Over the course of my career, I have traveled the world. With domestic travel to virtually every major metropolitan area in the United States, and international travel around Europe, South America, and Asia, I have racked up frequent flier miles and hoarded hotel points. With the benefit of a global company, generous travel budgets, and aggressive research plans, I have filled my passport while enjoying the comforts of business class flights and accomodations. Don’t get me wrong, it is hard work and difficult to be away from my family… but I have at least struggled in style.
The times have changed, however, and as budgets have gotten tighter so have the travel options. Things are so tight in fact, that I could not find the money a couple of weeks back for a quick in-an-out flight to Chicago for a meeting. To be fair, this was not a meeting that I had to attend, but rather one that I wanted to prioritize, so the travel “restriction” in this case was justified. That said, I wasn’t willing to give up, so I started searching for a Plan B. I could have just driven to Chicago from Cincinnati… it is a 5-hour drive and I actually kind of enjoy the peace and quiet of a long-stretch of uninterrupted highway cruising. But I am so swamped at work (I’ll come back to that), and was not willing to spend 10 round trip hours behind the wheel when I could have been working. So I then looked into the Megabus. For about $20 bucks, I could secure a round-trip ticket on a 6-plus hour double-decker ride. The ride had heat, Wi-Fi, and a scenic route through rural Indiana, so I bought a last-minute ticket and started the adventure. Yes… Plan B stood for Bus.
The other issue with taking a bus versus a plane was that I could not do the trip in one day, so I also had to find a hotel room on a dime. I took to Priceline.com and searched for the cheapest name-brand hotel that I could find, that was walking distance from the bus stop, and that had at least a couple of stars in the rating. And while it wasn’t the lap of luxury, I did find a respectable place that met my criteria (i.e. cheap), booked it, and started on my way.
The night of my trip, much like most of this polar-freaking-vortex of a winter, was cold… really, really cold. My sister-in-law was kind enough to drop me off at the outdoor bus stop where for 30-minutes I shivered and waited for my stagecoach to arrive. There was only one other traveler waiting with me- an interesting, young fellow who was embarking on a 4-day, 4-state trip to follow the Cincinnati Reds caravan, an event where several of the team’s players visit various cities across the Midwest meeting fans and signing autographs. He had no luggage, no money, and no place to stay, and had decided to keep warm by spending the 3-hours prior to the bus ride drinking the last of his dollars in a bar. We had the same conversation a couple of times (which he won’t remember), until finally the bus arrived. Interesting, yes… First Class-y, not so much.
When I climbed the stairs to the top of the bus, I was surprised to find it empty. I was very relieved by this as I could spread out, plug in my computer, and spend the next 6 hours “building the business” with email, one-pagers, and presentations. Looking back, it really was not a bad set up. I had space, I had time, and I had the world wide web. In that particular moment, however, I was less able to see the “big picture”… I was uncomfortable, I was cold (then hot, then cold, then hot…), and I was tired. And the work itself was as tiresome as the ride. This wasn’t the fun, innovative, strategic work that I love to do, but rather the drudgery of busy work, petty email arguments, and politics that I had put off as long as I could. By the time I finally had arrived in Chicago at 1:00 the next morning, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.
I limped off the bus, threw my bag over my shoulder, and asked Siri to help me get my bearings so that I could start the half-mile walk to my hotel. It was even colder in Chicago, and I wanted nothing more than to find my “cheap” hotel and to then find some Zzzz’s. While walking and staring intently at the map on my cellphone, I only vaguely heard a strong, yet tired voice asking me for help. An older, homeless woman stood shivering in front of me, asking for bus fare. She was clearly freezing in the frigid wind chills, so I pulled out my wallet and gave her a couple of bucks without a thought or a word. After walking about half of a block, I realized that, not surprisingly, Siri had led me the wrong direction so I grew further annoyed and doubled-back toward where I now believed the hotel to be. Shortly thereafter, I again came across the same woman, who was now waiting for a bus. She looked at me with sympathy and asked, “Are you lost?”. I smiled and politely said, “No”, and that I was on the right track for my hotel. She then started walking with me and said, “Don’t worry, I will help you find it.” I politely refused a couple of times, but she was determined to keep walking and so we started the cold walk together in the snow.
Along the way we talked about Chicago, about the weather, and about other random topics that came to mind. I offered again to go on my own, but she said that she was happy to “keep movin’ and be stayin’ warm” so she continued to walk. When we finally could see the hotel sign in the distance, she pointed it out, made sure I knew the right path, and started to go on her way. I asked her if she had anyplace warm to go, and she said that she just planned to try to stay on buses as long as she could until the morning allowed for more warm, public places to open their doors. I asked if there was anything that I could do to help, and she said that there was a place nearby that she could stay- “not nearly as nice as the fancy place that I was staying (and silently griping about)”- but that it was $15 and far too much to ask. I gave her a twenty, she gave me a hug, and we both went our respective ways.
So, why am I telling this story? It is not to highlight my own philanthropic performance- to be honest, I would sadly have probably ignorantly paid no attention to the woman if I had not been so directionally-challenged in the city. I am telling this story as a reminder to keep things in perspective. On a given day, I can find myself overwhelmed with “problems”… a mountain of emails that I need to climb, political games played by co-workers to make minor issues seem major, and “life-or-death” crises that must be resolved urgently so that the “fate of the business does not crumble around us.” In reality… there is nothing that we do or don’t do that will bring on the end of the world.
And the ironic thing is, that it is not the “mountians” at work that cause most of the stress- it is the “molehills”. When there is a true crisis, a real problem that needs to be addressed, a person in need who needs a few dollars to survive in the cold… then we are able to focus, to put all of the crap aside, and to work together to solve a problem. It is the minor day-to-day issues- the petty argument around an artifical deadline, the posturing for credit or promotion, the complaining about taking the bus versus taking a plane that create most of the conflict, time, and stress. If we were able to keep things in perspective and to let the mountains be mountains and the molehills be molehills… if we would could focus on what was truly important not just in times of crisis, but in times of peace… if we could remember that even our worst possible day in the office is pretty darn good in the whole scheme of things, then we could find more tranquility, satisfaction, and fulfillment as we all co-exist together in the workplace.
We live in busy and stressful times, and the workplace often reflects and even exaggerates that atmosphere. It is easy to get caught up in the frantic panic-of-the day rather than to stay grounded on what is truly important. Every day is a choice… if those around us turn molehills into mountains, we don’t have to climb them. And we can pour our energy and focus into what is truly important. God placed this woman in my path on the cold streets of Chicago as a reminder to hold on to the “big picture” perspective and to not let the trivialities become overwhelming… and so I am paying this story forward onto you.
Wisdom from the Megabus… “I must overcome the lies within me to uncover what lies within me.” -MT