There’s an elephant in the room…

I’m hoping that everyone stayed warm this past week. I don’t know about you, but I am so ready for Spring! I was disheartened to hear that the “official” groundhog saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of cold weather…Oh well, that will make us just that more thankful when warm weather does finally arrive! Now, to this week’s story…

Whenever I travel to a conference, even for one presentation, I always take two outfits to wear. You never know what might happen, and I like to have a “spare,” just in case… On this particular occasion, I was headed down to Orlando, FL, for a huge conference. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I had just picked up a brushed silk suit from the dry cleaners, so I threw it in my garment bag, and headed for the airport. I cannot explain why I did not take two suits for that trip.

I arrived at the hotel and settled in for the evening. The next morning, I got up as usual, took my shower, and began getting dressed. I pulled my suit out and stepped into the skirt. Once I had the skirt on, I looked down and realized that there was a HUGE crease going from my right hip down to my left knee. In other words, the entire front of the skirt was creased. It looked awful! I quickly got out of the skirt and fired up the steam iron. I pressed and pressed that skirt to no avail. Nothing I did removed the crease!

(At this point in the story, I need to give you a little background about me. As a professional speaker, I am very particular about how I dress. The hair has to be “just right,” which most days can prove to be a challenge in that I have naturally curly hair. I get a surprise each morning because I never know which way it is going to go…I use just enough makeup to hide nature’s damages, but not enough to make me look like a hussy. The suits must be stylish, clean, fit well, have no creases or lines, and NO “rumples” anywhere. Shoes must be polished and have no noticeable scrapes. If  even one of these areas are not as they should be, it will definitely impact my presentation and delivery.)

So here I was in Orlando with only one suit, and it had that big ole’ crease across the front. What to do? I knew that once I got onstage, and started my keynote address, that people would be noticing the crease, and for some, it would become so distracting, that they would not hear my message. As I stood to the side, waiting for my introduction and cue to come onstage, I was perplexed as to how I could reconcile that blasted crease. The moment came, the introduction was given, and I made my way to the center of the stage. I walked to the very edge of the stage, as close to the audience as possible, and said, “I would like to draw everyone’s attention to my skirt, and the crease on the front. I do not normally wear wrinkled clothing. I know that it is there, and I tried to get rid of it, but here’s a little life secret that just might help you out in the future. If the dry cleaners put the crease in, they are the ONLY ones who can remove it! So take a good look at it, satisfy your curiosity, and I will begin.” The audience broke out into hysterical laughter and applause! In fact, I had to wait quite a few moments for them to settle down. I then gave the keynote that they were expecting, and it ended better than I had anticipated.

Why is it, that when there is something so obviously wrong (like the elephant in the middle of the room), that we act like it doesn’t exist; knowing that all anyone can see or think about IS the elephant in the room? I have found that when you go ahead and bring the problem out into the open for dialogue and communication, you take away it’s ability to cripple and limit you. I try very hard to maintain that control, keep the lines of communication open, and talk about that elephant. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

“They don’t care about us either…”

This could be considered a continuation of last week’s post, in that this story happened on the same trip…

If you will remember, last week I shared a story of a trip that took me 20 hours to get from Jackson, MS, to Kearney, NE. While waiting for delayed flight, after delayed flight (16 hours’ worth), all flights to Denver (my connecting flight city) were finally cancelled. Well over 100 passengers were in the same situation as I found myself…needing to rebook a new flight. As was usual for this particular airline (United), they provided only one working phone for passenger use, and only one agent to rebook everyone. If you are familiar with air travel, you understand that every second counts when attempting to secure a new reservation once flights are cancelled. The prevailing rule of thumb is that seats are awarded on a “first come, first serve” basis. This means that the first ones in line usually receive the available seats on other flights. The people toward the end of the line are simply out of luck.

So once the announcement had been made that all flights to Denver were cancelled, there was a wild dash to get to the front of the line (or as close to it as possible). I have become very adept with this process, so I ended up the tenth person in a crowd of over 100. All of us were tired, and maybe just a little punchy. The poor agent was harried, tired herself, and having to put up with all sorts of  abuse from passengers, who held her personally responsible for the snow blizzard.

