very difficult to be people without a country. It means that on things like your passport – in Kazakhstan, on passports it has a person’s nationality — Kazakhstan doesn’t even recognize that as their nationality. Kurdish isn’t a nationality because there’s no nation which is tied to the land.
So it’s a very long conversation or a description of what it means to be a Kurd, but I think it’s important. I think it’s important to talk about these things because certainly, I didn’t know all of this before I met Rayhan and her family.
Brief Backstory on Why Kurds Are In Kazakhstan
The other story that’s just a little backstory about this is that I’ve been watching some shows about World War II, and one of the things that people don’t realize – because in Word War II, Russia was on the same side as the United States – is that we always talk about the holocaust – and we should talk about the holocaust – and there was also another ethnic cleansing going on at the same time in Russia because Stalin was just not a good person.
And the reason why I would be meeting Kurds and Chechens and people from Turkey, all in my little village in Kazakhstan is because they were robbing people of their homes. Some people were killed, putting them on trains where many people died. And they had to leave all their possessions behind and sending people to places like Kazakhstan.
So the Chechens, for example, another people without a country, lost their land. It is sad and distressing and another period of history that just doesn’t seem to get talked about enough, which is, Stalin was trying to make Russia completely Russian, and then take over areas like Chechnya, which are oil-rich areas but also the homeland of Chechens. And so in the time where we were in Kazakhstan was when there were some Chechens who held up a theater,
I think, and there were a lot of people who were held hostage for a long period of time. And it was an interesting time because we were listening on a short-wave radio to news stories about it. Most of the news that we got was British and about how afraid and all of the things that were going on. And then at the same, the teacher that I was working with, Tabari, was telling me stories about Chechens and Chechnya and the atrocities that had gone on, that would’ve actually led to people feeling like they needed to, out of desperation, hold people hostage.
Geopolitical Stuff Is Hard to Navigate
Now I’m not advocating that it’s okay to hold people hostage. All I’m saying is there’s a lot of complexity to a lot of geopolitical stories that we hear in the news. That unless you’ve actually talked to people from that part of the world, you don’t really know. Because we’re only told a certain part of the story when we watch it on the news.
So all of that backstory actually is relevant in that, when we’re in a culture, things happen, and they may be unlike anything that you’ve experienced in your life. And I want to relate that to what it’s like to run a business, where you are often placed in situations [laughter] that you’ve never been in before for the first time in your life.
And Now, Back to the Story
Let me take you back to the story in Kazakhstan. So my husband and I lived in Turgen. This was during our Peace Corps training. And we lived with this wonderful family, Mama Demira and Louisa, who is like our sister. And it was a beautiful house.
It was like this amazing little compound and one of the reasons why Kazakhstan has so many married couples, like my husband and I, is that the Soviet Union suffered a lot of losses in World War II, and in Afghanistan, and in other conflicts. As such, they lost an entire generation of men, and then that’s compounded by the fact that men don’t live as long in that country. So there are a lot of widows who have beds that can hold two people. So at the time— Peace Corps isn’t in Kazakhstan anymore.
But at the time, it was one of the few countries where it was really easy for married couples to, you know, go to the same country and have a room and a bed. And we had to live with a family for quite a while because the weather is so harsh there. So during training, my husband and I were almost always together. We would walk, it was probably, I don’t know, a couple of miles to the school, maybe, and a nice easy breezy walk.
But it took us quite a while to get to school every day compared to everybody else. But it was a lovely walk and my husband and I were almost always together, talking, not really paying a lot of attention. Everybody’s always watching you all the time, because it’s like, the Americans. You’re always kind of different. And for some reason, and I can’t even remember now because it’s been over ten years, Jon went home ahead of me, and I stayed late to do something. So we didn’t walk back together. We didn’t have cell phones. I didn’t know the phone number of Momma Demira and Louisa. But everybody knew that I was going to be a little bit later than Jon, so that wasn’t a big deal. So Jon is not with me.
Walking Alone in Kazakhstan, Taking a Risk
I am walking home by myself. Again, everybody’s watching me. I go by this house that I have never paid attention to before. Probably a little over halfway home and this woman comes rushing out. And my Russian is terrible at this point. Probably about as bad as it is now which is to say I didn’t really speak a lot of Russian.
And this woman comes out and is trying to get me to go into her house. And I was like, “What? What’s going on?” I think I really was just sort of unclear about what could possibly be going on because my American brain was like, “Certainly this person that I don’t know is absolutely not asking me and expecting me to go into her home.” But that’s exactly what she wanted.
It wasn’t clear to me that I was to go into the house and then wait. So I’m like checking in, and I’m like, “Well, this is really weird. This doesn’t happen at home. I’m still really new here.” And at the same time, my spidey sense was sort of like, “But it’s going to be okay.”
I would never do something if I really felt sure like, “Oh, man. This is going to be bad.” So I was like, “Okay. I feel relatively safe. It’s weird.” So I go into the house.
I Enter A Stranger’s House But Don’t Know Why
And I kind of— they take me into kind of a— most of the houses there don’t really have a dining room. It’s kind of an eating area that’s kind of adjacent to the kitchen. And they’re like, “Here. Sit down here.” And there’s nothing on the table. And I just kind of sit down. I’m like, “Okay. I’m here.” And they make tea, and they give me tea. I’m like, “Okay.”
So then the woman who has brought me in from the street to sit down at the table picks up the phone and is speaking super, super rapidly. I hear my name in the midst of a bunch of words that I don’t understand.
And I’m like, “Okay. She’s calling somebody about me, and I don’t really know these people. I don’t know what’s going on.”
