Happy Pain

It wasn’t a happy travel day.

I arrive at my airline departure gate, no service agent in sight, no sign of my flight. Once I find the large electronic board in the terminal that lists all departures for the airport, there it is, no longer any doubt. FLIGHT CANCELLED.

No, I will not tell you a travel-war-story. This is a story of happy pain.

I see a little elderly lady standing at the gate, looking lost, another displaced soul from this flight.

I am going to the other terminal and find a rebooking counter, I say to her. I hesitate, and then I figure I should ask. Do you want to come with me?

My lady nods in eager agreement.

Here is the not-so-pretty part. It’s a hefty walk to the other terminal. I want to hustle over there and get this taken care of. Fast. My elderly lady is a slow mover. She smiles in determination to keep up with me. I grit my teeth and can’t believe that I may need to slow down when I so fervently wish to accelerate.

I hate to slow down.

I slow down.

10 minutes later, as my lady and I slide into the not-at-all-moving queue at the rebooking center, I notice her accent.

Where are you from? I ask.

Brazil, she says. I have been flying all night to get to Miami.

I pause. I see the tiredness in her eyes. Her name is Anna.

You are my angel today, Anna says to me. I don’t know what I would have done without you.

And then I feel it. Happy pain.

A 3-hour plane ride ends up becoming an 8-hour odyssey. It doesn’t matter after this moment.

Happy pain.

It is the gift of the unexpected. And it shows up in two ways.

We invoke it by how we respond to the unexpected. And we invoke it when we do the unexpected.

Joe, the client who I am off to see on this trip, is a VP at a Fortune 500 firm. He is having one of those weeks in which old demons get the best of him. Faced with a looming deadline, Joe becomes a bull in a china shop. He goes data crazy, slips into sleepless overtime mode, makes endless demands on his cohorts, doesn’t know when to quit.

But we had a great team meeting last week, Joe declares ruefully.

Wonderful, I say. What made it a great meeting?

Instead of starting the meeting as I always do, Joe explains, I asked each department to share a recent success or two, and I found ways of sincerely complimenting folks on these successes.

Joe had never ever started a meeting this way before. He did the unexpected.

Folks told him how much they enjoyed the meeting.

Happy pain.

It is the gift that doesn’t look like a gift. It is the gift of the unexpected.

We invite the gift by how we respond to the unexpected, and we invite it when we do the unexpected.

The unexpected will happen. The unexpected can be invoked.

This week, invoke and invite.

Choose happy pain.