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Leadership, Life, Teaching and Learning

This Being Human is a Guest House

November 16, 2018, Author: Chris Breen

I woke early this morning with a deep sense of satisfaction. The previous day I had finished my last intensive 6-day Personal Leadership programme for the year. This last module had been an amazing experience! Fantastically courageous participants had the courage to share their personal stories at an extremely deep level on day one and do some amazing work under the magical guidance of Di and Genie. On day 2 they were with me alone and each person made powerful public commitments as to the changes they planned to make in their lives by the time we meet again for a check-in session in six months’ time.

The group had also written some powerful affirmations in each person’s diary and I read mine just before going to sleep.

I was still glowing with their words this morning as I drove to the airport at 7 am. This was well in time for my 9am flight – those who know me will know that I am a very seasoned traveller and do not like to arrive at the last minute!.

All was good and as it should be…

And then the gods stepped in!

My boarding gate was D6 with boarding due to begin at 8.20. I arrived just before this time and was greeted with the sight of everyone seated and the sight above. Clearly the plane has been delayed. I take a seat away from the maddening crowds and start watching a show on my tablet – of course keeping one eye open for the arrival of my plane. There were a few false alarms as planes appeared to be heading towards me but then they moved on…

Suddenly something made me look up and, instead of looking at the empty gate, I looked around me. To my horror I discovered that the whole space was empty and I was alone apart from a single person at the DG gate.

Hinge Moment 1. Panic!

Oh, heck they’ve obviously changed the gate without my knowing. I’d best get a move on. I jump up and rush to talk to the man. “Where has everyone gone? Which is our new gate?”

He looks strangely at me and says, “They’re already on the flight”. He points to the plane which seems to be sitting at gate D7.

“That can’t be true”, I say, and start pointing out how logic says that the bridge that comes out directly from D6 must be the one with no plane.

He is not interested in my logic. “The walkway goes along the building first and only then moves out. And I’m sorry to say that the flight has closed and you have missed your flight!”

Hinge Moment 2. Ah no! More serious PANIC!

The last time I missed a flight many years before, I had made an error in my online booking and actually booked for the following day. I had arrived at the airport only to be told of my mistake at check-in. All flights for the rest of that Friday on all airlines were booked and I had to fly down on the Saturday – unable to attend the U2 concert for which I already had an expensive ticket!

I started babbling. “Oh no. This can’t be happening! I was at the airport way in advance of my flight. I’ve been sitting in that seat over there for 40 minutes waiting for the flight to arrive. I can’t miss my flight. The doors are still open. Please open this door and let me in”.

He phones someone and they say no – the flight is closed.

I up the ante. “I’m a university professor and I have never done anything like this before. I really need to get back to Cape Town on this flight. Please can’t you make it work for me and get me on the flight”. I play my trump card, “and I have a bag on the plane”.

He phones someone else who seems to be taking a while to answer. I burst out a loud “oh thank you, very much”.

He puts down the phone and, when he turns to me, I can see by the look on his face that I am not going to enjoy his answer.

Hinge moment 3. I am not going to get onto this flight!

I realise I have lost and accept it. I take a deep breath and let go.

When he turns to me and says there is no way he can get me on the flight and my bag has been taken off the flight! He starts apologising. I stop him and say that this is clearly all my fault. It was my mistake and I appreciate all he has done to try to get me on the flight. We chat a bit more and shake hands before I start heading off back to the departure hall.

I stop. My intelligence has returned to me. I realise that I don’t have my cell phone with me. Sure enough, there it is sitting on my isolated seat. I collect it and take another deep breath.

I retrace my steps to the Departure Hall and make my way to the SAA ticket office as I now have to buy a new ticket!!

I get to the counter and am greeted by Macmillian Mokoena. “Good morning sir how are you today?”.

“Not too great”, I say, “I have just missed my flight”.

I hand him my boarding pass. “Please do not laugh when you see that my boarding pass says ‘Professor Breen’. After you hear my story you will know that I can only be a Professor of Stupidity”. We laugh and he starts looking for a flight for me.

