The struggle is real...necessary
I hit the Seattle airport for the first time last week. Technically it was my second time, but this time I had to spend time in the airport part. Like the terminal. Like where all the people and the McDonalds are.
I expected more. Seattle is supposed to be a hip, eclectic town with a great vibe and flying fish but their airport (at least the terminal I was in) was crowded and cramped with low hung ceilings, mediocre food options and that overall aura that convinces you that you’ll definitely be sick by the time you get home.
I thought to myself, “Are they working on this? What’s the plan?” My home airport - BNA - is in the midst of what seems like a 19-year renovation so I can happily cut an airport some slack if there is a plan. But I noticed no signage or promises emblazoned on banners.
Then I wondered if they’re not fixing it, who could? Enter King Bezos.
We’re in Seattle. Jeff Bezos owns most of this town. Why doesn’t he do something to make the airport better? I mean, he travels a lot I bet. Doesn’t he hate it?
No. Because he doesn’t travel like us. Even if he leaves from SEA, he is dropped planeside and scurries up the stairs to his jet and takes off, never setting foot in any space that resembles a terminal. He no longer has experience with the struggle of commercial air travel. This struggle is not real for him.
More power to him. I used to quasi-separate myself from the hoi polloi who forget you can’t take full bottles of water past a security checkpoint. My annual SkyClub membership was worth every penny. While you’re off trying to find a charger down at gate B8, I’m spread out in the lounge, snacking on cheese, sipping bourbon, a USA Today to my right, a cadre of Diamond Medallion members to my left, my laptop open and connected in front of me. I don’t hear any of the squawking PA reminders about final boarding to Topeka or have to dodge motorized carts. I sit in relative bliss, steps from my gate and plied with the finest crudite and well drinks airport catering can provide.
But now that I don’t travel as much, I see the struggle. Or hey, let’s just call it what it is: reality. Anyone who promises you that life and struggle aren’t synonyms is out of touch at best and probably wants to sell you some crystals out of the back of their van. Protip: Don’t follow them to a second location.
The great solutions and business ideas we all take for granted now happened because someone was struggling.
Sara Blakely started Spanx because she didn’t like the way certain clothes fit and needed shapeware in order to actually rock some pants like she wanted. Walt Disney added theme parks to his repertoire after watching his daughters play at one and wishing it were cleaner and offered activities that were more inclusive for the entire family. Yvon Chouinard wanted climbing pitons that were both sturdy and reusable, so he started making his own and thus Patagonia was born. And I started Batch after taking half a day to run all over Nashville and round up local gifts and mail them to friends in Colorado.
In other words, you can’t start a business from a throne or ivory tower. You can only start a business from the ground up.
Back to Seattle. I finally board my flight, leaving a crowded terminal for a crowded Southwest jet for the long haul back home. So far on my flights westward that week I had the gift of all gifts from the Southwest gods: an empty middle seat. Would their benevolence rain down on me again?
It would not.
Despite my best attempts to look unfriendly and keep my nose buried in my magazine, the shoulder tap and question inevitably came, “Is anyone sitting there?” I rose to let her in.
It was a tight squeeze. She shimmied into our row and plopped down into her seat. Before I could sit back down and finish the article I was reading in the magazine most people only read in public so other people think they’re smart, I had to wait for her to remove her knee brace from the leg currently splayed across my seat. When I sat back down, she fished for her seatbelt, elbows offering no regard for my personal space. When all was calm, there was no escaping it: due to volume, we’d be forearm-to-forearm, flesh-to-flesh for the entire ride.
Midway through she had to go to the bathroom, so I did that most delicate of inflight ballets, unbuckling a seatbelt, returning the tray table to its full upright and locked position, open laptop in one hand, one headphone out, plastic cup clamped between my teeth while I stood and let her pass.
(Do you feel bad for me yet? Or expectant? What great invention will I come up with due to my struggle? Aisle-less planes? Bathrooms in every seat? Stay tuned, only on Sam’s Struggle Show!)
A bit later, a few minutes before landing, I see my seatmate take out a sheet of paper. As a perpetual plane snooper, I sideways glance and see what it is: a prayer request list.
From what I could surmise, she had recently been on some sort of Christian retreat or gathering and one of her takeaways was that she could pray (more) and to honor that, there she was, praying for others struggling while we began our initial descent.
And there was the lesson. We can struggle. And we will. But we can also remind ourselves that others do, too. That’s when we struggle-with. Or struggle-for. And while this may lead to invention or innovation, it really points to a bigger need we have as humans: compassion.
Compassion trumps innovation. The minute we reverse that equation, humanity reverses with it. Innovation is cool, but have you tried compassion yet?
So yeah - the struggle is real. It’s real important. It’s real necessary. We’d do well to embrace it fully. By doing so, we’ll be embracing life itself and may just come up with something that can actually help others, if not ourselves.
If you’ve got a spare minute, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Been inspired by a recent struggle of yours? Been reminded that compassion is a better goal than progress? Or just been in a crappy airport recently? Drop me an email, leave a comment, mail me a letter - you know the drill.