– Why are airports so freaking cold all the time? I asked while trying to convince myself that yet another doughnut will keep me warm inside out.
While I was wobbling back from the airport food stand, I came upon yet another Tinder worthy description of myself: hungry traveler. I don’t mean that in a “hungry for conversation” or “knowledge” kind of way. I’m never in the mood for talking and pack an extra book just in case I breeze through the first one and a big magazine that skillfully hides me from the rest of the chatty travelers.
I mean it in an old testament, embarrassing wrath of bowels symphony kind of way. When asked if I want chicken or fish on the flight, there’s a reptilian part of me that wants to scream: “Both!”. Luckily, the potty-trained part chooses only one of them, then smiles and asks for a second dessert if possible. As I was thanking God that the T-Rex sized appetite is still safely contained by this chipmunk frame, a heard a voice saying:
– Are you on the red eye to Istanbul, too? The man standing across me asked out of nowhere.
I slowly lowered my reading pieces and uncovered my face just for a moment, so I could utter the world’s most dismantling “Yes”. “It’s kind of obvious since we’re both at this gate because we’re on the same flight, duh”, I thought.
– Too bad, it’s going to be delayed, you know?
– That’s not happening! I said in a heartbeat. Look, the board has not changed. There’s no delayed fli…
I didn’t even manage to finish the word and the flight status changed.
– Yeah, I’ve been checking the flights, he said again while showing me an app full of graphs, colored lines and numbers, the type of an app that only an engineer would have.
– Oh. Ok, thanks for the update, I mumbled and buried my head in the papers I printed for this specific trip.
I needed to focus. I was going to a fancy (read nerve racking) interview for an industry I knew nothing about.
The company that was recruiting was so high-end that, for the first time in my life, they’ve paid my entire trip and travel expenses. Red carpet treatment. Somehow I made it through all the preliminary phases and now I was on my way to the final stage of the interview and had a meeting with the CEO and other short list candidates. I was a hot trembling mess of anxiety, that only a third doughnut could calm down.
I was traveling by myself – which I love doing usually – and was supposed to be in Istanbul for only 48 hours – sufficient time for things to go terribly wrong. We’ve all seen Taken. Talking to strangers in the airport was a big no-no.
– Are you cold? He asked again politely.
– No, I said while shaking my head and squinting my eyes. “Can’t you please not hit on me, thank you?” I was thinking in my head. “I mean, can’t a girl go somewhere by herself and not have to deal with men making a pass at her?” “He’s even got a wedding ring”, I thought while rolling my eyes so hard you could almost hear them.
I immediately started doing the math – which always adds to my crankiness. “I was supposed to get there at 11 pm, but now we’ll only land at 1 am, and that means I’ll be at the hotel at 2 am and get exactly 4 hours of shut eye until the interview. Kill. Me. Now.”-
– They say it’s delayed for only 2 hours, but it will be longer, the guy said again, while moving on the same row of seats that I was on.
I didn’t look up. “This guy is unbelievable!”. I’ll furiously journal about this later, I said to myself.
– So, why are you traveling to Istanbul? Business or pleasure?
– An interview, I said annoyed.
– Really? That’s so exciting.
– Is it?
– I bet it is.
– It’s for an oil and gas company. So, maybe not so interesting, I said.
Curiously, his entire face lit up like a glow stick.
– Really? I’m on my way to an oil platform. I work as an oil and gas engineer.
I knew it, I could smell and engineer a mile away, I thought!
– You don’t say! I finally turned around to face him.
– Yes, it’s my third round being on an oil platform. I think this is going to be my last year though. My wife just had our first child and being away from my girls is getting harder and harder. The money is good, but I don’t know for how long I can keep it up. But, hey, are you sure you want in this business?
– What do you mean?
– Well, it’s not looking that good actually. The oil barrel price is down, the forecasts are horrible, and many companies are facing a grim future.
He then started giving me pointers, insights and details from working first hand in that market, including oil prices around the world and in depth particularities that my mind soaked up instantly. The hours went by in a jiffy and towards the end I was running out of ways to thank him. When we landed, I wished him well and went on my way.
It was 3 am and I was standing in front of the arrivals exit, trying to figure out the fastest way to get to my hotel. I somehow waltz along the line of people that were waiting for their turn to grab a cab. As I threw myself to the first cab in front, I heard a wave of disapproving sounds. It’s funny how with even no knowledge of a foreign language you can easily distinguish the forging curse words directed to you. An older man with a high pitched voice was trying to make a point:
– No, no, no! Lineeeee! He was desperately moving his hands up and down in an attempt to show me that I’ve broken all the common sense rules upon minutes of landing in a different country.
Just perfect. I apologize, making the international ostrich move with my head firmly planted towards the pavement and walking 2 km back, at the end of the “lineeeee”. Cultural walk of shame, checked!
After 15 minutes of not going an inch further, the same gentleman that shouted at me earlier comes up to me and says:
– Where go?