Hinge Moment 4. He looks up and I can tell from his face that I am not going to like the news.

“The day is about to get worse, Chris Breen”, I say to myself and take another deep breath and make sure my feet are grounded.

“Sorry Sir, I’m afraid the first flight I can get you on is at 7.30 pm and even then, you will have to pay for a new business class ticket”.

This can’t happen, I think. My car has been at the garage all week getting a new clutch. It’s Friday. I need my car for the weekend. The garage will be closed by the time I get back tonight!!

Macmillian advises me to try the other airlines and see if I can get a cheaper and earlier flight. I decide to follow his advice and rush off. I queue and when I get to the front I discover that there are no flights available all day at Mango. U2 déjà vu starts hitting…

I STOP. Enough! I give up.

I take yet another deep breath and make my way back to Macmillian who is miraculously still there and free.
“I’m back”, I say, “hit me with that 7.30 pm ticket.

He gets to work on his computer. He looks up and, when he looks up, I can see that he is worried I am not going to like the news.

But now I am on a roll! This isn’t a hinge moment. I am used to the waves and they are giving me the illusion that they are getting smaller.

He tells me how much I am going to have to pay for the ticket and I give him permission to go ahead. He makes a plan to put me on automatic stand-by for all the flights prior to 7.30pm. The next possibility will be at 13.55 as the 10.15 flight is totally full. I hand him my credit card and we do the deed.

I thank him and tell him the truth about my work. I tell him that I have been running a leadership programme where the aim is to help people handle chaos and crises by staying intelligent and, instead of not losing it, trying to find solutions from a place of calm.

I tell him it’s obvious that today has been specially set up to see if I can practice what I preach!!

He laughs and says he will assess me at 10 out of 10 for my success at handling the situation. He says he was surprised I didn’t start getting angry when he told me the price of my ticket and also that I was laughing at myself and accepting that it was all my fault.

I smile sheepishly, remembering my childish babble at the gate which would not have got a mark of more than 5!

He does the last of the paperwork and then introduces me to his ‘young friend’, Lumkile Mnintshana, who is going to take care of the rest of the situation and ensure I find my offloaded baggage.

And sure enough Lumkile does look after me and checks me onto by 7.30pm flight even goes on his own to get my baggage.

When he gets back with the case, he goes back to the system and then his face lights up – there is suddenly one seat available on the 10.15 flight. He swings into action and sorts everything out, and I am writing this blog en route back to Cape Town!

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a gift from beyond.
(Rumi – The Guest House)

So this blog is dedicated to Macmillian and Lumkile – definite gifts from beyond – and to the gods for teaching me that success is a fleeting gift that needs to be savoured deeply at the time and then released as new challenges inevitably arise.

What happened today consisted of so many beautiful examples that I will use to counter moans about the quality of service at SAA and more generally in the country.

Thanks to both Macmillian and Lumkile and the wonderfully helpful unknown guy at D6 for their amazing service and way they each interacted with me.

And the gift keeps giving as it highlights the importance of catching and handling inevitable hinge moments.
Intelligence-in-action occurs when we recognise the hinge moment as it happens and, before going into our usual habitual pattern of over- or under-reacting, we somehow manage to STOP and take a deep breath and stay adult.

And I now know that it’s worth getting data from a multiple set of perspectives before making any assumptions (as to where the plane is departing from!!)

If we can do the work to catch the moment, not only do we lower our own blood pressure but we also avoid damaging the human spirit of those around us.

And as I come to this somewhat ‘preachy’ conclusion, I notice how touch-and-go it was for me at the beginning of the incident. I can hear my voice become a bit whiny. I know I rushed with no presence and left my cell phone behind. But it’s the pompous blown up child who said “I am a Professor” that really embarrasses me (which isn’t even true – I’m a lesser known ‘almost’ professor).

And all I can do is join the gods in their laughter and thank them for today’s humbling gift…