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Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in China

By Nicolas Santo | | Updated: 2016-10-20 15:13

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in China

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with his Uruguayan counterpart Tabare Vazquez during their talks at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Oct 18, 2016. [Photo/Xinhua] 

The night of October 18, 2016 has been forever imprinted in my memory. As is the dream of many Chinese citizens, I was able to meet and speak to - in the very Great Hall of the People, much less - President Xi Jinping. Not only that, but I also was able to chat briefly with the President to introduce myself as the first foreigner to have worked for a unit of the Chinese government, the Foshan Bureau of Commerce. I’ve been wanting to meet President Xi for quite some time. Being the president of China is probably the toughest job in the world - one that requires character. I cannot even begin to imagine how one undertakes the challenging responsibility of governing 1.4 billion people. Not only is he up to the task but, perhaps more importantly, when you look him in the eye, as I did yesterday, you can easily see a heartfelt commitment to the Chinese people and to alleviating some of their day-to-day struggles.

I owe a big part of what happened yesterday evening to Tabare Vazquez, the President of Uruguay, my home country. After hearing my story, he was kind enough to extend me an invitation to the welcome ceremony offered by President Xi. But more so, I owe yesterday’s moment to China and its people. I really could not be more grateful to this country. Since the day I arrived here for my Masters at Tsinghua University back in 2011, China has only given me one great opportunity after another. True, there were many hard times, as living on the other side of the world (quite literally) can be complicated. But I never regretted choosing China as the place to make my dreams come true. I truly love this nation and I am determined to work hard every day to do my part to make it even better than it already is.

President Xi couldn’t have been a better host for the Uruguayan delegation. Receiving such a warm welcome gave me a huge amount of energy to keep working hard for a better China, inputting as much creativity as I can to, as President Xi said when he became Secretary General, "help China to learn more about the world, and the world learn more about China". I always kept in mind that in his book The Governance of China, President Xi says, “empty words harm the country, hard work makes it flourish”. From that first day in the Foshan government, I knew that if I worked hard, I could get as far as I wanted. And I also had the feeling that one day I was going to be able to meet President Xi. Because when you have genuine feelings and work with passion, your dreams come true.

The readers might imagine, however, that this was a path full of obstacles. The reason why I am writing this article is because I would like to share a couple of things I learned in the process. I know that there are many people out there who face similar challenges. So if I had to pick the top 3 things I learned along the way, these would be it:

1. Don’t let anyone fill your heart with negativity. 99% of the people will tell you that you’re crazy or that you're punching above your weight. The paradox is that those who criticize you usually don’t know what you know or what kind of experiences you had throughout your life. They usually speak from a position of ignorance. Yes, you always have to listen. But never let bad intentioned critics get to you.

2. Be always on the look out for your window of opportunity. Yesterday night really went down to those 10 seconds in which president Xi became somewhat available. 10 seconds out of 3,600! Obviously beforehand I knew that finding a moment to greet President Xi was going to be very difficult, close to impossible, but deep inside I also knew that I was going to have one chance. Fortunately, I did. You really need to have a football striker mindset. Focus on the objective. Find the right timing and words. Be genuine. Be effective. And strike!

3. Be grateful. In my quest to meet President Xi there were so many people that helped me by doing stuff that is invisible to third parties. You really need to give back. As Kevin Spacey said, "if you're lucky enough to do well, it's your responsibility to send the elevator back down". So if you have the chance, please do it. You have plenty of little moments during the day to do so.

To President Xi,

Thank you. That brief talk we had is certainly one I'll never forget. Hope to see you again soon!

The author is the first foreign professional that worked directly under a unit of the Chinese government. He's a Tsinghua university graduate and has been a visiting scholar at the Harvard Law School.

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