My Voice

CLEARING THE UPGRADE LIST: Do You Really Know Where You’re Going?

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  • Thursday, September 04, 2014
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  • Paul Larsen

Traveling can provide some not so nice surprises…like delayed flights or planes that divert because people recline their seats. But sometimes in the frenetic pace of today’s world…we need a reminder of where it is we are going. We need a reminder to slow down. We need a reminder what life is all about. I got such a reminder from someone I don’t even know.

This airline club lounge at a major US city was busy as usual for a mid-afternoon bank of flights. If folks weren’t talking on their phones…they were texting with the speed of sound…or pounding away on their laptops….you get the scene. Everyone was connecting…just not to each other.

On the massive television screen in the middle of the room, CNN began an update report on the current merger between two major US-based airlines. And since we were in the lounge of one of these airlines, filled with frequent flyers, folks stopped their jabbering for a moment to pay attention to this particular story.

As I listened to the report that featured the usual corporate speak on the merger, I could not help but notice that a cleaning lady was standing next to me and had paused from her work for a minute to listen to the new CEO spell out the merged airline’s strategy. As I glanced her way, I noticed that her face displayed many years of hard work and her hearing aid represented challenges unknown to me.

She then turned to me with a bright smile and said:

“You know, they said that the lay-offs were all done…but I think there are going to be more. How can anybody be sure at this point?”

I agreed with her and said that this type of merger takes time and that there could be more lay-offs before it was all done. I was about to provide her a “canned note of sympathy” but before I could, she began picking up someone else’s trash and said:

“I know that I might lose my job…so all I can do is smile and do the best I can. I love it here because I get to meet people flying to exciting places all over the country and the world. So its easy to smile…its how I deal with most everything in my life.”

Now in the midst of this busy lounge, where everyone wears their road warrior “luggage tags” as badges of honor… here was this cleaning lady…probably invisible to most…going about her job with a sense of fulfillment that I bet most of my fellow travelers would envy. She also looked at our travels not as a hassle but as something to cherish.

I don’t know her personal story, but by watching her, I surmised that she has lived a life that has not always been easy. And probably didn’t include a lot of elite travel benefits and time to sit in lounges. But her attitude and outlook was at an elite level that no amount of perks or upgrades could match. It appears, she has achieved the one upgrade we all seek…yet many of us seldom clear: She was fulfilled in her role.

We exchanged good-byes and I left that lounge a little more humbled and a little more appreciative. Never underestimate the power of someone’s voice…and a smile. My upgrade had cleared that day.


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