How Do We Define Success?

Sometimes this is how the day goes.

All organized, ready to teach, ready to travel. My suitcase is packed and my schedule is tight, but it’s going to work. I’m planning to leave for the airport directly after teaching my Zoom class, board a flight to Chicago where I’ll meet my son, daughter-in-law and four-month-old grandson to drive to Milwaukee for the weekend. By dinner, I’ll be pushing my grandson around in his state-of-the-art stroller while my son and daughter-in-law attend wedding festivities for one of their friends. I caught a lucky break too. A foot mishap that had me limping around for a day and a half earlier this week miraculously healed itself after I soaked it in Epsom salts.

But things can change quickly. A tornado knocked out the electricity overnight and the wind has strewn tree branches everywhere. I have plenty of time to head out and pick up a coffee since I can’t prepare it at home. Oops. Road blocked by a fallen tree. I take another route. Oops, that one too is blocked. I head in the opposite direction to the cute little breakfast place where one always has to wait for a table. No problem, I have time.

With electricity and internet still out, I need to figure out a place where I can set up shop to teach my Zoom class. If I teach from the library, I’ll need to rearrange my ride to the airport. I begin to work out the details in my head. Miraculously, my flight is still scheduled to leave on time. I’m in great shape and in great spirits, congratulating myself for my superior organizational skills and my mastery of the unexpected.

So, the library, it turns out, is closed. No power, no lights. No problem. Actually, it’s a bit of a problem. I can feel a prickle on my scalp and a tightening in my chest. I don’t want to let down a client, especially an important client like this one. I’m on the phone with my colleague discussing options and he suggests canceling and rescheduling. I resist at first, but soon enough I relent. I dial up the client to add her to our call and am promptly dropped off the call. Cell phone service has turned spotty.

But it works out! I get a text from my colleague who was able to complete the call. The client is dealing with her own lack of internet and electricity and is happy to reschedule. And… my plane is still scheduled to depart on time. All’s well.

Since I’m traveling solo today, I get to leave for the airport at the time I designate as appropriate. Jimmy, my husband and the vigilant, organized and occasionally annoying force of our marriage, needs to leave a full half hour earlier than is comfortable for me. He agrees to drop me at the airport at whatever time I choose!

Once we’re in the car, Jimmy asks, as he does every time we’re on our way to the airport, if I have my driver’s license. Of course, I do. I keep it in my phone case in the place designated for important cards. Just to pacify him, I check.

When it isn’t where it’s supposed to be, the prickle I’d felt earlier becomes an anvil on my heart. My breathing shallows and I observe myself struggling to fill up my lungs. I find myself in panic mode and then the panic turns into a loop of self-recrimination. I’m the careless disorganized one, the one who can’t keep track of important items, the one who once misplaced a diamond necklace entrusted to me by my mother.

The story has a happy ending, albeit humiliating. Jimmy logically thinks through the problem, turns the car around and has me dash into the house to retrieve my passport. He’s confident he can get me back to the airport in time to make my flight. In the meantime, he searches under the car seat (the same seat I had just searched under) and finds my missing driver’s license as well as a credit card. I do make my flight on time and by dinner I am pushing my grandson around Milwaukee in a stroller.

However, if this was a setup to test my mindfulness skills, it’s a test I pretty much failed. I certainly didn’t handle anything with equanimity. I was practically hyperventilating in the car when I couldn’t find my driver’s license. Although, if it were you recounting this story to me, I would tell you that having a mindfulness practice does not remove anxiety or even humiliation from your life, it simply makes you aware of it when it happens and offers a couple of options for how to handle inconvenience, disappointment and the panic induced by not having your driver’s license when you’re on your way to the airport.

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