Late Night Conversations At 40,000 Feet
August 12, 2014
What was that lyric line from America's classic song, "Tin Man?" Sometimes late, when things are real, and people share the gift of gab between themselves ... one Friday night on a very late flight out of Chicago the guy next to me in 11-E started to talk. I've had a thousand of those conversations flying as much as I do; some of them riveting though most just pass the time.
Some are quick to take the bait and catch the perfect prize that waits among the shelves ... I don't know what it is about the mood of an airliner late at night (recent catastrophes notwithstanding) ... maybe barriers come down, fatigue sets in, and the relative anonymity of someone next to you seems benign, safe.
In his unabashed free flowing biography, Chet in 11-E told me he had been on top in his specialty as a geologist heading his own Chicago-based firm, building it to its apogee then wildly investing its surpluses only to be double-crossed by a partner and unforgiving bankers. "Literally I've lost about everything but my skill, and I'm not entirely sure why or how it happened," he said. "It's been humbling. I've been reckless, spent too much money and trusted too much."
I felt a lot of empathy for my flying companion's all-too-common account, often heard in our current epoch. My mind went reeling back to my very early thirties, buying radio stations ... the what-ifs, the tense launches and fortunate victories. Considering Chet's travails, I remember thinking "it could have been me." There's not much you can offer someone dealt a career body blow, though I reminded Chet he had his family and his life. Perhaps he was confusing net-worth for self-worth and that with time his fiscal setbacks could be set right. Never be less, because others won't be more.
The mystery of why people do what they do -- from athletes and 4-star Generals to CEOs like my row11-E seatmate -- is fascinating, though usually left unanswered. The crucial decisions we make aren't easily analyzed; even when alone in reminiscent tranquility years after. Not all are at ease with words and remembrances. Events evaporate and are gone, especially the evanescent moments of a crucial decision on which a great outcome turns as the memoirs written and sealed in the recesses of our mind long afterward are often as misleading as they are illuminating.
Some truly proud people like the guy in 11-E say or write little of their checkered history. I reminded him (though I doubt it brought much solace) that we're all governed by the principle of calculated risk, which should be interpreted to mean the avoidance of unnecessary risk exposure without the prospect of inflicting greater damage to a competitor for greater gain. Boiled down, it means "try to win with an aggressive outlook but always have a contingency plan." Eventually Chet will reinvent. It seemed to be his entrepreneurial destiny.
Today, we're bombarded with prognostications of how positive or negative we should feel about our future, but we run into rocks and shoals when we let that rushing torrent of what-ifs define our happiness years later.
No, Oz never did give nothin' to the Tin Man ... that he didn't already have...