Have you ever had one of those days when everything that could go wrong seemed to go wrong? For some of us, we could probably even point to a full week, a month or a year of our lives when that happened!
When all hell seems to break loose in front of you, what do you do? Picture it: the frustration level is rising, the tempers around you are flaring, the complete lack of urgency from others to get things done is astounding, and you are about to go postal.
What do you choose in that moment?
My trip to Paris was like that. I had planned as best as possible for a smooth flight and arrival at my rented apartment. My greatest concern about the whole plan was where would Sam and I stash our luggage for the seven or eight hours we would have to wait for the landlord to come meet us? But that was going to turn out to be a non-issue.
Here’s how the short version of the story goes…
- Flight from Toronto to Paris cancelled due to air traffic controller strike.
- Find out I am re-routed to Brussels and will be bussed to Paris.
- Arrive in Brussels but have no cell signal and no baggage.
- Not enough busses for everyone. Forced to wait in a parking turnaround sucking in diesel fumes and cigarette smoke for over an hour.
- Bus arrives and lets off passengers leaving Paris.
- Passengers storm the bus and realize fairly quickly that there will not be enough room for all passengers and their luggage. Chaos breaks out.
- Those of us who manage to get on the bus mystified why we are not moving.
- The bus has a flat tire.
- Another bus pulls up. We get off and start to repack our luggage on the new bus.
- The driver says he is tired and does not want to return to Paris.
- The crowd unleashes on him. He relents after a 45 minute smoke break.
- We wait on the hot, stinky bus and I am now very worried that I cannot contact Sam to let him know of the delay. (He has been waiting at the Paris airport since 6:00 am when his flight arrived.)
- We leave Brussels at 1:00 pm for a 4-hour drive. Stop at a rest stop on the way.
- Arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport at 5:15 pm.
- No Sam. No airline employees to report my lost luggage. No cell signal.
- Decide all I can do is get into a cab and go to the apartment and pray that Sam did the same.
- Arrive at the apartment building at 7:40 pm. Find no way in.
- Shopkeeper next door lets me check email and I find out that Sam is inside waiting for me. I missed the owner by 10 minutes.
- I am standing on the street when I hear my name. Sam is calling to me from an open window.
- Head out to a grocery to buy toiletries and laundry soap since I have no luggage.
- The horrible journey ends with a hot shower and sleep.
Now, none of the events in this story were in my control. My plan was thrown off course by other people, by airline regulations, by a labor dispute, by faulty equipment, by human error, by human laziness and poor customer service.
I could have unleashed my anger and frustration several times. I could have avoided the mess altogether by saying I would re-book the whole trip for after the strike. I could have screamed and yelled at airline and airport employees as many others did. I could have joined the complainers in an airport vestibule because misery loves company.
I had choices in front of me. Which would I take?
I’ve heard Jack Canfield talk about this formula and it is in his book, The Success Principles.
E + R = O
Event + Response = Outcome
His discussion of the formula is part of an overall discussion on taking 100% responsibility for yourself, your actions, your thoughts and your beliefs. If you don’t like the outcomes you are getting in your life, you can do one of two things: 1) blame the event (E) or 2) change your response (R) to the event until you get the outcome you want.
This is a great formula for large-scale life patterns and business success. But it also works great on the circumstantial events like my trip from hell. The events were clearly out of my control. But the outcome was up for grabs depending on my response to the events.
I could have reacted as many other people did. But what good did that do them? What would it have changed for me? Their outcome was one of anger, and then embarrassment as their tantrums accomplished nothing except making them look foolish. Those of us who took a deep breath and mustered on to the next step arrived in Paris tired and hungry, but relieved and excited to start our vacations or get to our homes.
So the next time all hell breaks loose in your day, even something as unremarkable as an unexpected traffic delay, consider the R in the formula. Are you going to react, or respond?
A reaction is an attempt to blame the event for your emotions. A response is to see the event as a non-personal occurrence and to choose your attitude. A better attitude will always lead to a better outcome. By choosing to respond to the events unfolding, I was able to continue thinking clearly for the next solution rather than crumbling in a heap of tears.