We entered Russia from Ukraine on the M14, just off the Sea of Azof coast, on a blazing Sunday in late June. At the border, we were asked to step inside and meet with an official. That was a first! We’d usually been left to suffer the elements for hours before getting our documents back and been allowed in-country. Between my 30 words of Russian and the official’s non-existent English, we were seriously challenged. Most questions were beyond my comprehension, but I understood what he was asking when he joined his hands together as in a prayer, leaned his head sideways over them and closed his eyes. “Where do you sleep?”, finally something I knew the answer to.
Me: палатка! (pronounced “palatka”, which means tent)
He shook his head slightly in disbelief, stamped our passports and we were free to go.
Foreign visitors entering Russia have 72 hours following arrival to register their presence in-country. This is usually done at a hotel. Since we had no intention of paying for accommodation, we roamed around town in search of an immigration office; We’d heard through the travellers’ grapevine we could register our presence there.
This is how I found myself sitting in a government office the following day. In all honesty, I am not sure what branch of government I was dealing with but sitting across me was a middle-aged woman with whom I could not communicate (again!) and who was clearly wondering how to help this poor child. At a loss, she leaned sideways and fished a personal cell phone out of her purse and dialed a number. A faint male voice could be heard at the other end of the line… and then she beckons me to take the phone. Hesitantly, I accepted. “Hello?”, I said. The male voice belonged to one Robert (“call me Bob” he said). Bob spoke an American-style English without any noticeable accent. He asked me a few questions about our predicament and instructed me to go back outside and wait for him. He’d meet us there.
Upon exiting the building and meeting with Yanick, he looks at me expectantly. “We’re to stay put and wait for Bob to show up.” Ok.
A little while later, Bob arrived. He was wearing jeans and a shirt, was clean-shaven, tanned and accompanied by a driver. One of us was to go with him while the other stayed put and kept an eye on the bikes and gear. “I’ll go”, I said since my luck was better than Yanick’s with official dealings.
Bob got back on the front passenger seat of the car while I a seated myself at the back. Light pop music played on the radio and could feel the hot summer air on my face through the open windows. We were off for what seemed like a long tour of town. I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the ride.
The driver eventually pulled in a driveway and parked behind a very large wooden house – most likely a Гостиница (pronounced “gostinitsa” or hotel). Bob turned around, his left arm over the seat and asked for our passports. It was time to deal. Our travel documents in hand, he left for the house. The driver stayed in the car with me, music continued to play on the radio, once more I sat back and waited.
And then Bob came back.
Bob: OK, it’s all arranged for you. You can get this stamp in your passport to avoid any issue with the police.
Me: That sounds good.
Bob: It’ll be 500 USD.
Me (lying to buy time to think): Wow, that’s a lot of money I don’t have with me right now. Anyway, this decision is not just mine to make and I’d like to discuss it with my husband first.
Bob (calling my bluff): This offer is only valid now. Take it or leave it.
Here’s what going on inside.
Logically, the deal is straightforward. I pay a hefty bribe in exchange for a fake stamp in my passport that would presumably avoid complications should we be “controlled” later.
Emotionally, I almost feel entertained by the whole situation. So, this is adventure in the making!
My gut is telling me that everything will be ok. This is a fear-based gimmick and there are no guarantees it will be needed nor useful.
Me: No deal.
Bob spoke to the driver in Russian. Engine start. We’re going back.
Reunited with Yanick, he naturally wanted to know the goings-on. Bob stood aside, looking at us with mild disinterest. As I wished to have a private conversation with my husband, I switched to French (our first language) and explained simply the deal and my conclusion; If we ever got ourselves in a situation where a bribe is the only way out, we most likely could get off for a lot less than $500. At this point, Bob took a few steps closer and addressed Yanick, “Oui, votre femme a raison” (“Yes, your wife is right”) in perfect French! He then proceeded to explain how such transaction is done and the ‘rate’. He was also kind enough to procure a road map for us the next morning.
And I knew I’d made the best call.
In our 10-day race from Rostov-on-Don to Astrakhan (via Volgograd) and the Kazakh border, we were controlled once by police and did not pay a single bribe.
Pay attention to your motivation for deciding one way or another. Are you trying to avoid something? Do you feel you “have to” or “need to”? Powerful decisions are those made with intent and purpose to create something desirable.
Keep your mind open to possibilities without judging them as “good” or “bad”. Releasing judgement will help you accept what is and use discernment.
Focus on what’s in your control – heaven knows the list of things you cannot control is endless (from what others do to economic conditions).
Stop putting pressure on yourself to make the “right” decision and focus on making the “best” decision given the information at hand and your intent and purpose. Every decision made (even postponing the decision) causes ripple effects that are always more complex than you think. And only hindsight sheds light on the rightness of a decision.
We make decisions with our heads, our hearts and our guts. The secret to making quick and accurate decisions is to give equal importance to all three ways of deciding. In business, logic decisions tend to be valued above heart and gut-feel decisions.
As is often the case, balance yields more accurate results.
The best decision is reached when alignment is found between the mind, the heart and the gut.
Conscious choice is a choice made in full awareness, objectivity, and without fear.
It is available in stress-free conditions, when circumstances are accepted free of judgement. Conscious choice happens in the moment, is devoid of hesitation, second-guessing, guilt or fear about the past or the future.
It’s key to effective leadership, whether leaders are making an every day micro decision or setting strategic direction.