Friday, August 10, 2012


Always when judging
Who people are,
Remember to footnote
The words "So far."
~Robert Brault,

Last month I took a 3-day trip to Barcelona. Nice town on the seaside, where the landing happens from… the sea side. Also most of the flying happens above the sea, thing which made me quite nervous, because I do not like flying over deep waters. I know it is silly, as I would presume that crashing over water brings more probability of survival than crashing over mountains, but anyway… my complete lack of swimming know-how just turns my stomach into the home of a hundred ants when I fly over water. While we were coming close to the city, I started to relax and tried to enjoy a bit the view –exquisite otherwise.
I will not get into details about Barcelona and my holidays as I suppose no one is interested in this so I will get to the return flight. This time I was really nervous, that ‘kind-of-I-have-a-bad-feeling-nervousness’. Just in front of me while boarding there was a Russian family with a little daughter. At the entry, the door to the pilot’s cabin was opened and a nice voice from inside invited the little lady to look in without being shy. The father was impressed and thanking the pilot for this and the immediate effect was that … the whole family got invited to look in. I started to wonder if the pilot was some terrorist who was planning to blow the plane up and this was his last good deed before the final gesture…
We settled in, and then the plane started to move. While we were still on the runway, the captain started to talk to us. He welcomed us on board, told us that we are flying to Vienna (good-at least I was on the right plane…) and then informed us that there is a storm ahead and that he will try to go around it. Also good, so perhaps my bad feeling is not connected to the bomb but to a storm… this one is better, I already survived some of those…
Then the same voice invited us all to look to the left immediately after the take off, as we will fly along the coast and have the chance to say good-bye to the nice beaches of Barcelona. I thought to myself ‘ok, nice relaxing exercise’ and prepared to extend my neck as far as socially acceptable without biting into my left neighbor’s right ear. And then the funniest thing happened – the guy actually turned the big plane to the left so suddenly after we rose from the ground, that I thought for a second he will dip the wing into the water and we will actually shake hands with the people on the beach to say an official goodbye. And then another funny thing happened – after we did the grand tour of the beaches, he turned again … to the right! This time really heading home…

Well, now I started to wonder whether next he will tell us his wife dumped him, this is his last flight and he wanted to let us die with a nice memory of Barcelona beaches in our heads. But then quite soon after this, the nice voice started to talk to us again. This time he was mentioning the fact that the travelers can actually see the day – night limit line on one side. Then he told us on which side we can see Nice. By that time I was already more than relaxed, thinking that as long as he is flying that plane nothing wrong can happen, as he obviously loves to do it. I started to feel like in a hop-on / hop-off trip only nicer and wondered if we shouldn't tip the pilot on our way out.

Later on he apologized that we will feel a little shaky, kindly asked us to buckle up and at the same time pointed out that to the left there is the big black nasty storm that he told us about, with nice lightning illuminating the clouds from within, a unique spectacle under which (unfortunately not possible to see) there was another nice town (cannot remember which). Interesting was also that I felt no real shaking compared to what I have experienced in some other cases on clear weather …
And so, he kept on showing us amazing things out of the window until we arrived in Vienna, and the flight attendant said her routine ‘thank you, hope you fly Austrian again and goodbye’. Then, immediately after landing, his smiling voice also added simple but warm “thank you, wish you good night and a nice stay in Vienna”. I must say that night I saw a complete different face of Austrian pilots - even thou I should not use the plural. I am not sure I will have a similar flight again soon.
I was not surprised at all (I almost expected) to see the cabin door opened when we left the plane, him standing with a big smile on his face in the door and saying goodbye to each of us. I did not expect him to be so young and tall, suntanned and blue eyed (or maybe not blue but nicely eyed anyway...), but I managed to close my mouth and put my eyes back in their respective eyeballs rather elegantly, probably I also shared a smile in return (even if I could not swear to that...).
I arrived home late at night, with a big smile on my face and with some lessons learned.
There are still people that can do their ‘routine’ job, without forgetting that for others the same sequence of events is nothing short of a miracle. And so someone can make the best of it – not only focus on delivering highest professional standards in their work, but going one step forward and bringing a human dimension, care about the smiles on people’s faces and the drops of happiness in their blood.
The second lesson was that we can fly through life at high speed, not looking left or right and believing that reaching the destination is enough; sure way to miss a lot of spectacular views…
Third - that sometimes we cannot see for ourselves, so there is a need for someone else to guide our eyes to the right picture.

