Monday, November 5, 2007

Airplanes and Balance

Sometimes I get this welling in my chest, this feeling that a wave is just behind me, ready to overtake me, to pull me under.

I'm traveling again on business. I despise business travel; I do it as infrequently as possible (I hate being away from the family-more, I think, than they hate my being away; but, then, who'd blame them). At any rate, it's to the point now that I wake up on the morning of a business trip expecting the worst. It seemed early on that today was going to be one of those days.

The plane was an ancient commuter job-not painted; done up in that shiny steel that you can't look at when the sun's shining. As we were boarding (we boarded from a stepladder; no fancy tunnel-thingy for Fresno), I noticed strange looking rectangular pieces all over the fuselage. As I got closer, I scrutinized one of them. They were patches. Small squares of metal, about 2"x2", screwed haphazardly to the body of the airplane. All over the place. As best I can tell, the plane doubled as a fighter in World War I (or perhaps Korea), and the patches are covering bullet holes. Very strange.

At any rate, I boarded without giving it much thought. The plane wasn't large-perhaps 25 passengers. I'm certain, now, that the patches are covering bullet holes, in that I'm firmly convinced that the plane has gone down in the past. Over water. I only wish they'd reinstalled my seat cushion after the prior occupant detached it, and used it as a flotation device. I'm not kidding.

We completed boarding and buckled up, and sat waiting for the steward to batten down the hatches and shove off. And we waited. And waited. Just as we started getting restless, one of the ground crewmen climbed the ladder into the cabin, had an urgent discussion with the steward, and then stuck his head into the cockpit. Much important looking, animated discussion ensued.

They finally settled their differences, and the steward stuck his head out, and bellowed something at the rest of the ground crew. They started handing bags up to him. As he was making his way toward the rear of the cabin, I asked the guy what was going on.

"We have too much weight in the baggage compartment. We have to distribute some of the bags throughout the cabin. We also need some passengers to change seats, otherwise the plane will be out of balance."

I chuckled. "Seriously," I said. "What's going on?"

He gave me a blank stare.

I stopped laughing.

He was serious. They spread the luggage about the cabin (I'm not lying folks), made a few people move, then went back up to the front to converse. I guess it wasn't quite enough because the captain came out and asked all of us to de-board the plane, and go to the terminal and use the restroom just to see if we could shed a few more pounds (OK, I'm joking! They didn't do that! But I swear, I'm NOT making the rest of this up).

Needless to say, the entire flight, not a single person moved for fear of throwing off the fragile balance of the plane.

But, then, I digress. I arrived. Finally.

The first order of business was dinner with two of my colleagues and one of my favorite bloggers.

We had a fantastic meal at perhaps the best steakhouse in the nation (fantastic food; eat there if you ever have the chance-you'll not regret it). But I left the dinner convinced that I'm at least a lap behind everyone else on the track.

You know what I'm talking about: I'm sitting at the table attempting to participate in an enlightened business discussion with two PhD's and a lawyer. And I (who barely managed to cram four years of undergraduate business school into six) am without question not carrying my weight. Occasionally I'd interject some witty, or seemingly intelligent comment, only to watch all conversation at the table come to a screeching halt-three bewildered stares aimed directly at me. Finally, just as I'm ready to fall on my butter knife, my colleague rescues me with an uneasy chuckle, and some comment about "those Red Sox."

OK, it wasn't that bad. Still, though, It's obvious I'm out of my league here. I don't have the education (I was a mediocre undergraduate; I'd love an MBA, but the thought of being tied down to a classroom for two more years causes me to hyperventilate). I don't have the experience (I'm 28 years old and I've only worked for myself, and for the company I currently work for, my entire professional career). I don't have the sophistication (many of the books that they discussed I have on my bookshelf; but only to make me appear well-rounded and sophisticated. They all still have bookmarks about 1/4 the way through, and likely always will).

And I'm more certain than ever that I don't have the intellect. During these philosophical discussions, I feel like I'm running full tilt to keep up with a few guys out on a leisurely stroll.

And so, I routinely ask myself, "how did I ever get here?" It floors me. Makes me want to look around guiltily to see if anyone is watching. Not that I did anything dishonest-I didn't (I don't think). It just seems that I'm a high-school footballer playing first-string for the New England Patriots, and every time I step out on that field, I'm half afraid the coach is going to run out, put his arm around my shoulder and say, "Um, Paul; we've had this little mix-up; something to do with HR..."

But then, maybe we all feel like that from time to time.

Those experiences have always driven me-to push harder, to run faster, to devote more energy, to give more, more, more. It's something inherent in me-to rise to the occasion; to run with the fastest.

But then, on second thought, maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe this is enough. Maybe I don't need to operate on some superior intellectual plane.

I think maybe that airplane ride was the best thing that could have happened to me today. Because I'm afraid I have a tendency to push all the suitcases to one area when I feel inadequate; to devote all my energy to perfecting that one area of my life.

And I think maybe God jumped in in advance today to let me know that I need to make sure I keep things spread out.

So, on my way out tomorrow, I'm going to stop at the first store I come to, and buy a puzzle to work on with the family when I get home.

That's about as balanced as I can imagine.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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