Many years ago, I had a conversation with a stranger that would have a profound affect on how I viewed adversity from that point forward. Before I tell you about the conversation, however, I should tell you about the 48 hours leading up to it:
48 HOURS BEFORE
I had to fly to New York for an audition over the weekend. This was to be a quick in-and-out trip; I was going to stay with some relatives on their couch since it was only for one night and they were kind enough to shuttle me to and from the airport. I decided I would check my small bag since I had a layover and didn’t want to carry it around. (Attention: MAJOR Rookie Mistake. Never check your bag for an audition trip unless you have to, and if you do, you pack everything you need for that audition in a carry on.) As Murphy’s Law would have it, my bag was lost. I waited for every last bag on the luggage merry-go-around, and as it came to a halt, I knew I was in for a trip to the customer service counter.
As I searched for a piece of luggage that looked most like mine from a ridiculous variety of pictures on a laminated card, I was assured by the agent that these things are usually resolved in a few hours, and not to worry – I’d receive a call as soon as the bag arrived. I felt somewhat relieved; this was an inconvenience for sure, but most likely, all would be well in a few hours.
Except it wasn’t. The call didn’t come. After spending a few hours with my relatives, I decided I should probably go to a drug store and get some toiletries just in case. I called the airline every hour. I became fraught with panic. I was in tears. My audition was the next day, and no one knew where that bag was. At midnight, I gave up calling and tried to go to sleep on the couch – which would have been possible, had it not been for the new kitten with awesomely sharp claws, who thought pouncing on my face in the dark every five minutes was fun.
24 HOURS BEFORE
In the morning, I was exhausted. My face was puffy from crying and thanks to the kitten, covered in small scratches. I put on my glasses and checked my phone – still nothing. This suitcase didn’t just have my audition outfit in it – it had EVERYTHING in it. My contacts for my eyes. My MUSIC. So then I began the phone calls to coaches I knew, asking if there was ANY way I could get a copy of this aria and that aria…trips to make photocopies, to buy a binder, to take the music back…that left me a few hours to go in to the City and just do my deal.
It was not a brilliant audition. The panelists (who I knew) were completely sympathetic to the fact that I was singing in something that did not resemble an audition outfit, and I sang well, but I was completely distracted by the fact that I couldn’t see (I took my glasses off because I didn’t think I should sing in them and I’d never done THAT before) and I’d been a giant stress ball for the past 24 hours, all of which I’m sure was evident. I left the audition thinking that it was what it was, resolving to enjoy my last hour in New York. When it came time that afternoon to return to the airport, I still didn’t have my luggage. At least I would be back home that night and the mess of a trip would be over.
Apparently, however, I was just in the eye of the storm. After arriving at the airport, I, along with three other passengers, were informed that the plane had been overbooked, was too heavy, and therefore we had been transferred to a flight leaving out of Newark. I was at La Guardia. We were shuffled into taxis and told good luck. No luck however, as there was unbelievable traffic, and as we arrived and ran into the airport we were told we were too late for that flight and we had been put on another one.
This, of course, meant that I would not make my connecting flight. By the time I arrived at the connecting airport, no more planes were flying out, and the airline put me in a hotel for the night and booked me on the first flight out in the morning. Completely exhausted, I began to realize that I had been wearing the same clothes for two days, and now it was going to be three. I decided to wash my underwear in the sink – at least that would be clean.
There wasn’t much time between then and 5am. It did not occur to me in my exhaustion that the underwear, while clean, may not be dry, which it wasn’t, of course. I did the best I could with the hairdryer attached to the wall before I had to get back to the airport. And still no call about the luggage. When I got to my gate, I waited, eager for the trip to soon be over. Time passed, including when the boarding time should have been. Other people were there, so I knew I wasn’t at the wrong gate. And then came the announcement – it seems no one could find the plane. As agents with walkie-talkies ran around looking for it, we all waited some more, and then finally it was announced that the plane had been found at another gate and we were all asked to walk over there.
The flight time was no longer than an hour, so this was a small plane: one with two seats on one side and one on the other. I sank into my seat by the window. I was angry and miserable, I felt gross, and I just wanted all of this to be over. A man in a suit sat down next to me, and as he buckled his seat belt he turned to me with a pleasant smile, asking “And how are we this morning?”
That was it. I stared at him through squinted eyes, clearly unappreciative of his inquiry, and replied in a biting tone, “You really want to know?” I plunged into the story of the past 48 hours, telling him about the luggage, the kitten face, the audition, the underwear, and the flight fiascos. I don’t know how long it was that I went on, but I told him the whole story. After all, he asked for it…
He patiently listened. When I stopped talking, he smiled and said, “Wow, that is really wonderful!” (Disclaimer: I wanted to punch him at that moment.) Then he said, “You know, it always seems that when we are at a pivotal point in our lives, a point at where things could make a major shift, the universe throws all kinds of things toward us all at once, as if to say ‘Are you ready?’ – you know, to see if we are; if we can handle it. And if we can’t that’s ok, things just continue as they are and the universe tries again later. But if we are, and if we can handle it – that’s when some really amazing things can happen and doors can open. Sounds to me like you’re having one of those moments.”
I was speechless. This man, this stranger, just took my horror story of a weekend and turned it into something awesome – and without this chance meeting, indeed I would have failed the universe adversity test. I almost had. But instead I arrived home understanding just how strong the power of perception was, and how I had the ability to turn almost any situation into something useful. And through all of my experiences over the years since, I can say this is absolutely true: things DO change based on our perception of them. And major shifts do happen in life when you change your ability to perceive things in a way that is more productive. I learned that on the airplane that morning, after what I called – from that moment on – the weekend of challenge and adversity that begged to see how strong I really was. Kris: 1, Adversity: 0.
So, if you’re having a sucky day, here are some things I would recommend that might make it awesome:
– Recognize that you might just be going through a “universe test” – and smile away at your adversity.
– See if there is anything you can learn from what’s going on. Learning is always valuable, even more so when it comes from your own misfortune.
– Try to see a situation from someone else’s perspective.
– Stop for a minute and think of five things you can truly appreciate.
– Look at your challenge like a puzzle rather than something bad that’s happening to you.
– If you are angry, ask yourself how useful your anger is and what you might be doing that would be more productive.
– If you’re not getting your way, try looking at more ways than yours.
– Try patience. With everyone – including (especially) yourself.
– Get over yourself and just realize you’re awesome.
By the way, the luggage did finally arrive – three days after I got home. And if you’re wondering if I got hired from that audition, I absolutely did not. And I was ok with that – I actually got something much more valuable out of that weekend. 🙂
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