As we were standing in line, there was a man, about seven people behind me, that just could not contain his impatience and frustration. He was constantly huffing and puffing, drawing more and more attention to himself…At regular intervals, he would step out of line, walk up to the agent, glare at her intently, harrumph with an exaggerated sigh, and then turn and walk back to his place in line. His entire demeanor conveyed that he was very obviously inconvenienced (the ONLY one in our group, apparently…), a very important person (as all the rest of us were not…), and that he should be serviced immediately. He kept getting out of line and approaching the agent, just to glare at her. Finally, after several trips to the counter, he finally interrupted the agent and shouted, “United Airlines does not care about their customers!” The agent never looked up, never stopped working on the current passenger’s rebooking. While typing, she said, “You are absolutely right, sir!” “They don’t care about their employees either!” She left the man speechless, and gave us all a little chuckle at her “moxie.”

This entire “drama” brought home some “truths” for me. First, I feel strongly that if you work for someone, and are accepting a paycheck from them, they deserve your loyalty. If you don’t like the company you work for, or don’t like the way they do business, then find someone else to work for. Life is too short to work at a job that you do not like! Secondly, I was taught that I was not better than anyone else, and that no one was better than me. I don’t understand individuals who think they deserve preferential treatment; that they should be “served” before others. We are all in this life together, and wouldn’t it be so much better if we treated each other with respect, consideration, and courtesy? That’s what I try to do. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Don’t You Fret None…I WILL be there!!

By now, you all know that I travel a great deal in my work. In that travel, I can face quite a few challenges in “getting to” the location where I am to speak…lightning strikes, thunderstorms, floods, ice, snow blizzards, mechanical problems with the plane…you just never know what you might face once you get to the airport. In 35 years of traveling around the United States, I have only been late to one conference, only missing my morning presentation. It can be a little daunting when trying to figure out how to get to a conference location; however, I am pretty much known in our industry as a “sure thing.” Education Directors and Meeting Planners know that I will make every effort possible to honor my commitment to their conference. So here is the story for this week…

I was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for an annual conference in Kearney, NE. In addition to being the keynote, I was to provide a full day of additional presentations. I never make reservations on the very last flight into a city, “just in case…” You always want there to be “another” flight, “just in case…”

On this particular morning, I had an extremely early flight, so I was at the airport bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! We all got on the plane (the first leg of my trip), and as soon as they closed the door, the inside of the plane filled with smoke. We all thought it was a pretty good idea to get back OFF the plane, so that’s what we did very quickly. The airline did not have another plane for us to use, so we had to wait for them to send in another plane from another airport – a 2 hour delay to the beginning of my trip. As is my habit, I contacted the Meeting Planner/Education Director and explained that I had run into difficulties, but I thought that I would be able to rebook other flights to make the trip. I explained that I would be late, but I would be there in time for the opening session.

The second plane came…we all got on it…they closed the door…and no smoke…so we were good to go. We made it to Houston, where I was to make a connection to Denver, CO. While waiting for the plane to Denver, the agent got on the PA and announced that the flight to Denver was cancelled. They then booked me on another flight to Denver. In doing this, I was going to miss all connecting flights to Kearney, NE, and not be able to make it for my presentation. After much discussion with the airline agents, they suggested that I could rent a car in Denver, and drive over to Kearney…about a 4-5 hour drive in the best of circumstances. I asked them how they thought I might be able to drive in a snow blizzard, when all flights were being delayed or cancelled. They did not have very good answers to my concerns. So, I asked them, “What is is the closest city to Kearney that you can fly me into?” They said they could fly me into Lincoln, and I could then rent a car to make the 3-hour drive to Kearney. The flight would arrive into Lincoln at 1:00 a.m. in the morning, and after I had rented a car, and driven the 3 hours, I would hopefully arrive in Kearney at between 4:00 a.m. – 5:00 a.m. the next morning. This was the only way that I was going to get there, so I agreed. I had been in airports for approximately 17 hours when my flight boarded for Lincoln. Most everyone I know would have just called it a loss, and told the Meeting Planner that they could not make it…that they were just going to try and return home. But, me being me, I just could not do it that way. A commitment is a commitment.

