A couple of months ago, I was getting ready to go out with my teenage daughter, and discovered that my wallet had been stolen earlier in the morning. This was very upsetting and the first thing I did was contact the credit card company. They promptly cancelled my card, and the very next thing that happened, of course, was me finding my wallet.
Too late. My card had been cancelled. The toothpaste could not be put back in the tube.
What unfolded next was a comedy of events and errors that led unavoidably to me standing in front of a car rental kiosk at the Edmonton airport a few days later unable to rent the car I had reserved, even though I had prepaid the rental two weeks earlier. I couldn’t rent the car, and my colleague couldn’t take my place in the rental contract.
Even though I had anticipated this problem right after my card had been cancelled, nothing I tried changed the outcome. To add insult to injury, I couldn’t even get a refund!
This was a highly aggravating situation. Yet when I retold it to family, I discovered that it had become a funny story.
Looking back on the situation, I remember having a gnawing sense throughout the whole car rental saga of customer service errors, bureaucratic barriers, and automated voice puzzles that success was not going to be found. Instead, I knew that I was going to be experiencing a humbling lesson in letting go of control. And I think it was this gnawing sense that helped me avoid flying into an all-out rage.
Maybe going through situations like these, which start out as tests of my mental and emotional fortitude and end up being funny in the retelling, teaches me something about adversity. One such lesson is to try not to take myself too seriously. And one way to do that is to try see the humour in tough situations, maybe even have fun with them.
As I observe myself struggling through conflicts and problems, all the while trying with futility to use my habitual methods of problem solving, maybe humour can help me see the situation differently.
One last story. For several years, I enjoyed wall climbing. My close friend and I spent many hours figuring out “problems” as we tried to conquer increasingly difficult climbing routes. While one of us climbed, the other would belay while watching the climber, often offering advice and encouragement.
When a climber gets stuck partway up the wall, it’s not unusual to get tense. And tense hands get tired, and tense minds don’t see creative solutions. So one of the phrases we would use for encouragement was “Smile! It resets your neural pathways!” And it often worked.
So here’s to problems and situations that stump and foil us, whether on the job or at home. And here’s to smiling anyway, and laughing at ourselves often enough to keep things light and enjoyable.