Breathe Brother, Breathe
From Bill Palladino:
I travel a lot for the work I do. It’s part of the package, and I’ve learned to take it in stride. But that didn’t come naturally, I had to cultivate it. I grew up in New York and inherited a tendency to treat frustration with guttural harrumphs or other loud displays of displeasure. Often, I’d take out my grievances on the people around me, especially those whose job it was to serve me. That too seemed an expectation of any New Yorker’s outward reflection on the world.
Thus, was born Bill the Zen traveler.
All I needed to do was smile…
Then, I had an epiphany. While I might not be able to control things like flight delays, seating discomfort, or bad food, I could control how I responded to these inevitable occurrences.
Thus, was born Bill the Zen traveler! I found a way to let all these offenses roll off my shoulders. More so, I realized many other people were experiencing the same issues along with me. Why not, I thought, spend my energy on making people around me feel a bit better. All I needed to do was smile, or buy someone a cup of coffee, or offer them my little foil packet of airline peanuts. It would be easy!
I started by gifting myself a little time. I got into the habit of booking earlier flights to my gigs so I wouldn’t have to rush through airports worried about being late. And once I made that practical shift, the mental changes came quickly. The world inside airport terminals opened up to me. It was as if I’d blinded myself to many of the little miracles that were occurring every day, and suddenly I’d pulled off the shades. *Shawn Achor, the NY Times best-selling author and Harvard researcher, talks about this phenomenon in his Ted Talk from 2012 titled The Happy Secret to Better Work.
I love this quote and it helped prepare me for taking control of my travel experiences. Check out the full video, below.
But the real test, every frequent flyer will tell you, is when you encounter that unruly child with exasperated parents sitting nearby, or depending upon the volume level, sitting anywhere on the plane. Today, I’m in seat 31D on a Boeing 737a. It’s on the aisle. Next to me in seats 31E and 31F sit a couple and in the lap of the mother sitting in the right-side window seat, a small toddler. The father gives me one of those half-grimace, half-smiles and says in an apologetic tone, “well, you get to be the lucky one on this flight!”
Right here, at this moment, the old Bill would’ve clammed up, and reached down to take the ear phones from my briefcase. Or I might have summoned my former New York hero, Rodney Dangerfield, and said to no one in particular, “Oh, wonderful boy! Yeah, he’s a good boy. Now I know why tigers eat their young.”
But the new “Zen traveler” Bill kept Rodney bottled up, and instead found a new path toward air-travel bliss. I offered to hold the family’s backpack while they got the little dude settled. “Breathe Bill” I could hear myself saying. (And FYI, breathing does work to avert stress and create calm, click here for a short instructional on mindful breathing.) It’s like doing yoga while strapped into a seatbelt!
When, in mid-flight, the baby dropped his bottle under the seat, and it rolled into the aisle, I quickly got up to retrieve it and handed it back with a smile. Now, I’m starting to get points with the parents and maybe even with the toddler too. The kid looks at me and points his finger, and I immediately understand. “My name’s Bill. What’s your name?” I say. The kid thinks this is hilarious and just starts that cackle-wah thing they do. His parents know that my question is actually directed at them “I’m Shonda,” says the mom, and the dad reaches out to shake my hand saying, “I’m Robert and the little guy is Kashawn,” with the mom chiming back in “he’s 18 months. “
As the flight progresses, we settle into some light conversation about how it was for them moving their family from New York to Atlanta, how it is to raise children in this economy, and would the Knicks ever have a good team again. They comment on how nice and easy-going I am. “A lot business travelers can be crabby.” I tell them about breathing and about changing my lens.
The lesson for me here is that I’ve always had this potential inside me. The righteous shell that I’m guilty of wearing is just that; it’s something that can be cracked and set aside. But it doesn’t come without work and practice. The benefits of finding this new lens with which to view the world are boundless for me and for all who I encounter.
As we unbuckle to deplane, I grab one of the trusty little stuffed orange frogs I travel with (long story related to Shawn Achor, click here for more info) and ask Shonda if I can give it to Kashawn. His little face lights up as he takes it from me, causing him to drop his bottle immediately. My new friend Robert looks at me, rolls his eyes, and stands up to start the search.
“Breathe brother, breathe,” I say. Robert turns around grinning and high-fives me. “You know it, man. You know it.”
*FULL DISCLOSURE: Krios Consulting is a strategic partner with Shawn Achor through Bill Palladino’s work with The International Thought Leader Network.