I was recently on an airplane. I happened to be one of the earlier boarding groups so I ended up in that awkward place where people are filing past me on their way to find the perfect seat. The longer this goes on, the more the tension builds. Most of us do everything we can to look busy, to avoid eye contact, and to fake a hacking cough (wait, you don’t do that?). Because there’s not much in life that’s more uncomfortable than sitting an inch and a half away from someone you’ve never met.
The truth is, most everyone on the plane is going to end up sitting next to someone. It’s usually inevitable.
So this is why what happened next was really amazing to me. There was a woman in the row ahead of me who seemed to have a different strategy altogether. It was almost as if she didn’t understand the way to play the game. She was actively looking. I assumed she must have been looking for a friend or family member for whom she was saving seats. But then she started asking questions – “Ma’am, are you traveling alone?” “Would you like to sit here?” She was clearly confused. The way to win at this game is to avoid, to delay, to look busy, to pretend you don’t notice. She, on the other hand was alert, making eye contact, speaking to the line. What was she thinking?
And then it occurred to me. This woman was actually a genius. Rather than waiting for the inevitable to happen and being stuck next to sweaty guy or sick lady or I’m-eating-an-onion-sandwich guy – this woman had decided she was going to CHOOSE who she sat next to before her opportunity to choose was gone. Brilliant. She was hand selecting her travel companion rather than leaving it up to chance.
As I’ve thought about that more I think there’s a principle for you and I in this. How many of us sit back and wait for life to happen to us? We avoid, we hope, we delay and yet inevitably the moment arrives. And most of the time we are simply stuck with a situation that at one time we had the ability to control. But not anymore – now it’s happened to us and we’re stuck with it. So we sit in the board room and hope the boss doesn’t assign the job to us, or we try and be invisible in the classroom avoiding eye contact with the professor. Or maybe we sit and watch our financial situation deteriorate, or we see the company laying people off and we try and look busy and hope that somehow we aren’t next.
But what would happen if we decided that the power of a choice was something so great that we wouldn’t want to pass it up? What if instead you and I volunteered for this job because we KNOW we can do it, even if it isn’t our favorite – because who knows what the next opportunity might be? Or what if we took action with our current financial situation while we still can rather than waiting until the inevitable happens and we’re left without options?
The thing is, maybe 1 in 10, or more like 1 in 50 end up with an empty seat next to them. The rest of us will end up with silent-fart dude. The choice is ours, and it’s a powerful choice.