One Monday morning not too long ago, I boarded a direct flight from Baltimore, MD to Chicago, Illinois. My plan was to land at Midway at 10:15 am, pick up my rental car, drive 20 minutes to a nearby school district, and begin a Differentiation Train-the-Trainers Workshop at 12:30 pm. It was early, so I closed my eyes and took a nap during the short flight. I woke up as the plane was landing.
Yes, Cleveland. It seems that Midway Airport was experiencing fog and had closed down. Our pilot decided to land in Cleveland, unload and then head to his next stop in Seattle. Those of us who needed to get to Chicago were on our own.
When I got off the plane and into the terminal, there were already about 300 people in line at the ticket counter. Evidently five other flights headed to Chicago had also been rerouted to Cleveland. I called my office frantically (Sheri, our COO now calls me The Devil Wears Target) and they hurriedly booked me on another flight. Unfortunately, the earliest I could get out was 1:30 pm, an hour after I was scheduled to begin the training.
I called the wonderful folks in Chicago and we were able to reschedule the training for the following day. There was only one problem. I was supposed to be in Boston the following day. I called my contacts in Boston who agreed to reschedule our meeting for the day after. My office re-booked my flights, rental cars, and hotel rooms. I sat at the airport and waited for the next 4 hours.
I arrived in Chicago late that afternoon, and conducted Workshop the following day. The next day, when I was scheduled to leave, it began to snow. When I arrived at the airport, several inches of snow were already on the ground and every flight out to Boston had been canceled …except my flight.
I boarded the plane feeling pretty smug at my good fortune. As I settled into my seat, the pilot came on over the loud speaker and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen. I don’t know if you can hear that beeping sound, but that means that the plane is confused. It thinks it’s already in the air. We are going to have to get that straight before we can take off.”
The other passengers and I groaned collectively. After a fifteen minutes or so, the pilot comes back on. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we seem to have fixed the problem but now the APU isn’t working. I kinda need that in order to fly this plane so I am going to try to do a control-alt-delete and see if I can reboot the plane.” I thought he was joking, only he wasn’t.
Fifteen tense minutes later and the pilot comes on again, “Ladies and Gentlemen, those fumes you smell? We’re gonna need to check that out before we take off.” Twenty minutes after that, “Ladies and Gentlemen. Turns out those fumes were the de-icing fluid.” Another 30 minutes later, he came on again: “We were able to reboot the plane and will be taking off shortly.”
A few minutes later, we followed a snowplow onto the runway and took off. Once we were in the air, I sank into my seat and wondered how one trip could go so badly. Then it occurred to me:
No offense to the folks who live in Chicago — it is a lovely city. What I mean is that sometimes, we have the best plans in the world and then something completely outside of our control dashes those carefully laid plans. Chicago happens to us all.
Maybe it’s a student who is usually fine but is having a really bad day. Maybe it is the fire drill right in the middle of your unit exam. Maybe it’s a couple of snow days the week you are scheduled to give your state tests. Maybe it’s a lesson that has always worked before that suddenly bombs with your fourth period class. Maybe it’s a personal health scare that knocks you off your game for a few weeks. Whatever it is, it comes up all of a sudden and ruins your plans. And, there is nothing you can do about it.
Chicago happens. But it is how we respond to the Chicago’s of our lives that ultimately makes the difference.
I suspect that the next few months we will be hit with plenty of surprises. It’s that time in the school year. When Chicago Happens, let’s vow to roll with it, recover as quickly as we can, and refuse to let it – whatever IT is – take our eyes off our goals.
We have important work to do.