… But The Hospitality is Amazing
So I just sit there, and I drink tea. And they start cooking all kinds of things in the kitchen and just start like putting out— I mean, it is like— the thing that is maybe the most memorable about the entire experience of Kazakhstan was just the unending hospitality from people who just didn’t have a lot.
But they were willing to be so giving and be willing to share with you and share their experiences and talk to you. And it was like the most incredible and amazing thing, right?
So here’s somebody that I don’t know. I come in off of the street. And they’re cooking a spread. I mean, it is like a buffet of all the food that they have that they can whip up together. I mean, clearly, stuff that they just had because they didn’t know I was going to walk by, by myself. And so I’m just sitting there. I’m like, “Do I eat this? What’s going on? This is taking a really long time. I don’t know how to call anybody.”
So I’m starting to freak out just because I think people are going to be worried.
And Then I Meet The Person I Was Brought To See
And then this woman walks in, young woman probably about 20, 21 years old. Very, very shy. It turns out that the woman who brought me in off of the street was Rayhan’s aunt. And when they saw me walk by, by myself, meaning I wasn’t with a man, my husband— but I wasn’t with a man.
They knew that they had the chance for Rayhan to meet me.
Because they didn’t know Jon. So culturally they didn’t really want him there because they wanted to make sure Rayhan was safe, and they knew that I would be safe. Just culturally it makes sense. So I come in.
Rayhan comes in, and her aunt is like, “She speaks English.” That’s what I gathered from the Russian and I say, “Hello.” And Rayhan says, “Hello.”
And we talk. And it’s very beautiful and very awkward. And we eat together.
And I realize that this is somebody who has never ever spoken to anybody who is a native English speaker. Of course. I mean, she lives in a small village, not too far from the capital, but it might as well be a million miles away. So all of the people with privilege who live in the former capital of Almaty, they have, maybe, encountered native English speakers before. But this young woman never has.
So we have this chance meeting. It happened once. We sat down for not even that long, maybe hour. Something like that. And it was very lovely. I go home. Demira loses her mind on me. I’m like, “I didn’t even know your phone number.” Jon loses his mind on me.
Everything, right? But it was a lovely experience. I didn’t, at the time, remember Rayhan’s name. Probably within a month of meeting her, we move off to another village. And I thought that that was that. Well, things happened, and that village didn’t really work out. So about four or five months later, we roll back into Turgen. This time to live there permanently. And I had been working at my school for a while. Jon had been working at his school for a while.
Out of nowhere, one day, everybody’s like, “Jennifer, there are people wanting to talk to you at the school.” And I’m like, “Oh, it must be Jon because I don’t know anybody else here.” And it’s Rayhan and two friends. And it turns out that the three of them were at the local college, which I didn’t even know Turgen had a college.
But the three of them were at a college. And they heard that the Americans were back. And Rayhan and I were thrilled that we got to see each other again. And what happened out of all that was this lovely friendship where– so the first time Jon came to Rayhan’s house with me, her family freaked out.
And then they met him. After that, they were like, “Oh. It’s Jon.” So culturally, it took a while for them to meet Jon. But once they did, they realized Jon was like a brother. I think she learned a lot of English. We certainly learned a lot about what it means to be Kurdish, about different traditions and things like that.
How Does This Relate to Business?
The point of the story is not to take your own safety at risk, certainly, right? But it is to say that you have these opportunities all the time in business, right?
You have these chance meetings and things that happen that seem kind of weird, that don’t seem like they quite fit in to what you have in mind as a business owner, right? And you’re feeling kind of like, “I don’t know. Should I do this? Should I not do this?” Who am I to tell you the answer to that question every time? One of the things that we have talked about is how, in order to grow, you need to take risk. And taking risk is a part of success because success is related to growth. It’s like a big spiral, right? Or a big inner-related web of concepts, right?
Well, part of the risk is saying yes and, sometimes, no. But in this case, we’re talking about saying yes to something that seems new and different and, possibly, a little strange, that, at the same time, your intuition or your spidey sense or your gut instinct is telling you that it’s probably going to be okay. If you say no to everything, you never get to meet Rayhan. If you stay completely in your lane that tells you that, culturally, this is the way that things get done, if you stay there, you never get to meet the Rayhans of your life.
You never get to bridge those deals. You never get to cross those bridges and dot those I’s and cross those T’s and write those big checks and get those big checks. Because sometimes, sometimes, you have to be willing to take that leap of faith.
You have to be willing to do that thing that seems so crazy, but, at the same time, if you don’t do it, then you’re never going to know. And sometimes it’s the most beautiful thing that could ever happen. So take those risks. Meet those new people. Do those new things. Thank you so much for listening.
[music] Hey, ladies. I know you’re working so hard to grow your business. A business that aligns with your vision and your values. A business that supports your lifestyle. And I know it’s been a bumpy ride sometimes. I see it all the time. Women overspending on shiny objects and magic pills because they’re tired of not seeing results. Business decisions based on short-term gains without a critical eye toward the future. Most heartbreaking of all, women who walk away because it’s just too damn hard. The good news is you’re not alone. You have support all around you. If you’re ready to take joyful action on your biggest business goals, if you need strategy, accountability, and a path to get you exactly where you want to go, let me know. Because I’m here to support you as a consultant strategist. You can fill out a quick application to work together at jenmcfarland.com/ready. I’ve opened up just a few spots over the next couple of months for clients who are ready to make a move. It just takes a few minutes at jenmcfarland.com/ready. [music]
In addition to solving hairy marketing operations problems, I host one of the best business podcasts for women, the Women Conquer Business podcast, which provides actionable strategies, business how-to’s, and real-world advice from subject matter experts and entrepreneurs to help you grow, nurture, and sustain your business. But if you want the REAL story, I am an uber-nerd who loves dad jokes, building seamless systems, and helping leaders find more joy in their work.