A pep talk at 10,000 feet
As I sat down on the airplane, I immediately groaned seeing as I was stuck in a middle seat; no arm room, no leg room, and now I had to prepare for the awkward elbow/armrest battle on two fronts.
After a few minutes of sitting there settling in, a petite, middle-aged, Indian woman came down the aisle and said she was sitting next to me. I got up, let her into the window seat and sat back down reading my book, “Capitol Punishment “ by Jack Arahamoiff.
As I continued to read, I noticed the woman was staring. I wasn’t sure if it was at my book or at the tattoo on my arm.
She then says “What is your book about?” I explain to her about lobbyist and politics and she seems intrigued.
“Ah, when I saw the title I thought it was going to be about law; my husband is a lawyer”.
We then spent the next hour and half talking like two old friends who hadn’t seen each other in a lifetime.
We talked about our work; she was a general surgeon who frequently travelled for her job, she was a Harvard graduate, a pilot, and had even summited Mt. Kilimanjaro at the age of 40.
We talked about how medicine and the military are similar in that work can take over your life; it is hard to shut off work so it is important to compartmentalize. I explained how I had gone from running 24 hour operations to sitting at home with my dad watching TV in a 24 hour time period.
She completely understood and had a similar story of telling a patient’s family that there was nothing more she could do and that the patient would not survive and then 2 hours later she went home to make dinner for her family and spent hours discussing her son’s homework with him.
We talked about my job in risk management and the feelings that doctors go through, as during this process, we are both on the same team. She spoke of her being sued in a medical malpractice case, and how the stress and process can be draining on even the most resilient of people.
Resiliency transitioned into talking about climbing and she spoke about how her husband had climbed Mount Everest. We talked of the Masai tribe, and the beauty of Tanzania, a place we had both travelled.
I burst out laughing as she told me the horror story of her leaving her headlamp on the bottom of her poorly packed ruck-sack, and when the darkness of the Tanzanian night came in, she was cursing up a storm trying to find it while scaring the local guides with her tirade.
As she rose to each camp going towards the summit, she was the last one into the camp each day. She went up with a group of 13 that included a triathlete, among others.
But when the time came to reach the summit, she was one of only two people in her group to actually make it to the top.
With all this going on I asked her about her family, and she spoke of how it is difficult to balance, but how the secret to success is meeting the right partner. She had met her husband at 17, and they both grew together, continually pushing each other to success between his law degree and her attending year after year of medical school.
As we began our descent, we discussed careers; I told her of my current career path, bouncing between risk management and the military, and how I wasn’t sure where I would end up. One day a lawyer, the next I have ambitions of being a lobbyist, to then scouring the internet looking for lobster boats to start my own company; I am all over the place. We talked in depth on high reliability organizations and human engineering.
We rambled on about seeing the big picture and appreciating the little things in life. The appreciation lesson I had learned at 17 through the military and she at 40 while climbing. She then told me of taking her son back home to India to visit relatives, and how they had no running water or bathrooms. When they returned from their trip and the boy was on a play date, they began to eat vanilla ice cream. As her son’s friend began to eat, he quickly pushed the bowl away, and exclaimed “I don’t like vanilla.”
Her son then said “you would if you were in India, as a lot of people don’t have refrigerators and don’t get to eat ice cream at all.”
His mother was shocked and proud, as her young son, who at the age of seven, had just learned another great life lesson.
What she said next is continuing to stick with me “you’re too smart to waste your life being a lobsterman (no offense to any lobsterman out there), but you could go into law or medicine, find something but don’t waste your talent.”
And I blushed and she smiled as my jaw dropped.
Here I am, a 23-year-old kid wearing a “just another Sexy Bald Guy” t-shirt, covered in tattoos and being told by a woman, who has done more in the last 5 years than most have done in their lifetime, that I was intelligent, that I had passion, and that I was destined for greatness.
A woman who has saved and lost countless lives, who has flown airlance and literally climbed mountains…. and she believed in me.
She very well could have sat down and slept the whole flight, as she had flown in at 1 AM earlier in the morning and was flying back out at 10.
She could have shrugged me off as a kid, or a goofball.
She could have looked out the window, or read her book that she was very passionate about.
But no, she decided to speak with me and engage in some of the most intelligent and goofy conversation I have had in a long time.
We touched down on the tarmac and everyone quickly rushed to grab their bags. She turned to me and we said our goodbyes and she wished me luck on my future endeavors as I did the same for her.
And just like that, we both departed the aircraft, went our separate ways and slowly assimilated back into the masses of people rushing around the airport.
Never judge a book by its cover, because if you don’t, you might just Segway into some life advice, and a few laughs along the way