Choosing Who You Want To Be

Imagine you are on your way, with your family, to a long awaited and much needed vacation. You’ve left the pressures of work behind, and you are waiting for your flight to somewhere sunny and warm. And then you hear that your flight is delayed, without much more info than that. You look around, and other passengers are getting angry. Some even yell at the gate attendant, who is being as professional, calm and compassionate as can be. And even though you aren’t up in arms, your blood pressure is rising too.

We’ve all been there. A couple of days ago, My friend Deborah Grayson Riegel, a well known executive coach, author, and inspiring speaker, was watching this happen. Here’s what she did. Deborah shared:

“So I got myself on the long line of people waiting to talk to him, and when it was my turn, I said, “I just want to thank you. You’re doing a great job keeping calm and cool in the midst of so much frustration.”

“Thank you,” he said. “Now what can I help you with?”

“Nothing,” I replied. “That’s all I wanted to say.”

He was surprised that I had no requests, and a few people in line behind me agreed that he was doing a great job.”

I’m going to paraphrase Deborah’s object lessons for how one can think and act in a tough situation with grace, empathy, and calm.

  • Who are you going to be, the person who makes everyone’s problem even more disheartening by responding with rage, or the person who looks for a way to make everyone’s experience a bit less stressful?
  • When someone is doing all they can for you, it’s appropriate to thank them and convey your appreciation, with no strings attached.
  • Every situation has inherent risks, and traveling during holiday season comes with some obvious (pardon the pun) baggage - namely the possibility, even likelihood, of delay or disruption. Sometimes anger is a result of being unprepared or surprised and not having thought about how to react. Well, we can all give it a little thought, and manage our reactions better.

Taking Deborah’s experience as a starting point, I think there is a larger lesson here. We can choose, at every stage, how we will respond - to need, to crisis, to perceived insult, and yes, to inconvenience. We all have been graced with free will. How we exercise it - being a helper or a donor, being a compassionate and effective responder, being a level headed peacemaker, or being a calm, empathetic presence - that can be how we define ourselves, how we are seen, how we are remembered.

Wishing you all a wonderful Chag, a trouble free winter break, and a safe weekend as we encounter some challenging weather. Stay warm!