I called the Education Director, a very dear friend of mine, and brought her up to speed on the latest developments. She said that the she was sending a driver from the hotel to pick me up in Lincoln, so that I would not have to drive those last three hours. She also said that she had placed a blanket and a pillow in the back seat so that I could sleep on the way. The poor driver was a young man who had worked a double shift at the hotel, and now was driving three hours in sleet and snow to pick me up. We then drove the three hours back to the hotel in the same sleet and snow. There was NO WAY that I was going to get in the back seat, and try to sleep, while this poor young man was exhausted. So we talked the entire way to the hotel – almost four solid hours! He was such a sweet person, and going through quite a few problems in his own life. He opened up to me and I tried to give him some good, caring, sound advice. I’m told he still asks about me whenever they have a conference at that same hotel, so I am hoping that the words of advice that I gave helped him in some small way.

We arrived safely at the hotel around 5:30 a.m. I checked in, got to my room, and fell onto the bed for a 1-hour nap. At 7:30 a.m., I arrived at the ballroom to set up for my keynote address. The Education Director almost body-slammed me with a hug of gratitude and thankfulness that I had made it safely! (Or that I had made it at all!) At 8:00 a.m. I began my presentation. NO ONE knew that I had spent 17 hours on planes, and in airports, and an additional four hours riding in a car in sleet and snow to be there with them for that morning session. The title of my keynote, you ask? “Motivation vs. Burnout!”

Sometimes you have to keep going, even when you are so bone-tired that you can’t see straight. It’s all about honoring commitments that have been made. Do people know they can count on you? That you are dependable? What do your actions say to others? Do you exceed their expectations? I always want to be someone who can be counted on…that people will know I will try everything in my power to be there for them. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Please…don’t EVER lose that look…

My brother has two children – one girl and one boy. As you know, from earlier posts, our little girl (now a Mommy with two children of her own) was adopted. And as you also know, we, as a family, have never known the difference…She is truly, completely ours, just as the little boy. He came afterwards, and was quite a surprise to my brother and sister-in-law, as they had been told that it would be impossible for them to “create” a child. Enter, the little blonde-headed, brown-eyed rascal boy. He was named after both my father and my brother, which made him a “3rd.” He opted to be called Jay. So he is my “Jay-Man,” and this post is about him…

You probably have figured out by now that I am known as the “Cool Aunt.” I don’t have grandchildren, so my nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews receive the benefit of that situation. I can spoil and love as much as I want, and we do, indeed, do that. Most of them realized early on that I was not truly an adult…that I was really a kid, who would take time with them, and PLAY with them. I was the one that got the “Christmas Lists.” They knew that if it was in my power, I would make certain they received whatever they “requested.” I have told each of them that there is nothing they could ever do that would disappoint me, or keep me from loving them. And…that if they were ever in trouble, they could call me from anywhere, at any time, and I would be there! And, yes….I have received some of “those” calls…

Jay was so tenderhearted from an early age. He was, and is, such a daredevil that he takes my breath away (like attempting to ride his skate board off the roof of a house…), but you will not find a sweeter, more gentle young man. When he was little, he would get so excited to see me, that his body would almost vibrate, and the minute I left to go home, he would say, “I already miss her…” But the thing that always got to me, and touched my heart, was the way he would look at me. Those big brown eyes would just latch on, and follow me the entire time we were together. And, oh my, the expression in those eyes…If you have ever heard the phrase, “eyes full of love,” his would be the definition. Even as he got older, the “look” remained the same. I often tell him, “Promise me this…as you get older, don’t ever stop looking at me that way.” And each time he responds, “I promise!” He is now a Sophomore in college, and yes, he still looks at me that same way…and for that, I am very thankful!

I had always wanted to take him to Disney World when he got to be the “right age,” just like I had his sister, but my financial situation could not afford the trip. He will never know the disappointment and sadness that I have felt over that. I wanted to do something, and it just so happened that I was going down to the beach for a 4-day weekend. I called his parents and said, “Pack his clothes…he’s going to the beach with me.” He was 8, and just a ball of energy and excitement. He had never been on vacation with Aunt Cat. The first thing we told him was…”there are no rules on vacation…” We play the entire time, get up when we want, go to sleep when we want, and eat whatever we want…(I’m sure you get the idea…) Oh, he had the best time…making memories that will hold me for a lifetime. We were in a huge pool, playing with other family members, and he swam over to me. He wrapped his arms around my neck, hugged me so tight, looked at me with “those” eyes, and said, “Aunt Cat, this is the best vacation I have ever had!!” I hugged him back tightly, willing him to not grow up!!

