This is the third and final installment in the Take Positions for Takeoff series. As a reminder, in Part I: From Chaos to Possibility, I wrote about the initial impact of COVID-19 on my life. Then in Part II: Be Ready for Anything, I shared some of my experiences as a flight attendant. Now, let’s talk about the biggest takeaway from my time in the aviation industry: patience.
Patience as Virtue
They say patience is a virtue. Maybe that’s true. And I often thought of myself as a patient person … until I became a flight attendant. At 38,000 ft, in a pressurized cabin, and when the only thing on offer is recycled air … human behaviour changes dramatically. Maybe the frontal lobe suffers some form of damage. I don’t really know. Or maybe it’s the stress of air travel and passengers trying to figure out all the different rules and restrictions that vary from one airline to another, from one country to another. Whatever the reason, it’s an opportunity to see people at their best and — unfortunately, and growing more frequently — at their worst.
Take a Deep Breath
As a flight attendant, the high-level measure of a good flight is that you left on time, arrived early at your destination, and that there were no major issues to deal with while in the air. That means there were no medical incidents that had you praying there was a doctor on board, no midair mechanical issues, all the passengers got their preferred choice doing the meal service, and no fighting among the cabin crew. And you are incredibly thankful when that happens. But…
It’s tricky being trapped in a metal tube with 400 people for seven hours, or longer. Those same 400 people are on different parts of the life journey, and most of them expect you to understand, sympathize and anticipate their needs. And you do your best to accommodate. You hold the baby for a bit to give the parent, travelling alone, time to at least go to the toilet or wolf down a few bites of food. Or reassure the nervous flyer freaking out as the plane yaws during turbulence. Someone else taps your arm as you walk down the aisle. You do your best to be situationally aware, but some days, patience wears thin and you force a smile.
The Breaking Point
No matter how much patience you have or how kind you are, there’s always someone or a situation that tests your limits. And as a flight attendant, it was usually the moment when a colleague said, “I thought I’ve seen it all…” Some of my colleagues were quick with the sharp, stinging comebacks to annoying passengers. Patience taught me to just walk away.
But it’s hard to bite your tongue when the guy blows his nose into the cocktail napkin you gave him with his drink, and then tries to immediately hand it off to you while serving the person next to him. Or during boarding as people traipse onto the plane with literally everything they own but the kitchen sink, and then complain, “Someone took my bin.” Or the passenger spraying four-letter expletives at you because the flight is late and they have a tight connection. And so does everyone else since it’s the day of the worst snowstorm of the year and airport operations are at a standstill.
Patience as a Teacher
Growing up, an expression I often heard was, “Let go, let God,” and as I travelled the world patience taught me to let go. There are a lot of things beyond my control in life and that, quite frankly, aren’t worth getting worked up over. So, when dealing with difficult situations or people, I did my best (didn’t always succeed) to remain calm and kind. And when I couldn’t do either of those things, I removed myself from the situation. But it was learning to let go that gave me more patience and helped me try to better understand someone else’s point of view. Patience also taught me to step back.
Stepping Back Brings It All into Focus
Stepping back allows me to see reality not as I wish it to be but how it is. Dealing with reality, I sometimes need encouragement — a little boost to try to do better and be better. The following eight quotes help me do just that:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” – Steve Jobs
“Everyone has a calling. Your real job in life is to figure out why you are here and get about the business of doing it.” – Oprah Winfrey
“Kindness can become its own motive. We are made kind by being kind.” – Eric Hoffer
“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change yourself.” – Maya Angelou
“Don’t wait. The time will never be just right.” – Napoleon Hill
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” – Desmond Tutu
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” – Vivian Greene
“I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life.” – Maya Angelou
The Art of Patience
In a lot of ways, I really don’t know what lies ahead for me as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Some days I’d like to be able to rush ahead to the future and see what it looks like, where I’ll end up. But the best thing for me to do is simply to slow down and enjoy the journey. Show up every day and do what I love. No matter the obstacles, no matter what others may think. Deliberately. Persistently. Patiently.
And, eventually, I will arrive at the place I’ve always longed to be.