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Lisa Earle McLeod: Insightful moment on a plane

There’s a moment on every airplane when you make a decision.

It’s not a life-changing decision, but it’s a decision nonetheless. It’s the moment when you decide, “Am I going to speak to the person next to me? Or am I going to ignore them?”

Imagine that it’s Monday morning and you have just boarded a 737. You find your seat, and muscle your bag into the overhead. You shove a briefcase into the space in front of your feet, and settle into your seat. Your mind takes you to the week ahead. Do you have it in you to get through five more days of this?

Your seatmate arrives. He looks friendly enough, another business traveler just like you.

Now it’s time for the decision: Do you engage? Or do you act as if whatever is on your phone is the most important document that ever existed?

You’ve had a million of these meaningless airplane conversations. You already know how it will go. He’ll ask you where you live and what you do for a living. Then you’ll do the same.

What’s the point? So you decide that for today, you just don’t have it in you to engage.

Oops, too late. He has already made eye contact. He has made the decision for both of you. And so it begins.

After the usual pleasantries, he asks the standard question, “What do you do for a living?” How do you answer?

If you’re like most people you respond with your job title or industry. You say something like, “I work in software” or “I’m a lawyer” or “I’m in finance” or “I run a distribution company.”

The other person nods and says that this must be “interesting” or “tough” or “challenging,” or some other innocuous adjective that basically communicates nothing other than “So you, too, are a cog in this giant machine we call business.”

Then you ask what they do for a living and provide a similar nonaffirming yet seemingly positive response. Is it any wonder that people are tired of this conversation?

What if, instead of sharing your job title, you had something more interesting to say?

What if you said something like this:

“People call me when they’re in the dreaming phase. They want to take a trip. They might know where they want to go, or they might not have any idea. All they know is that they want to explore, they want to see and do something different. I show them cool places. I ask them how they want to feel when they travel. I find out about their family, and their loves. Then I help them create something amazing that they’ll remember forever.”

Or what if you said, “I work with people in risky situations. They have to make big decisions, big financial decisions that could make or break their business, or their lives. I help them figure out which way to go. I help them sleep at night. I help them feel safe.”

When you describe your job like that, you rarely get innocuous adjectives in response. The two descriptions above are real. They’re clients of ours: a travel agent and an accountant.

Their descriptions reveal a level of enthusiasm and emotional engagement that’s contagious.

The way you describe your job has a direct impact on the way you do your job. Next time you sit down on a plane and someone asks, “What do you do for a living?” Listen to your own answer. What conclusions do you reach?