I learned a valuable lesson that day. I was so disappointed that I was unable to take him to Disney World, that I had almost decided to do nothing. I realized that it is not necessarily WHAT you do, but that you DO something…anything, as long as you are spending time with a child that loves you.  We had the best time together, and I am hoping that the memories will remain fresh in his mind for all of his life. I don’t want to ever take for granted those wonderful gifts in life. In this case, those beautiful brown eyes, full of love, looking at me…Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

You’re going to Barney Fife this; aren’t you??

It’s a good thing I just have a little more than a month of my commitment to this blog…It seems that I am finding it more and more difficult to hit that Sunday night deadline. Please accept my apologies, once again, for being late.

I have had the same best friend for 45 years! Throughout the years, I have gotten her into more “snafus,” embarrassing moments, and humiliating situations than she expected, or was prepared for. She is the Laverne to my Shirley…the Ethel to my Lucy…Given our history, I am amazed that she will still go anywhere with me…We travel a great deal in our business, so this is one of those travel stories…

Unfortunately, after the September 11th tragedy, we had to fly to Minneapolis, MN…only about three weeks after the incident. Anyone flying during this time was pretty apprehensive and a little fearful. We entered the airport with armed military personnel standing at all entrances, and scattered throughout the airport. For the first time, we were almost strip-searched at security. (As an aside, you need to know that I am not the world’s best air traveler to begin with, even though I have to fly quite a bit. I am quite aware that the machine I am flying in, could go down in a huge fiery ball, at any given moment. So, when I get on a plane, I do several things to take my mind off of the “obvious.” I will play trivia onboard, if that is an option, or soduko; but mostly, I get a good book and read the entire time that I am in the air.)

We made it through security, and boarded our first flight with no problems. Of course, our connection was in Atlanta, so we had a little layover before boarding the next flight. All passengers had been told to be “alert” and mindful of the “goings on” around you…that if you saw anything “suspicious,” it would be better to err on the side of caution, as opposed to doing nothing. So….as we were sitting at our gate, two separate individuals caught my attention. Yes, I WAS profiling…whether you agree or disagree is not a factor…you weren’t the one flying three weeks after the terrible tragedy in NYC! At that point in time, here was my thought…if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…it probably IS a duck! The two individuals, who got my attention, were not seemingly together. Both were pacing back and forth around the gate area, and talking very “furtively” on their cell phones. To me, they DID look and act a little suspicious…I did not say anything to my travel partner at the time. I just continued to observe, and process…

The agent announced that it was time for us to board the plane, so we gathered our briefcases and books, and lined up to enter the jet bridge. As we were in line, I turned around to get one more look at my “suspicious” characters. Much to my dismay (or relief), I saw that both men had been pulled over by security, and were being asked questions. I thought, “Aha! You called that one right!!” I was extremely relieved to know that they were not getting on the plane with us! We got to our seats and got settled in. I happened to be sitting in the aisle seat. We put our briefcases under the seats in front of us, buckled our seat belts, and calmly began reading our books. I took that moment to comment that “those men that I had been watching” had been pulled out of the line, and were probably not going to be on the plane with us. The comments and questions began.  “What men?” “Who were you watching…and WHY were you watching them?” “And what do you mean, they have been pulled out of line?” My friend patiently listened (as she always does when I seem to be overreacting or panicking), and reassured me that everything was going to be OK…to stop worrying. I felt a little sheepish that I might have been a little overly concerned…that is, until I saw the first man enter the plane. His seat just “happened” to be directly in front of mine. 

