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June 5, 2013

Outlooks on life

A recent business trip gets Emily thinking about her outlook on life…


I used to know a girl that always expected the best from each day. She said that to imagine or worry about things going wrong will only serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy. She was an idiot.

I live by the mantra ‘want the best but expect the worst – anything better is a bonus’. That may sound a tad pessimistic but the way I see it, by thinking like this I have a chance to prepare myself for whatever I can imagine is the most terrible thing that can happen (and I always do better when I’m fully prepared). I am also almost always pleasantly surprised by life, which is great! It does mean that I am ever so good at working myself into a complete lather before key events though.

Take a recent foreign business trip. It was a little last minute (I was going in place of a colleague) and I’ll admit; I felt more than a little inadequate. She has far more experience than me in this particular field so I had big shoes to fill (metaphorically speaking – she has feet akin to a pixie, whereas I am built more like a penguin, podiatrally speaking). These people I was due to meet were experts at what they did – I was a year old novice that had little to no real experience of ‘big company world’ and budgets and corporate speak. So before I had even got there, I was waking up in a cold sweat from nightmares of meeting rooms filled with expectant faces all peering at me (inexplicably in a state of undress, as is often the way with these dreams) and having nothing to give.

Well, as it turned out, the cold sweats were actually the start of a vomiting bug which struck, with immaculate timing, the evening before I was due to fly off to the meeting. After an essentially sleepless night, the trip to the airport was punctuated by my (ever so patient and friendly) taxi driver stopping for me to make frequent use of my sick bag (you see – preparation!). The airport experience was quite frankly horrendous; the only bonus being that the rising waves of nausea were almost forgotten when I was practically violated by an airport security officer (Me: “I’m fairly sure it’s just the button on my fly that is setting the detector off…”, Security officer: “Yes Madam, but you appreciate that I have to perform a thorough check…”). This was quickly followed by my eye makeup remover spectacularly exploding over me as I desperately tried to re-combobulate my strewn luggage in that stressful post-scanner rush… Despite all that, I eventually arrived after the one hour flight (no vomiting – yay!), albeit with a slight oily sheen and successfully negotiated the foreign train system before arriving at my hotel, queasy and tired and collapsing into bed (it was 3pm).

After a quick afternoon nap and feeling marginally better, the next challenge loomed; a meet and greet dinner with my colleagues for tomorrow’s meeting. Already firmly of the belief that they would think me an utter idiot (worst case scenario and all that…), I was determined to at least not be late – an idiot I may be, but a punctual idiot no less! I also wore my ‘business shoes’ because, you know, shoes matter. After crossing the same busy intersection outside the hotel no less than five times, receiving a good seven minute education in comprehensive walking directions from a passing friendly local which I dutifully met with earnest nodding, repeating everything back to him and profuse thanks, I flagged the first cab I saw. “It’s ok,” I told myself “you’re only going to be ten minutes late”.

Arriving at the restaurant, I swallowed the latest tide of bile and gathered myself, ready to be charming and confident. Taking one step into the wooden floored restaurant, I stacked it, complete with loudly audible “SH*T!” (damned business shoes!). Thankfully, no-one that mattered was there to witness it as it turned out I was the only person to have arrived on our eleven person table. Well, at least I was early as planned, if a little lonely and now nursing a sore elbow.

Eventually they arrived and I was now faced with the introduction of ten new people, many with very ‘European’ names, in a noisy restaurant. I think it was Michael McIntyre that introduced the idea of the rule of three when it comes to not hearing things – you can’t say “Sorry?” more than three times. After the third time, you must accept whatever you hear or it just gets awkward. So one guy I met, I knew as ‘urine-wee’ that evening.

They all knew each other and as the evening wore on, were having a laugh together. Despite my initial belief that I would probably make a better impression on these people if I dumped the steaming bowl of coq au vin in front of me (worst recovery food EVER by the way) on my head and ran around the restaurant gibbering wildly (if I didn’t slide over in the shoes first of course), I found myself joining in and actually having a good time. They weren’t at all like the stuffy, humourless suited monsters that had haunted me – they were actually really nice, down to earth people. There is that pleasant surprise I mentioned earlier.

That brings me nicely back to the mantra; ‘want the best but expect the worst – anything better is a bonus’. I asked a few choice questions at dinner (preparation!), went back to the hotel that night, pre-empted what involvement may be expected of me the next day, scribbled some notes and despite visions of utter failure, performed pretty darned well in the meeting.

The point of this convoluted tale (other than confirm everyone’s suspicions that I am an utter disaster area and should not be allowed out alone) is that it’s not a negative thing to imagine what might go wrong. To blindly refuse to accept that the worst could possibly ever happen, or that it is not possible to divert from the plan is to restrict oneself. How can you be adaptable if you haven’t considered all the possibilities – good and bad? How can you achieve true success unless you have faced and conquered adversity? How can you conquer adversity if you haven’t considered it as a possibility?

Focusing on the positives is necessary for survival and motivation but don’t forget those negatives too. In every experience, good or bad, there is a lesson. Mine is to throw away those shoes.