Learning to Find the Lessons

February 5, 2000

FLASH: New Book…Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing is available directly from the author. See his new web site and preview the book at John Renesch and click on the front cover of the new book.

Recently, I went on a trip that included stops at the University of Michigan Business School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, downtown Manhattan in New York, and then on to Hungary where I would be attending the annual trustees meeting for The Club of Budapest Foundation. After a couple of days in Europe, I would be returning to spend some time in New Haven, Connecticut and Newark, New Jersey before returning to San Francisco.

I had been away from home for several days before presenting my e-ticket to United Airlines at New York’s Kennedy Airport. The ticket agent looked at my voucher and matter-of-factly asked me for my passport. A deep, spontaneous inhale that originated somewhere south of my belly button nearly sucked the ticket out of her hands. I stared at her is disbelief. I forgot my passport! How could I do such a thing?

From my dramatic reaction – hand to forehead, just like the movies – she assumed that I was joking. I convinced her I was not. Not to worry, she says, trying to console me. She explains that there’s still two hours before flight time, so I had plenty of time to go home and get it. Then I explained that I was not from New York and that my passport was still sitting in my apartment in San Francisco.

For the next four hours, my stomach was tighter than it could ever get using abdominal exercisers. I made some calls and asked a friend in New Jersey if I could stay with him that night. I called my building manager back in California and asked her if she’d go up to my place, get my passport, and overnight it to me at my friend’s home.

The ticket agent was terrific. She and her supervisor spent over an hour trying to get me the same itinerary for the following day, even though I had a non-refundable ticket. No way. Then I suggested the Hungarian airlines, Malev. The United agent called Malev’s main number and asked if they’d accept the United ticket for the following day, and how much extra it might cost.

Jumping to the outcome, I spent the night with a very good friend, my passport arrived the next morning, I flew directly from Kennedy to Budapest, whereas my previous itinerary took me through four airports. And, Malev honored the United ticket without any surcharge. I arrived at my board meeting in Budapest approximately forty minutes before it was scheduled to begin. It was as if a miracle had occurred and the disastrous “calamity” of the previous day had turned into an elegantly easier trip all in all.

Back to the day earlier: Now I was sitting at Kennedy, waiting for a New Jersey shuttle, knowing that everything had been worked out and that, subject to the overnight delivery of my passport, the overall outcome would be even better than had been planned by my travel agent weeks previously. I began to relax. Within a few minutes, I was on the shuttle headed for a rendezvous with my host for this unexpected layover in New Jersey. I started to breathe easier, allowing myself to accept that the crisis was over and that alternative arrangements had been worked out.

Now, I thought to myself, what was the lesson in all this tumult? What was I to learn from all this craziness – all this frantic activity that involved so many other people?

The primary lesson that became all to clear was that this incident forced me to lean on others for help, nearly all of them strangers. I was powerless to “correct” things myself. I “had” to ask others for assistance. I had no choice!

I remembered the poet David Whyte talking about “leaning on the Universe” or something like that. I’ve always liked that expression. Perhaps its because some part of me knew that I needed to do more leaning than I do. You see, my conditioning as a child was such that I never counted on anybody unless I absolutely had to. It seemed like a waste of time and a sure path for pain and disappointment. And who wanted that?

For most of my life, I tried to manage things so that I rarely had to rely on anyone and, if I did, I’d try to make sure my reliance wasn’t on something critical. So, my “leaning” on others was more superficial than substantive.

But, that was then, and this was now. In this situation, I had no choice but to ask people for help. And, asking for help in New York City – a city with a reputation for being unfriendly. Remember movies like “The Out of Towners” – both versions, the older one with Jack Lemmon and the latest one with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn? Who wants to be “helpless in New York”?

As I continued to reflect on the lessons I had learned, I became overwhelmed with gratitude for everyone involved – the ticket agent at United Airlines and her supervisor; the Malev ticket agent; my friend in New Jersey, and his gracious wife; the shuttle driver and ground transportation people at the airports; the manager of my building back in San Francisco.

So, here I was, over sixty years old and still learning lessons about people and how terrific they can be IF THEY ARE ASKED. Even New Yorkers! People want to help each other. I was genuinely asking for help and was clearly in need of other people’s intervention on my behalf. This came through, I’m sure, since I wasn’t hiding my feelings at all. No “being cool” here, no sir!

The obvious lesson for me, the one most people would point out, was ‘do not forget my passport when traveling abroad, even when my first stops are domestic.’ But there was a much deeper lesson for me, one that might even be a karmic life-lesson. This other lesson goes far deeper than mere remembering.

My other lesson is ‘it is okay for me to ask for and accept assistance from others. I don’t have to go to my grave thinking like the Lone Ranger.’ After all, even the famed masked man had his companion Tonto to help him out.

John E. Renesch is a San Francisco writer, futurist, and business philosopher. His new book – Getting to the Better Future: A Matter of Conscious Choosing – is just out. You can preview it at his Web site: John Renesch. To order the book or to contact John call TOLL FREE 877-2RENESCH


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John Renesch

John is a seasoned businessman-turned-futurist who has published 14 books and hundreds of articles on social and organizational transformation.

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