Guess what readers? It took me 25 hours to go from Dallas to Germany a while back.
But don’t feel sorry for me because that trip was one of my best ever. Now before telling me to get a checkup from the neck up, bear with me for a moment. I’ll get to the rest of the story further down. I first need to come clean with you on a revelation.
I’ve got this unabated interest in relationships. It’s in my DNA. So whenever I come across opportunities to probe relationships, I’m all over it. Fixing broken relationships and understanding great ones keep my juices flowing. “The impossible is far too often untried” is my mantra.
Now this interest in relationships got me thinking about the thread between how we live our lives and the example we can set for others. It also got me thinking about how shifts in mind-sets can help us appreciate what we often take for granted and choose learning versus angst in those situations where we have little or no control. This interest has helped me learn to relish the inconvenience.
Back to my odyssey
All this came together for me during that trip to Düsseldorf, Germany at the request of my good friend Wolfram to speak at a conference. Let me tell you about some of my experiences. That way you’ll know why I suggest we make “relishing the inconvenience “a stress reducer, a health and wellness priority, a core competency in a global economy.
Things got off to a wobbly start at the ticket counter when I learned that my itinerary had been canceled. I took a deep breath. A few anxious minutes later the ticket agent discovered that some other Howard’s flight got canceled, not mine. Our light laughter took the edge off the situation. After that it was one calamity after another.
A weather-related flight delay in Dallas led to a missed flight in Chicago, which led to an unscheduled stop in London. And I finally got to Munich just late enough to miss the flight to Dortmund. But I arrived safely and that’s what really mattered. (Besides, if you get stuck in airports, I can’t think of better ones than those in Dallas, Chicago, London and Munich.)
On to my next calamity.
Luggage tumbled out of the chute. One by one bags got snatched up and travelers headed to the exits. Suddenly I was the last person left. I stared blankly at a now motionless carousel as reality set in. My luggage did not make it with me. The only clothes I had were those on my back, wrinkled and sweaty ones at that.
Now what? Do I wave my fists at the now stopped chute? Do scream and cuss at the now motionless conveyer belt? The absurdity of those options became real when I couldn’t recall a single incident of baggage magically appearing after bouts of rants and raves.
Enter Petra, my host.
It doesn’t get any better than having the help of someone like Petra during such times. Her warm personality, fluidity with language and calming sense of humor helped me deal with the challenges present and the ones ahead.
Petra got me to my hotel and the airport the next morning and cool-headedly led me to a clothing store in the airport when we discovered that my bags still hadn’t arrived.
She waited patiently as I searched for a shirt and tie. After attempts to squeeze into pants and shoes designed for smaller people and twenty-somethings proved futile, the wrinkled slacks and sandals I had on didn’t seem so bad after all. I caught a glimpse of Petra laughing at the hilarity of my situation in the background. Well, I decided to laugh along with her.
Finally we joined an audience at the conference of more than 60 German CEOs and VPs in Düsseldorf where I was on the agenda to speak in three hours. It didn’t take me long to discover that everyone there spoke German except me. All presentations were in German. Now what? Do I duck out and do e-mail or do I sit through it all?
Then it hit me. I’d just been presented with still another learning opportunity, a chance to experience firsthand how some feel when they live and work in situations where they don’t speak the mainstream language. My inconvenience, however, was temporary. So I hung in there and even learned a few German words. In short, I chose not to be excluded. I chose to relish the inconvenience.
When I finally got back to the hotel room I found that I no longer had hot water in the shower. Resisting the urge to complain, I decided to live with cold showers. Why? Because here again my dilemma was temporary. There are millions of people on this earth who do not have the option of a shower, let alone hot water.
Moral of my story
At the start of the journey home, I glanced at the global newswire and discovered that many airports, including the one I was headed to in Frankfurt, were on extra high security alert because of terrorist stirrings in Afghanistan. And yet I noticed that hundreds of travelers moved about seemingly unfazed by the news. My perspective changed significantly when I realized that people across the world have carried on their lives under such conditions long before 9/11.
So the moral of my story is this: Relish the inconveniences that are sometimes thrown your way. They’re usually temporary, seldom fatal and offer great opportunities for learning about yourself and others. Those precious moments of inconvenience just may introduce you to a “Petra” or two, or three, or four.
Don’t get all worked up about circumstances over which you have no control. A healthy mix of patience, perspective, personal awareness and relationships with truly great people can help you through the many challenges that will certainly come your way.
In the end, and as for the human side of my experience, it does not get much better than Petra, Wolfram, Hans-Martin and others who made my trip to Germany, inconveniences and all, one that I would not trade or change for anything.
As the old saying goes, “It’s not that life is too short; it’s that death is so long.”