I pull out a piece of paper on which I’ve printed the name and address of the hotel, making this one of the proudest moments of my life – I’ve anticipated the language barrier and thought ahead, for once. While I was rejoicing this rare glimpse of wisdom that comes by once in a decade, he said “OK”, grabbed my luggage and stormed away with it.
I stood there, on the sidewalk, watching him carrying my luggage away, God knows where.
– What do I do now?! Do I follow him?! This is how all the kidnapping movies start. He can sell me for spare parts by the break of dawn. But I have to make it to my interview, I have to be there in 4 hours!!!
I sprinted in the same direction, trying to catch up with him. He put my carry-on luggage in his trunk and said “OK” one more time. I got in his car. That backseat has never witnessed so many ardent prayers to all Liam Nielson angelic figures out there.
To my surprise, the man was very much not into human trafficking, so I arrived safely at my hotel and had a full 3-hour sleep before my interview. My dark circles had their own zip code. My confidence was as wrinkled as my power suit. My hair did the thing it does on vacation. It’s hard to trust the “you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be” motto when your own bangs are proving it wrong. “It is what it is” sounded more accurate, I thought while staring at the mirror.
By yet another miracle, I arrived on time at the company.
The CEO was there.
The entire recruiting process was ruthless and never ending.
There were 3 other amazing (final) candidates, selected from 1k resumes per day, worldwide. OMG! Hearing this made me full-body sweat. I started doubting myself and my purpose there, but since according to my next tattoo line “existence never makes mistakes”, I made that my mantra and went along what seemed, at first, like a cosmic joke.
Curiously, I mastered the first part of the interview, and that triggered a massive growth spurt of confidence. The CEO was smiling and nodding at everything I said. My OCD of over-preparing, reading all my answers out loud the night before and “being myself”, seemed to work. Go figure!
The last part of the joint interview was regarding the dreaded market knowledge.
The exercise: a series of images with extremely powerful figures of the oil and gas industry were projected in real time and we had to know which Arabic dude is richer than the other. As far as my eyes and brain were concerned, the slideshow consisted of only one really old Arabic dude with a different colored turban after another. Classic case of ignorance, I mean … ethnic blindness.
After the 12th same looking man, I was panicking. The other girls were nailing almost every figure that appeared on the screen, like it was a game show finale, while I sunk deeper and deeper into my chair, faking an intrigued thinking grimace. I pretended to be pissed every time one of them was the first one to guess. Still waiting for my Oscar.
All of sudden, a familiar figure appeared. The heavens opened up. By some miracle, my hand moves even faster than my brain and it’s the first one up. I was so happy to recognize him. It showed.
– Justin Bieber!, I shouted with glee.
My interviewer stopped blinking. The CEO was the living definition of flabbergasted. After the color came back his face, he said, with the seriousness of a deeply concerned headmaster:
– We only showed this picture to point out that the media gets it wrong. While everybody can recognize a teen idol, only a handful of people know the real big players of the world, he said with a sad sigh.
“Excuse me while I dig a whole to China”, I thought.
The questions regarding the industry kept going, only this time, they were fact based, and not Prince of Persia related. By the power of whatever gods exist in the world, I was still in the game. I wanted to take the floor and answer the questions, but this time my interviewer was visibly nervous about naming me. I felt a connection. She was rooting for me until the Biebier incident and she was reluctant to offer me more chances to bomb. I can’t say I blame her.
So, instead of waiting for her to give me the floor, I jump in the conversation with an epic line:
– I promise I’m smart, I said before answering the question.
Everybody laughed. I continued with the right answers, specific details about pricing and different methodologies. Hard core stuff. Comparisons, examples, I knew it all. I was answering further questions with a smug. Thank you, airport stranger! “God bless random conversations with strangers”, I thought to myself.
The next day, I got an email with the job offer. The 2 most embarrassing days of my life so far miraculously melted into a good thing. I was preparing to fail even before skillful recognizing Beiber like a 60s groupie. But somehow I opened up and cracked the world’s tiniest joke. It worked. My confidence was not splattered all around the meeting room floor after the humiliating moment. My ego wasn’t inflated after making things right. But the self-acceptance radar was looking pretty good.
Bouncing back from career blunders is an art form that takes years to master.
I’m still learning. I’m still having mild panic attacks when I royally mess up – like the time when instead of emailing everybody in the office an article with the latest advertising trends, I shared a link to an epilator – also known as the Great Hairy Incident of 2013.
Maybe you called your boss “dad” by mistake. Or fell flat on your face at a company meeting. Maybe instead of writing your work wife about what an asshole your manager is, you sent him that very message.
Maybe landing on your feet is not always possible. But forgiving yourself is. Learning, growing, opening up to the possibility that strangers can become teachers and even mistakes can be celebrated is the best way to go. Being overly excited to see Bieber in a boardroom, is a red flag, just saying!