Sept. 12, 2019, 9:57 p.m.

We see the world, not as it is, but as we are

So I got offered the role in the end, the one I mentioned in a previous blog post and for which I thought I had screwed up the interview. This reminded me of a moment of awareness I had when drafting my application for the role. The process was simple and just involved answering 4 short, competency-based questions once personal details had been filled in. After polishing up my answers way in advance of the deadline, I asked a friend, who currently worked in the role, if she would mind having a quick look at my application and giving me feedback on how to improve it. She happily obliged so I sent them to her via Facebook and told her to check in her own time.

A few days, I logged in to see that she had replied. Upon clicking on the Messenger icon, I saw that she had sent 3 separate messages but could only see the last one, which simply said ‘I’m really sorry’. Suddenly, I felt a jolt of fear. Were my application answers really that terrible? With trepidation, I reluctantly clicked into the conversation. It was only then that I saw, in her 2 previous messages, that she was saying sorry simply because she had been very busy and hadn’t yet found the time to read my application yet. In that instant, I realised I had jumped to the conclusion that she must be apologising because my application answers were so bad that she thought I had no chance of making it to the interview stage. …...That moment gave me an insight into myself and the lens through which I see the world. Fearfully. If we are not completely secure in ourselves (for whatever reason), we will be primed to perceive ‘threats’ more easily. It’s the way the primitive, ‘reptilian’ part of our brains is programmed. Thus, it was a reflection of my not-very-confident self being racked with its usual doubt rather than an objective state of or perspective on the situation. She was to say a few days later that she thought my application was really strong.

What could I learn from my reaction? Don’t we all jump to conclusions sometimes? I guess the first step would be to notice our triggers and take a step back. Be kind to ourselves. As cheesy as it sounds, thank our minds for looking out for us and trying to protect us from harm because that is exactly what they’re doing (just in a very misguided way), but soothe and reassure it. This is a false alarm; there is no real threat here.

Another similar scenario arose over the bank holiday weekend, which I spent in the beautiful city of Hannover. The holiday itself was great and hearing German being spoken all around us reminded me of why I chose to study the language for the first year of sixth-form. I was visiting my sister, who is based there for a couple of months and conveniently had those 3 days off work. We explored the Sprengel Museum (effectively an art gallery) on the first afternoon before resting our weary legs by the nearby lake (Machsee) afterwards. There is something infinitely calming about seeing the orchestra-like movement of water, the ripples moving in tandem on the surface. More nature was to follow with a visit to the immaculately-maintained Herrenhäuser Gardens on the next day and a few hours spent walking through Europe’s largest city forest, the serene Eilenriede, on the last day. It almost felt like we had most of the forest to ourselves as there was hardly anyone else about. Imagining how busy the parks in the UK must have been on sunny bank holiday Monday made me appreciate the peace and tranquility even more.

Having found my Zen, I then went and lost it all after missing my night flight back to Manchester. For some reason, my brain seemed to get the departure and arrival times mixed up and made the costly assumption (up until it was too late) that the flight was leaving Hannover Airport at 10:45pm and not 10pm. God knows why I didn’t bother to double check. Subconsciously, it must have known the actual departure time because at around 9:20pm, after I had taken a leisurely shower and was gathering up the few remaining items to put in my suitcase and backpack, I suddenly had an epiphany that my flight might actually be leaving at 10pm. As I was busy packing up my stuff, I got my sister to check on her laptop and she confirmed my fears. Thanks, brain! You couldn’t have given me that epiphany any earlier, could you?

I hurriedly made sure I hadn’t left anything and we power-walked it to the airport, which was only a 3-minute walk away on foot, so we got there by half 9. Being aware of just how small the airport is (going through security was to barely take 5 minutes), I had a hope that I could still make it, even though I needed to check in and get my boarding pass (note to self: check-in online next time and ask the hotel reception staff to print off the pass. For goodness sake, they were only 2 floors down!). On arriving, we saw the sad and lonely-looking Flybe check-in desks in the dark. There was nobody there. Panic started to grow. My hope started to fade. I accosted a passing airport staff member who informed me that check-in closes 40 minutes before departure so I wouldn’t be able to get on the flight. Luckily for me, there was a Flybe flight to Birmingham which would have departed at 10pm as well but was delayed by an hour and so I could get onto that flight. Given this fortune, I should have felt relieved, especially as I had a friend who had just finished her Master’s and was going back to China for good the day after the next and I wanted to get back to Manchester to see her before she left. But relief was far off my emotion radar.

The first thought that came to my mind was ‘How could I be so stupid?’ Rather than seeing my mix-up as being part of the inherent fallibility of the human mind, I saw it exclusively as being something to do with me personally, conveniently ignoring all the other times my brain has organised itself sufficiently to get me to the airport on time. This was the first flight I had missed and yet I was acting as if I expected to sail through life without ever missing any flights (or anything else going wrong for that matter), as if my mind was programmed like a perfect robot. Despite my attempts at mindfulness, the intense frustration and occasional self-reproach continued all the way to Birmingham, compounded by being sat behind a screaming baby. My mind was losing all sense of proportion.

Then I reflected and thought about how I was reacting to the situation, the lens through which I was seeing it. Maybe I can try to change the ‘lens’, like they do at the opticians when testing my eyes. If I have the ‘fear’ lens on (as in the first situation) or the ‘anger’ lens, why not try switching it to the ‘curious’ or ‘light-hearted’ lens and see such mishaps not only as an opportunity to see how I react to challenges, but also as being part of the wonderful adventure that is life? Also, knowing that I can take life a bit too seriously at times, sometimes I try to think about how a comedian would handle or see the situation and then I realise it isn’t such a big deal in the grand scheme of things, despite what my emotions may be screaming at me otherwise. Try a different role on for size and see how it fits you.

The brain is an amazing organ. It does trillions of calculations every day to keep us alive (many of which we are not even aware of because they are done automatically without entering our conscious awareness) and functioning as optimally as possible. It allows us to think, feel and interact with our fellow human beings mostly with ease. It enables us to enjoy what life has to offer and experience the full essence of what it’s like to be human. But we forget that it is part of us, imperfect human beings. So sometimes it may take unhelpful shortcuts and cause us to misplace things, misjudge words and miss flights. Forgive it. Forgive ourselves. In a week’s time, maybe even in a day’s time, these emotional storms will have passed and we will look back at it with only a residue of mild irritation, the mark of having learnt from the experience.

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