The fourth lesson was that 'detour' one: the shortest way between two points and the nicest way between two points are very different things. Taking the time to see the beauty of a place (or in case of relationships of a person) enriches the life, no matter if the detour is short or long. Sometimes a nice detour may prove to be the actual way. From the detour I also learned a secondary lesson, to always expect the unexpected (why on Earth did I assume that the beaches were in the direction of our way home?...). So, whenever you find yourself somewhere else than intended please regard this as a 'detour' and enjoy - it usually comes in nice packages. Or at least with good lessons.
And finally the fifth lesson was that one hundred ants in the stomach can also predict something nice or cannot predict anything at all. The feeling can be related to the pure fact that I must have probably just swallowed one hundred ants over dinner.
And those were only one afternoon lessons.
I will now take you to another place - a nice quiet restaurant in Bucharest, where I was with a dear friend of mine. She told me that the ‘most beautiful age’ from her point of view was 43. I immediately perceived it as good news, as it is still slightly ahead of me; then the question popped up rather quickly – why 43 and not 40 or 45 or 36? … The answer: because that was exactly the age when she became really comfortable with everything about herself – inside and outside. Well, perhaps the words were not exactly those, but anyway…

And then I started to wonder if I have not already passed the best age, as I realized it had nothing to do with the calendar. The lesson I learned that day was that the sooner you reach the most beautiful age, the longer it may last. It can be a couple of years, a decade or even more. I started to better understand why women tend to omit mentioning their age as they grow older, and it seems to me is because they try to avoid labels and conventional judgment. Then they reach the beautiful age and it does not matter anymore, obviously until… it starts mattering again. Because everything in life is cyclical and so I come to the second lesson at the same table: the link between personal life and career.
She made me open my eyes to the fact that if you live a long life (which I wish to all of my readers) then you will inherently encounter ups and downs. Career path brings you challenges followed sometimes by satisfaction, other times by disappointment; sometimes you just get good money out of it, other times status or just peace; sometimes respect, other times humiliation; sometimes power, other times endurance. The most important part is to take the lesson out of each of those phases and to move on, which may very well mean enjoying some periods of quietness, taking some steps back, recharging your batteries from the other side – the personal one.
Even from the school years, but most strongly in university and after that in our professional life, we learn that in this global economy the most valuable features of a winner are cold head (for thinking clearly), decorated with big eyes and even bigger ears, small mouth and educated nose, two strong feet (for stepping over others) and agile hands (for grabbing opportunities).
On the other hand, most undesirable features for managers are usually connected to everything which is soft, sensitive and oversized, such as the chest (may be fostering a big heart…), and the behind (it is difficult to cover your a.s if it is oversized…). 

There are of course exceptions, like in every rule, and I have been professionally blessed to work with many of them, while I also like to believe I have grown into one of those exceptions, by learning as much as possible from my past bosses and experiences.
Putting a piece of your heart and soul into day to day work, adding passion, strong beliefs and ethical principles usually make the difference between management and leadership. At the same time, such approach may have unexpected outcome bordering to professional self-endangerment, as you gradually create an eye of a storm, in which others may easily push you or you can even get pulled all by yourself. In any case you get exposed to changes in career that have greater amplitude and lower predictability than the average, such as going to sleep in Kansas with a promising career and waking up next day away from Kansas and without your red shoes. Therefore, if you build your whole life around Kansas dreams, all those storms may have a tribute on your health, ability to give and accept love, to forgive and forget, to accept and embrace.
The holidays actually ended with one of the greatest lessons in life. While preparing to go to the airport on Sunday evening, a sweet beautiful dog that was safely playing during the day got somehow out of the comfort of her courtyard and the next thing we knew was we had to find a place to bury her. Very sad, I got on the plane and got back to Vienna. I could not think about holiday ending any more, as it seemed so petty compared to a life stolen from us in one second.
However I did not want to let this week pass without sharing with you this holiday’s lessons. They made me realize this is also one of the ways ahead. I started to count the number of lessons I get in a day. The good news is that it is hard, as they are so many. Usually they come associated with physical sensations and the memory of hits or hugs (imaginary but feeling so real).
So, the way which I want to share with you today is: take the time to learn some lessons every day, apply as much as possible from them starting tomorrow. Recognition for being the pettiest and meanest will always be subject to harsh competition, while for wise and kind people the world is always big enough. Look out the window, upon that part of the human kind which is good and beautiful. Join them and trust that together we can overcome any crisis and then also take care of healing the wounds of those who are now so busy competing against each other…
Georgina Popescu

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