Boarding an airplane in Boston last week, I sat in my aisle seat, next to the young woman already occupying the window seat.
Before I could settle in, she started talking with me.
“Are you staying in Toronto or going on from there?”
“Toronto.” I was hesitant to engage in a conversation with this perky person randomly assigned to accompany me for the next 90 minutes. But ingrained politeness allowed these words to escape from my mouth: “How about you?”
“Vancouver. For the weekend. I return on Sunday night. I know it sounds crazy. But I want to see my friends, and they are getting together there, so I am going.”
It didn’t sound crazy to me. In fact, that type of travel felt vaguely familiar. I asked what she did for work.
“Oh I used to do that.” Thankfully, I stopped before I might add, “A lifetime ago” which would make me sound old.
She launched into a description of her current project. It should have taken six months but got condensed into four months. The choice was to practically work themselves to death to get it done on time, or fail. Without so much as a discussion, they chose to work themselves to death. It was expected.
The plane was now about to take off. At this point in my travels, I say a litany of prayers covering the pilots, the flight attendants, the mechanics, and the other passengers on our flight. I pray for the ground controllers and air traffic controllers along our way. I pray for the other planes in the air, their pilots, staff and passengers, and I give thanks for a safe landing for all of us.
It can take awhile, and there was no natural break in the conversation where I could just DO it. So I considered a few good lies (“I just need some quiet” or something like that) before I decided to just tell her that I pray before takeoff. Her reaction wasn’t bad and she gave me no strange looks. Just some quiet space and patience while I did my thing. When I was done praying, she asked cheerfully, “Are you a Christian?”
When she smiled, said, “Me too!” I realized she meant “of the Christian faith.” So before we went down that path, I added, “I’m Catholic.”
We soon returned to our conversation about her job.
The client was happy but my seat mate didn’t feel good about her contribution to the project. She felt that, as a team and as individuals, they could have done better. She worried that the partner leading the project didn’t hold a high opinion of her.
She had only recently joined this top consulting firm full of highly intelligent, driven people. At her old firm, she felt so smart and capable, but was now starting to feel stupid and inept and wondered if she belonged. Plus, she was 31 years old and wanted to pay more attention to her personal life.
This situation felt so familiar from my time in consulting.
She was obviously bright. I asked her to consider that she is surrounded by incredibly smart, driven people, and she probably imagines that they are super-capable in every way. So she can’t compare herself to them and their fantasy selves and decide that she falls short. I shared that, in consulting, there is always more work to do, something that could be done better, new ideas that feel promising but you don’t have the time or budget to explore, so you would always fall incompetent considering your undone tasks. There are people you will never impress, no matter how hard you try.
I told her, with alot of conviction, that it isn’t crazy to fly across the country to see your friends for 24 hours. That sometimes, that is what you need to do to feed your soul and to stay grounded. Especially when you are working more than 60 hours a week. Inspired, I told her that that connecting with her friends was exactly what she needed right now.
She told me that she decided to trust that God will help her but that sometimes it is just hard to trust. So we talked for a bit about God and trust and following the guidance we receive from Him.
“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”
–Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem
And then, it occurred to me – I was talking with my younger self. She showed up, not at 4 a.m. of a bad night, but right in front of me in the broad daylight of my daily life. I hope I treated her well. I definitely sent her lots of love as she went on her way. She wasn’t as bad as she thought she was, for sure. And maybe I wasn’t, either.
*Taken from the title of Janet Feld’s new and wonderful CD, “I Met Myself”