As my brain was processing this new turn of events, I began thinking of how I could subdue the man if he began any “terrorist” actions once we got up in the air. I was trying to remember all of those wrestling “choke holds” that my little brother used on me a number of times as we were growing up. I was trying to remember how to use a pencil or pen as a deadly weapon if you hit the “right” spot on someone’s neck! I was planning out my moves, step by step, “just in case…” Just as I thought I had everything under control, the second man entered the plane and sat in the seat, across the aisle, right beside me! Of course, I was thinking…I am going to have to take both of them out at the same time!! Naturally, I did NOT mention any of my meandering thoughts to my traveling buddy…

The plane took off, and we were on our way! Everything seemed as it should be, and I relaxed a little and began to read my book. Unfortunately, I finished my book about 30 minutes before we arrived in Minneapolis, so I had a little extra time for “observations.” Minutes before we began our approach into the Twin Cities, the man in front of me got up and went to the rear bathroom. Within moments, the second man got up and went to another bathroom, also in the rear of the plane. After a while, I thought maybe I should mention this situation to my friend. It went something like this… Me: “Both of those men went back to bathrooms quite a while ago.” Her: “What? What are you talking about? Which men?” Me: “The men that I was watching at the Atlanta Airport…the men that got pulled out of line for questioning…those suspicious men!! They have been in the bathrooms long enough to take care of whatever business they needed to do!!” Her: “You’ve finished your book; haven’t you?” Me: “Yes, but that does not negate the fact that they have been back there too long! I timed them! I think I need to alert the stewardess.” Her: “You are going to Barney Fife this; aren’t you? You’re going to make a Citizen’s Arrest!” Me: “No, but they told us to speak up if we observed anything suspicious, and I have observed quite a lot of ‘suspicious’ this trip!” Her: “Just give it a few more minutes, and if they have still not returned to their seats, then talk with the stewardess.” Me: “Ok, I will wait a few moments longer.” It’s a good thing I waited! Both men returned to their seats, and we landed safely in Minneapolis…Me, without making a Barney Fife Citizen’s Arrest, and my friend, with no humiliating or embarrassing moment where I drew unnecessary attention to us. As always, the story now is so much funnier (and safer) than it was when in the moment.

Fear can control our lives if we let it. It can cause us to misinterpret someone’s actions. It can paralyze us to the point that we can do nothing, when action is absolutely vital. It can keep us from taking on new challenges, and make us unwilling to try “new things.” It keeps us from being adventuresome. What are you afraid of? And how does it impact your life? I want to live a life without worry and fear of what “may” happen. I will certainly exercise good judgment, but I will NOT let fear control who I am, or who I want to be. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

The Flight Leaves WHEN??

Most of you know that traveling is basically a “way of life” for me. When people hear that you get to travel a lot, their eyes light up, a smile comes on their face, and they say some of the following….”Gosh, you are so lucky!” “Oh, that sounds wonderful!” “Oh, I wish I could travel!” I know they mean well, and I am sure in their minds, they are thinking of “vacation” travel to exotic, luxurious places. However, “that” vacation spot is usually not where I am headed….

I started traveling as part of my work in 1975. For the first part of my career, I think I probably drove every main and back road in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee…MORE than one time….in fact, so many times that I could have almost done it blindfolded! And then my territory got larger and I had to begin flying almost every week. I usually flew out on a Monday, and returned home either late Thursday evening, or Friday. By most Tuesdays, I had already been to at least 3 different states. And yes, travel used to be fun! However, nowadays, I look at flying as simply the quickest way to get from point “A” to point “B.”

Currently, I usually have to get up at the crack of dawn, drive to the airport, strip for security, get redressed, and run to the gate, only to learn that my flight has either been delayed or cancelled…all of which is going to significantly impact the rest of my day’s flights. In the past, those type of issues would stress me beyond belief, and truly affected my health and attitude.

Whether I have finally aged gracefully, with infinite wisdom, or have just finally realized what’s important or not, I don’t know. I DO know, however, that it takes more than a delayed or cancelled flight to ruin my day! I have learned to simply “enjoy the life you are given,” and make the most of it. For example, I am fortunate to do a good amount of work for an association in North Dakota. One problem though…..the flight from Bismarck LEAVES at 5:00a.m. in the morning. Have you figured out yet, what time that means I have to be at the airport??? That’s right….at the very latest….4a.m. So, now….what time do you think I get up?!?! But here is what I have been so fortunate to see by being up that early….I’ve gotten to see snow actually coming out of the clouds as I was passing through them…I’ve seen the most amazing sunrises…so beautiful and wondrous that they simply leave you breathless! I’ve seen natures’s firework show in a distant thunderhead that would have rivaled any Disney production. I would have missed all of this, and much, much more, if I stressed about the time and the flying.

