At this particular moment in my life, I am the president of the Kansas School Public Relations Association. And at this particular point in the year, I’m in the final days of planning our group’s annual fall conference. Since the beginning of the planning process, I have had the time and resources to do things the way I like. Great speakers were locked in many months in advance. The conference site was reserved 10 months ago. Sponsors have been abundant and generous. And a dedicated and hard-working committee of friends and colleagues make the rest of this machine run.
So imagine my surprise last week — 26 days before the opening session — when I got a call from the sponsor and partner who had helped us secure a beautiful meeting space for our event.
And with that phone call, my conference — and the 50+ colleagues, speakers and sponsors scheduled to attend — had become a conference without a home. We were going to be professionally homeless for two days in November.
A lot of things go through a person’s head at a moment like this. Mostly, it’s some combination of, “You’ve got to be kidding me,” “So, this isn’t good,” and “Well, crap.”
The next several hours were exactly what anyone would expect, given the circumstances. Drop everything. Get started making phone calls, sending Facebook and Twitter messages, exchanging texts and e-mails. Try to identify any potential connection and call out every potential favor. And, of course, mobilize the great people I know to do the same.
Incredibly, not 24 hours after that phone call, we had a new space that is no more than a hundred yards from the original space. (Huge props to our sponsor and partner for doing the heavy lifting to get us in such a nice space, so quickly.) Looking back it’s a no-big-deal-all-is-well-that-ends-well kind of thing, but I the eventual answer was anything but obvious at the time. Mercifully, this oh-my-goodness-please-do-not-be-true experience was short-lived. But most amazing to me was my persistent calm. I did not panic. I did not cry. I did not even feel like crying. How can this be?
In those very same hours, a friend and her family was embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime family vacation to Disney World, when they missed their connecting evening flight in Dallas. And the next flight they needed was more than 24 hours later. First thing the next morning, I was greeted by this…I was amazed and deeply impressed. Faced with disaster, they rented a car, drove through the night and didn’t look back. I commented later how much I admired her attitude and resolve. “Next time I find myself in a totally discouraging, irritating, out-of-my-control situation, I am going to channel your attitude and problem solving. Seriously impressed. (I’d still be yelling at someone and crying in the DFW bathroom.)”
Her response? “I have to be honest. That is exactly what I wanted to do. Unfortunately it wouldn’t have solved anything! We are in Tallahassee. 270 miles left!”
Not more than an hour later, a friend and colleague who heard about the homeless conference emergency e-mailed me. “I would probably be a hot mess crying on the bathroom floor if I got that kind of news.”
And then it hit me. My Disney-bound friend and I were actually in the same shoes. We were both faced with something that we couldn’t control, that threatened to all but undo an otherwise awesome experience. And instead of panic, shouting or bathroom tears, we chose resolve.
Maybe this is maturity — this don’t-panic-just-solve-the-problem state of mind. Whatever it is, I love it. Crying in the bathroom may feel good for a short time, but it’s pretty useless when there are problems to solve.