The Cockroach Spelled Disaster

I should have known when I spotted the enormous cockroach on the wall that things would go all whack on Sunday.  The horrible creature was easily 6cm (just over 2 inches) long and it came creeping out from behind the TV stand in the hotel room.  Chico and I were up at 5:00am to leave our Miami hotel, drive our rental car to the airport, return the car and catch our flight home.  They say bad things happen in threes, but on Sunday, three bad things in a row led to a fourth, the consequences of which all led to a fifth bad thing.

Chico’s reaction was swift and merciless: he whacked that cockroach right off the wall with a rolled up magazine.  It lay on the floor, slowly expiring and cursing our day with its dying breath.  And boy, was it ever a powerful curse.  After the cockroach came problems with checking out of the hotel (bad thing #2).  Then the valet parking attendant with our car key disappeared for several minutes, making it impossible for us to even leave (bad thing #3).  By the time we left, we were running over half an hour late.

Now, both of us travel a lot.  I have been flying regularly since before I can remember, and never in my life have I EVER missed a flight. Perhaps for this reason the prospect of missing our plane seemed to be the most disastrous thing possible.  I went into full-fledged panic mode.  After making every wrong decision possible (bad thing #4), we finally deposited the rental car, sprinted to the metro rail, and ran through the terminal to our check-in desk where we were definitively informed that we had, indeed, missed our flight.  Bad thing #5, the supposed worst, had happened.

While we stood there trying to find a way home, all the “we should haves” came out.  We sure were able to think clearly in retrospect!  I have been in stressful situations before.  I’ve faced deadlines, decisions, uncomfortable situations, you name it!  That eustress (or “euphoric stress”) was always a positive driver.  But missing a flight must have been my boogeyman because I realized that I have never been so overwhelmed by stress in my life.  It was disturbing to think about how quickly any capacity for rational thought had evaporated.  It was doubly disturbing to think this stress was caused by something so inconsequential as missing a flight.  Sure, we had to pay for a new one-way ticket home, but the cost was entirely reasonable and no more than we would have spent on another night in Miami.

Photo 2013-02-11 18 22 14This distress was useless and counter-productive.  And really, when is stress ever anything but?  (Unless, perhaps, you’re being chased by a starving wolf pack in the frozen arctic, but that’s another kind of stress.)  I also remembered my post about failure and realized that missing this flight, though a kind of failure, really wasn’t all that horrible.  Everything in life can teach us a lesson, and the lesson to draw from this misadventure is that stressing out does not help anything.  It is a downwards spiral that can blow a relatively minor problem way out of proportion.  So I have decided that I will not let stress get the better of me like that again.  To help me, I am reading “The Mind Gym” (Sphere, 2007) and their chapter on stress management.

After all that, Sunday turned out to be our most fun day in Miami, and Chico and I were able to thoroughly relax and enjoy our visit.  You can read some of my reviews on TripAdvisor.

Ice Skating and Failure

Yesterday was a beautiful, cold, typical Montreal winter day.  The sky was perfectly blue and the temperatures hit -12°C.  Chico and I decided to break out the ice skates we bought last year (and used maybe twice) and head to a nearby park to skate.

Park Lafontaine
Our Nearby Park

We laced ourselves into our skates and tentatively stood up and inched forward.  As always when first putting on skates, I am really, really, REALLY nervous.  It takes a while for me to get into the rhythm, and I skate with my eyes peeled on the ice in front of me, evaluating its state of smoothness and likelihood to trap me into a painful fall.

After a while, and feeling more adventurous, I picked up speed and got into a good gliding motion.  But then, I hit a rough patch.  The blades of my skates got caught in the choppy ice, and a law of inertia came into play: my upper body stayed in motion while an external force acted upon my feet.  My skates slowed and my torso kept moving and WHAM!  I ended up flat on my stomach, arms sprawled ahead and looking extremely undignified.

As soon as I stopped moving and was able to ascertain I wasn’t injured, I broke into a peal of giggles.  “So that’s what falling feels like?” I asked myself.  “Is that as bad as it gets??  Man, that was NOTHING!”  And I got up, dusted myself off and skated off, my whole body much more relaxed, less tense and more ready to enjoy the skating.

A friend once said that if you don’t fall over on a ski outing, you don’t learn anything.  That was certainly true of my ice skating excursion.  And it got me thinking about the value of failure.  We are often so terrified of failure.  But we fail (ha, get it?) to consider just how useful failure can be.  Rare are the cases when our failure will result in something horribly disastrous, physically painful or hurtful to someone else.  Most of the time, if we make a mistake or mess up, we will at worst embarrass ourselves, be humbled and perhaps a little humiliated.  But hey, that’s all a healthy, learning opportunity.

Falling flat on my stomach on the ice yesterday reminded me that I needn’t be afraid of failure.  That doesn’t mean I won’t try to avoid it, but I won’t be afraid of it.  I’ll probably mess some things up in the future, but hopefully I’ll be able to dust myself off and keep skating.