I think we each have a choice as to how we allow “uncontrollable” variables to affect our daily lives. See, if I had grumped and complained about that early flight, I am certain that I would have missed those beautiful opportunities to see God’s wonder and creation. I think I will continue to relax, stop complaining, and make certain I don’t miss any of those simple, day to day pleasures. Won’t you join me? Just for this week…

Are YOU talking to ME????

Throughout my career, I have had the pleasure of going to every state within the United States, with the exception of Alaska (on the bucket list…). Within each state I have found wonderful, caring people, who have been supportive and loving throughout the years. I have NEVER met anyone, from any part of the country, that “fit” a TV stereotype. I think that most people are inherently good and honest, and will treat you, and respond to you, in a like manner if you extend your own warmth and hospitality. However, I do have some stories…

We were traveling around the country on business in our motor home. We were in one of the states that won’t allow you to fill your own gas tank. You must wait in line, the attendant will motion when they are ready for you, you pull up, and they will fill your tank. We had been driving for quite a while, and as we were motioned up to our “spot,” I got out to stretch my legs and talk with the female attendant. As we were talking, a couple in a convertible BMW whipped out of line, went ahead of several other cars, and pulled into the spot right in front of our motor home. As they did this, the attendant said something under her breath very derogatory about the persons in the car, and their actions. The female passenger in the car heard the comments, and thought I had said them. She almost did not wait for the car to stop…she hopped out with a look of pure hatred and anger on her face…and strode right up in front of me. She did not even give me a chance to say hello or any other type of greeting. She began “cussing” me up one side and down the other. As I stood there listening to her ranting and raving, I began to get angry myself, and thought, “just who does she think she is?” and “I did not do or say anything…” So as she was ranting and raving, I realized I had a choice. I could get caught up in her anger and negativity, and let it ruin the rest of the trip for me, OR I could have a little fun with the situation. 

When she got through with her tirade, I looked at her kinda perplexed and went into my “dumb Southerner routine….” (You already know I have a southern drawl, but did you know I can ACCENTUATE that particular “asset” when necessary?) I looked at her for a moment and said, “Ma’am, Ah am soooo sorry, but Ah dint quite ketch whut you sed. Cud you tell me agin so I can get it?” She was so startled that she began repeating everything again!! She was so upset, spittle was spewing forth from her mouth! When she got through with the second tirade, I scratched my head, a little like Forrest Gump, and said, “Ma’am, Ah don’t mean to be stoopid, but Ah still dint get everthin you sed. If youns would tell me one more time, I promise to concentrate really hard and try to get what your sayin.” She threw up her hands and walked off! As she walked off, under my breath, I said, “Got cha’!” It has been a good story and a lot of laughs throughout the years.

Every day we make choices about how we will act or respond to others. Some times they get the best of us, and drag us down to their level. Other times we take the higher road and choose not to let the other person impact our day negatively. Understand this, you are ALWAYS in control of your reactions and responses. You are the only person making the choice. I don’t know about you, but I will NOT be driven to make choices that are not my own. My actions will NOT be determined by another person…that will ALWAYS be up to me! I think I will continue to take the “high road.” I will sleep better each night, and I will always have something to laugh about. Won’t you join me? Just for this week….

We’re Just Going To Have To Jump Over Her!!

Last week’s post got me to thinking of other travel “experiences,” so here’s another story that you might find amusing…

A number of years ago, I worked with a national nursing home company. I was a part of the corporate team, and when we traveled, we usually traveled with the Vice President over a particular region of the country. On this particular trip, I was traveling with two Vice Presidents (they were male…which will be important to know later on in the story). We were working at a facility in Chattanooga, TN, and were staying each night at a high-rise hotel in the downtown area. My room was on the 14th floor of the hotel. As is the case many times for me in hotels, I was having a little difficulty sleeping. There happened to be a huge thunderstorm going on, and I had my curtains open, enjoying the natural “light show.” It was actually very beautiful. It was about 1:00 a.m. in the morning, and I was laying on my bed, just enjoying the show.

