I check my phone again and shift from one leg to the other. My comfortable one-hour transfer at Frankfurt airport is squeezed into an uncomfortable half-an-hour. Squashed between other passengers, I’m gripping the handle of my suitcase, ready to charge to the exit. Eventually the queue is moving and I burst out into fresh air. It’s sunny and warm, but I haven’t got time to enjoy it. Running down the steps, I get on the first of two busses waiting for passengers. My heart is pounding. Come on, come on, come on! With a sinking heart, I watch the second bus depart first. Damn! 20 minutes to the take off. Surely, they’ll wait for me. It was their fault that my plane was delayed.
Eventually, I’m at the terminal. I run to the first official-looking man and ask for help.
‘My plane was late, I need to catch my connection.’
There are no shortcuts, he explains. You’ve got to go through security.
Grace and dignity gone out of window, I run. Breasts jiggling, my free arm flailing, frazzled and out of breath, I get to my gate, and thrust my passport and boarding pass at the woman sitting at the check-in desk.
‘It’s too late, the gate is closed.’
Without warning, tears spill out of my eyes. She looks surprised.
‘We’ve put you on the next plane. It’ll be departing at 22:30.’
I take my new boarding pass and drag my feet to the nearest seat. Tears are flowing freely now, and I’m making no effort to contain them anymore. So much for travelling via Frankfurt. I wanted to make it to the hotel in a daylight, to find my way around better. Now I’ll be arriving around 3am, if I’m lucky. Will I find any trains to Bayreuth in the middle of the night? I cry more. I’m so tired holding it all together.
Eventually, my tears dry out. I message my husband and prepare for a six hour wait at the airport.
‘Travel by train,’ my husband encourages.
‘But I don’t know how to find my way around.’ I mumble my excuses, snuggle up on a seat and open a book on my phone I’ve started on the plane. It’s called ‘Long Story Short: The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need’ by Margot Leitman.
Here’s what I read:
“I am not a self-help guru by any means, so apologies if this gets a little self-help-y. But in order to be a great storyteller, you must start saying yes to scary things again. Go to a party where you don’t really know anyone. Go to your high school reunion. When a situation gets a little strange, as long as you aren’t putting yourself in physical danger, try diving into the crazy instead of running from it. When you bump into someone from your past, perhaps someone who broke your heart, don’t hide. Say yes to scary things! Say hi and see what happens. Don’t get stuck in the rut of a monotonous life that nothing interesting ever happens in. In order to create more stories, you have to be open to new experiences.”
You know that feeling when the universe delivers what you need to hear? It was like a light-bulb moment, which spurred me (encouraged by my husband) to find the information desk and change my ticket for train. In the process, I discovered that German punctuality is a myth! My train was late too (and so were my return flights)….
The first big opportunity to practice her advice presented itself on my first day in Germany. The colleague who was hosting me invited to dinner at his house. Now normally I’m really shy. My immediate impulse was to say ‘No, thank you. I arrived to the hotel way after 1am, had a busy teaching day, etc. etc. etc..’ Instead, I said a graceful,
We agreed that he’d pick me up at 6pm. I returned to my hotel after a busy teaching day, took a bath and passed out. When I woke up, it was 5:30pm. My phone was ringing and it was my German colleague.
‘I’m ready when you are,’ I tried to sound as chirpy as I could.
‘There’s a slight complication. The car is not available, so I don’t know when I can pick you up. But… I could come by a motorbike.’
Now, I remember fondly exhilarating rides with my husband in London in the early days of our courtship, but the idea of hugging a beer-belly of a senior German colleague did not excite me straightaway. Still, I stuck with this new attitude to life and said,
Here’s why I should have said no. Apart from anything else, the helmet was too small. After wrestling with it for a couple of minutes, I managed to squeeze in my head. My circulation stopped, of that I’m sure. I could hardly breathe, so I took it off straightaway.
Maybe next time…. It wasn’t meant to be….
I took a deep breath in and pushed through it again. Except this time he started fiddling with the straps. It had to be properly strapped on.
Finally, we were ready to go.
‘Is it far?’ I asked belatedly.
‘No, it’s close.’
No, it wasn’t. As my palms were sweating profusely onto his light yellow shirt and my oxygen levels were dropping dramatically, I tried to reassure myself that it was all worth it because one day, it’ll make a good story.
I hope it did.
It also made me think of this:
Life is a story. No matter what your circumstances, tell that story well.
You don’t even have to be a writer or a blogger. Do you see friends? Go to social events? Talk to your family? We tell stories all the time. Why not make it more engaging?
But even more importantly:
Get mindful of the stories you tell yourself.
Do you constantly focus on what goes wrong in life? We all do that from time to time. But if you can get conscious of what you are telling yourself and others about you, your loved ones, your job, your life – you may have an opportunity to change the narrative of your life. Awareness is power.
Here’s a great video to help you tip the balance towards the positivity by fabulous Marie Forleo.
So, where do you find stories, dear reader, and what stories do you tell yourself?