Coping when life throws you a curveball (or hockey puck!)

Life is full of surprises. In business they can derail the best-laid plans. The ability to cope with them well is a great asset, as I have learned over and over again. 

Recently I attended a two-day meeting in Plano, Texas, of a corporate advisory board of which I have had the good fortune of being a member for the past eight years. I had been asked to say a few words about the immediate past CEO of the company at a dinner after the first day of meetings. I had prepared my remarks and I was looking forward to extolling the virtues of this outstanding executive, who had done wonderful things for the company as well as veterans by founding an organization that found jobs for them back in the good old U.S.A.

As I left for my flight from Chicago, I was excited about the upcoming board meeting, although a bit nervous about my talk that evening, which I had worked on for a couple of days. I wanted to make sure I hit the right note. Since I was early for my flight I decided to go to the American Airlines' Admirals Club to have a cup of coffee and something to eat. It was while munching on a hard role that my plans went awry. My upper dental plate broke in two and I was left in the middle of the Admirals Club virtually toothless. I couldn't believe it, and had visions of my speaking to close to 100 distinguished guests with a gaping hole in my mouth. I was absolutely panic stricken! What to do?

Here I need to pause and explain. Maybe I can start with one word: Hockey. I played it for decades, from a childhood in Canada to college all the way to games with friends who played what is called "Old Man's Hockey" on weekends. It wasn't until a few years back that any of us who played hockey actually wore helmets or mouth guards. Anyone who has any brains wears them now, but it just wasn't done in my time. Hockey pucks, which often fly through the air at high velocity, are hard as the ice the game is played on. Players also slam into other players. Hence my recurring dental woes.

As I sat, panicked, at O'Hare, I remembered that years ago I had packed a substitute plate in a side pocket of my shaving kit for just this sort of occasion. I hadn't even glanced at it since, but when I opened up that pocket there it was. Much to my amazement it was still intact and it fit fine. The Plano event turned out well and I was able to carry on with my talk without a hitch.

Actually, the very same thing had happened to me once before about 12 years earlier when I was to speak at a dinner featuring the unveiling of a new health magazine called Vim & Vigor. That time I was sitting in my seat on the plane when the upper dental plate broke in two. Later when I landed, my hosts at the event were able to get a local dentist to repair my plate, and virtually 10 minutes before I was scheduled to speak, my repaired dental plate was presented to me.

These close calls remind me of the healthcare legend Karl Bays, who so successfully led the American Hospital Supply Co. in the 70s and 80s. Karl used to warn his key executives to always be prepared and to anticipate the unexpected, whether in their business or personal lives. That is true if you are a speaker, a salesperson, a camper setting out for a hike in the woods, whatever.

As a speaker, I have had the sound system go down in the middle of my speech. I have arrived at a hotel where I am to speak and find that my hosts had forgotten to make a reservation for me. Life is full of surprises, and unless you are prepared to cope with them by using your common sense and wits, things can get out of hand quickly.

So, take nothing for granted and avoid ending up in circumstances that could have been avoided with a little planning!

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