Failure, Mindfulness and Gratitude

I was on a JetBlue flight that hit a bird.

Well, it hit a bird on its way to Raleigh. Apparently, nobody thought it was a big deal. We boarded the aircraft as if the bird incident were just a minor inconvenience.

Bird? What bird? That’s not a hazmat crew scrubbing off a dead goose. We’ve got goals, people, and we need to make our on-time departure.

The JetBlue people were kind enough when the flight was canceled, but my first speaking engagement in a very long time became a logistical nightmare. I was headed to a small town in Vermont without an airport in the first place, so making my connecting flight was important. I ended up flying to Boston on Delta and renting a one-way car from Enterprise with no satellite radio. I listened to AM radio while driving through the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont.

I drove for three hours in the darkness of the night behind an eighteen-wheeler in a no-passing zone.

On the way home, I had an early morning commute through the mountainous fog. I tried to leave my rental car at an offsite location, but it was impossible to get to the airport because no taxis were available.

Have you ever just ditched a rental car in a random airport parking lot and asked someone else to deal with it? There’s a first time for everything in my life. I went to the Rutland Airport, abandoned the car, and boarded a Cessna like Warren Beatty in a Carly Simon song.

My entire trip was insanely chaotic, but it was also a serendipitous opportunity to test out what I’ve learned from Duke’s MBSR training and GlitchPath over the past eighteen months.

First of all, I’ve become an excellent project manager. I believe that if you can see failure, you can beat it. I saw the entire arc of my trip laid out before me when I boarded that doomed JetBlue flight, and I was able to tap into my inner defensive pessimist and predict how our modern transportation system would fail me.

Seeing how things will fail isn’t enough, though. Sometimes the defensive pessimist in me becomes a Debby Downer and my world collapses. I’ve been practicing mindfulness, though, and I was able to calm my central nervous system. Once I soothed my inner pessimist, I shifted into the mode of a strategic optimist and focused on solving my transportation obstacles.

Finally, it was super-important for me to practice gratitude while in the midst of all this chaos. I’m not great at it, though. I looked around at my fellow travelers and offered up hearty thanks for my comfortable life. I wasn’t lugging around a bunch of kids who were having epic meltdowns while mommy was trying to rebook a flight. Also, I have some money. That helps.

I was truly grateful to spend time with Jennifer McClure. She came to Vermont for no reason other than to hang out with me and see the foliage. The trees were about a week away from being beautiful, but we made the most of our time together. We drove up to the Canadian border, around Lake Champlain, and back down to our hotel through New York state.

We also had dinner with hundreds of HR ladies. The evening’s after-dinner entertainment? A group of female comics. One of the attendees whispered to me, “They are gay.”

They weren’t all gay, for the record, which was sorta disappointing. But how many HR conferences have a feminist comedic troupe as the evening’s entertainment? Not Ohio or Wisconsin SHRM, that’s for sure. It was a treat.

I’m really sorry that my JetBlue plane hit a bird — mostly because that poor animal is dead for no reason — but the past week turned out to be okay. I was able to practice what I’ve learned about project management and anticipate failure. I calmed my brain when the world seemed chaotic. And I spent time with a fabulous friend and appreciated my tremendous good luck and fortune.

But I’m not anxious to get on an airplane anytime soon.