All of a sudden, a strobe light near the ceiling of my room, starting going off and on, sirens and alarms began to sound, and an automated voice came over the intercom in my room saying, “Proceed to the nearest stairs and exit the building.” The voice kept saying this statement continuously, and seemed to get louder with each proclamation. Now, as a traveler, I have always prided myself in being safe. When I am assigned a hotel room, I always check to see where the nearest stairs are, and note which direction I should go if there were an emergency. In my mind, I have also gone over and over how I would make such an exit. I would get dressed comfortably (and quickly)…I would get my wallet…I would put comfortable shoes on my feet…I would check the door to make certain that it was not hot…and then I would exit to those stairs. I had rehearsed this time and time again in my head. So…the alarm was going off…and I panicked. I tried to call the desk to see if it was a false alarm, and there was no answer. I looked out my window, fourteen stories down to the street, and I saw fire engines pulling up to the hotel, and I heard peoples’ footsteps rapidly going down those stairs, and I saw people racing out of the hotel. I realized that this was real, that there was a fire, and that I. WAS. ON. THE. FOURTEENTH. FLOOR!!!

I used to sleep in a tee-shirt, so in my panic, I did not think to put anything else on…at least the most of me was covered…but I did need shoes…I could not find any “comfortable” shoes, but my high heels were laying there on the floor, so I thought, “well, that will be better than nothing.” I forgot the wallet…I checked my door to make certain that it was not hot (it wasn’t), and I opened it. Just as I opened my door, a man from across the hall opened his door. He was as prepared as I was…He had on a tee-shirt, boxer shorts, a suit coat, black socks and wingtip shoes. I was in my tee-shirt and high heels. We made quite the couple…I looked at him…he looked at me…and I said, “Let’s go!!” We joined arms and headed for the stairs. (And let’s remember that I had never laid eyes on this man ever before…) As we opened the stairwell door, we joined hundreds of people going down the stairs, trying to get out of the building before we were all burnt to a crisp! We happened to get behind a lady who was wearing a baby blue, chiffon negligee with matching slippers (with little pom-pom puffs on top of them), AND she had remembered her purse. She looked like a big ole’ ball of cotton candy floating down those stairs. We were so close behind her that her chiffon kept getting caught in our faces, and we kept having to bat it away. The other problem was that she was going too slow!! As we rounded another turn in the stairwell, I happened to look at the number on the door that we were passing. I looked at Mr. Boxer Shorts, and said, “We’re ONLY on the 7th floor!” He said, “I know! What should we do?” I looked at him with great determination, and said, “We’re just going to have to jump over her!!” She must have heard what I said, because, at that very moment, she got faster!!

We finally made it down to the bottom floor, and was about to exit, when I realized that it was pouring down raining outside, and all I had on was that little tee-shirt. The fear of actually burning motivated me to move on out into the rain no matter what!! I should not have worried, because everyone standing out in the rain was in the same situation as me…either little clothing at all, or all in disarray. We were just lucky to get out alive! I hugged Mr. Boxer Shorts, thanked him for accompanying me, and I went to find my two Vice Presidents. I was so glad to see them, and find that they made it out safely too, that I hardly minded that they continued to try and “read” my tee-shirt…We looked up, and saw hundreds of people up in their rooms looking down at us. Now, I have to ask you, what kind of person would be up on the higher floors of a hotel, look out their window, and see fire trucks, people in various stages of dress (and undress)…all standing out in the rain…and not move heaven and earth to get out of that hotel??? I found out later that when a fire is “discovered” in a hotel, the alarms only sound on the floor of discovery, the floor above, and the floor below. So, those people did not know why we were all outside!

They were able to contain the fire and we were allowed to return to our rooms for what was left of the night. The next morning I called my secretary and explained to her that we needed to make a change in my travel profile…to NEVER book me in a hotel room higher than the second floor. She said, “Oh, did something happen???”

Throughout our lives, people are placed in our paths. Some can help, support, motivate, love and make your life better. Others can slow you down, make you wait, keep you from attaining the goals that you have established for yourself. Still, there are others that can hurt and destroy you…suck the very life from you, and make you miserable. There is one key factor in this equation, and that would be you. You have the choice to allow those people to harm you, slow you down, help you, or love you…it is all within your power. I am going to either lead, follow, or simply get out of the way, but I do not intend to slow anyone down…or let them slow me down…I am going to love, support, inspire and motivate! Won’t you join me? Just for this week…