You’re in a long security line at the airport. A LONG line. A frazzled, middle-aged, perspiring, blonde woman rushes up from behind. “Excuse me! My plane is leaving! May I cut in line?” In that moment, what do you think? Perhaps some of the more gracious of us think, “Oh…poor thing. I hope she catches her flight.” Others of us may think, “Really? Why is this my problem?” or “If she prepared better and planned ahead she wouldn’t be in this situation.” Honestly, I would probably be in the later camp. Except that this time, the woman was me.
Two newsletter articles ago I wrote about the man who had a heart attack on the plane and probably died. I was so upset and flustered that I forgot I had a connecting flight. I realized it on the rental car shuttle in the wrong city. To have any chance at making my connection I had to get back through the long security line. I was forced to politely ask for a favor from strangers. Most were great. I only got a couple of exasperated looks. There was no time to explain the unusual circumstances (how often does a person have a massive heart attack on a plane?) that led to my predicament. I asked, said thank you, kept moving and ignored the looks.
At one time or another, we all created a story from circumstances and slim information. And then believe the story! The boss slings edgy comments at you in the meeting and you think, “Oh no! She’s dissatisfied with my work!” When the real situation is that she’s exhausted after landing at 1am. Or a team member doesn’t get a deliverable in on time and you think, “NOW what are we going to do? He let us down.” But the real situation is that this team member was in the hospital emergency room all night with his kid’s asthma. The range of options is innumerable and we can’t image them all. Instead we create a story that usually includes us and believe it.
Those stories are destructive and stress inducing. It only takes a bit of perspective to put the stories in their rightful place which is to eliminate them.
- Take in the situation. When disappointed or upset by a situation, take it in without judgment, and take a breath to slow down the mental storytelling that’s gearing up.
- Detach you from the situation. When you hear the story beginning in your mind, remind yourself that the situation is not likely about you and that there is more going on than you know.
- Reframe the situation. Remind yourself of the vast range of options that could be impacting this situation. Your assumptions are bound to be wrong and likely unfair. Open up to the possibilities.
I made my flight that day but only because person after person graciously allowed me through. They will never know the story of that day. And we may never know the real stories behind each situation we encounter but we can take a broader and kinder view that allows for options beyond our imagination.