Hello, all! I’m writing this to you from my “second office,” which is my fancy code word for “tiny baby plane seat.” The person next to me smells like nothing, which is a definite positive (I mean seriously, when was the last time you were on a plane and said, ‘Wow, my seatmate smells AMAZING!!!!’), and I’ve already been given my packet of nine pretzels to see me through until I land in L.A. So far this trip seems like a perfectly normal one.
Which is a HUGE improvement over one of the last trips I took, which was probably the worst travel experience I’ve had in five years. It was so bad, in fact, that at some point it stopped being bad – not because the horribleness had ended, but because my brain gave up and decided not to care about anything anymore. There was a moment during that trip when I seriously considered the merits of getting myself arrested for assault just so that I could be taken to a place with a bed and maybe a toothbrush. I promise there will be a point to the story of woe I’m about to share – but first, let’s get to the woe! (Can you even say that? Well, I did, so there you go.)
Sunday, February 14 – Valentine’s Day. Like most sort-of-newlyweds, I spent hundreds of dollars on a lavish and romantic dinner. Except, oh wait, that’s not true, I went to one of Houston’s two airports. (That will be important in just a moment.) When I arrived, I found that my flight on Southwest had been cancelled, and that there was nothing left that day that would get me anywhere close to Columbus, Ohio. On Southwest, at least. However, there was a United flight leaving out of the other Houston airport that would get me to Pittsburgh. So I cancelled my Southwest flight, managed miraculously to get my bags back from Luggage Purgatory (thanks, nice Southwest people!), and raced across Houston to the other airport. I didn’t have much time, so while driving at around 78 miles an hour I was also attempting to book this flight, which led to about two near-collisions. So I quit trying, a decision which may have saved my life but which also cost me about $400. I’ll explain why in a second.
When I made it to Airport #2, I decided not to take my second piece of checked luggage; it was just books, and I could survive without bringing them. It wasn’t until halfway to the terminal that I remembered I had also put my toiletry bag in that suitcase, but oh well – I’d come too far. So I get to the counter, where I find that there is still 1 ticket remaining. However, because I am trying to book it with only 58 minutes to spare, there’s only a Y-class ticket. (For the uninitiated, like I was, a “Y-class” ticket is code for “desperate person who will pay anything to get wherever we’re going.”) My one way to Pittsburgh is now going to cost just over $1,000, which was $400 more than the already expensive $600 one-way ticket I was trying to get originally, but what choice do I have? I’m in a Y-class place right now. You won this round, United. Maybe next time…
I make it to Pittsburgh around midnight, then rent a car for the three-hour drive to Columbus (there’s another $120, on top of the $40 I lost by never showing up for my rental car in Columbus.) I’m in bed by about 3:30am, get 4 hours of decent sleep, then head to my event. All goes well – nobody threw anything at me or tried to punch me – and then it’s right back to the airport.
For the longest day of my life.
My flight out of Columbus was delayed just long enough for me to miss my connection in Atlanta, which was headed to Airport #1, where I would have had to take a $100 taxi ride to Airport #2 in order to retrieve my car. However, my first piece of good luck, or so I think; I’m rebooked on a flight that’s now heading to Airport #2. Yay, I’ll save time!
Except, no. By the time I get that all taken care of, my 10:20 departure to Houston has been pushed back 1:13am. I’ll save the details; we finally end up taking off around 3:30am, which I didn’t even know was legal, arrive into Houston at 4:30am, and then I still have a 90 minute drive back home.
But wait, there’s more! When I try to exit the parking garage, none of the machines work. All of my credit cards are denied. I go to a booth with a person in it, where she confirms that they’re all denied. The only way that’s possible is if the government has decided to erase my identity, like they did to Will Smith in Enemy of the State. I’m momentarily flattered that the government thinks I’m so important, except that’s a total lie; I’m too tired to appreciate the movie moment. And I don’t have enough money to pay, so I ask if I can please leave. She says no, then tells me to go back inside the airport to find an ATM and get money. This is the point at which I considered assault, or maybe just breaking through the gate with my car. It’s an aging car, and I can’t think of a better excuse for needing to get a new one. But of course I go back inside (cursing like you wouldn’t believe, although you probably would believe it), get some money, pay the evil lady, and then drive home. (My cards all work, by the way, and I called each of them to make sure they hadn’t been compromised. It was the machines that had decided to hate me.) I’m in bed around 7am.
I’m not sharing this to earn your sympathy. I’m sharing it because I know that, from the outside, my job appears somewhat glamorous. I’ve traveled to 48 states, half of Canada, and four or five Caribbean countries. I work for myself, which means I don’t have a boss. It would be easy to assume that I “have it made.” Which is precisely why I’m sharing this experience, to knock down the notion that my life, or anyone else’s, is unimaginably better than your own.
We’ve built a culture where everyone has the ability to airbrush their lives in ways that can make it seem as though the rest of the world has figured out something that we still haven’t. Spend too much time staring at other people’s posts, and it would be easy to believe that everyone on the planet is living a perfect, beautiful, flawless existence. But that isn’t true. All of us tend to play up the good moments and ignore the bad ones, and consequently we think we’re constantly falling behind or doing it worse than everyone else. That’s not my opinion; there are studies that have confirmed this tendency in ourselves to inflate the accomplishments of others while downplaying our own seemingly minuscule successes.
The best advice I ever got when I was doing stand-up comedy was this: “Don’t look sideways.” There’s always somebody that you think you’re funnier than who seems to be farther along in their career than you are. If you stare at those people too long, it becomes very difficult to enjoy where you are and what you’re doing. I’ve remembered that sentence for over a decade now, and I think it applies to all of us.
So I hope this ultimately helps put the world into a better perspective. My job has a lot of perks and also a lot of headaches. Yours does as well. With any luck, the more we recognize that nothing is perfect and that everything comes at a price, the happier we’ll be with the decisions we’ve made and the place that we’ve chosen to put ourselves. If you think your job has too few perks and too many headaches, then it might be time to look for something different. But if you’re simply frustrated that you haven’t figured out how to get everything you want without making any compromises, then take heart – none of the rest of us have, either.
Oh man……I understand your brief moment of assaulting thought! Though it probably weren’t all that brief. I’m glad you made it home without further incident, ’cause ya know, that was enough!
BTW – I truly enjoyed reading “Us vs Them” and plan to read it again. Very sound and sensible information. And not so many layers to have to work with in the workplace, and in life. Thanks Jeff. Chris
Awesome! Thanks for the note Chris. Have a great day!
Great stuff as always Jeff. I teach a career development course at The University of Iowa and use your stuff all the time so my students get the “real” perspective on things and not just the politically correct version that doesn’t always exist in actual life and work experiences. Keep up the great work.
That’s great! Thanks for letting me know and you keep up the great work too!
Loved this article. I travel a lot in spurts and have had similar days! What insight in your summation. My favorite line though, “culture where everyone has the ability to airbrush their lives . . .” A close relative, who posts lots of pictures due to her professional, posted a pic recently. She had lost 60 lbs in less than 2 months, the last time I saw her. Of course I commented, congratulated and asked how she did it. “Photoshop” was the reply!
Yes, we all love to photoshop and airbrush our lives!