Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Watch the Flight Attendants

My first airplane flights were very uneasy times.  I was afraid to move out of my seat for fear of tilting the plane.  And the noises!!!  With every creak or a flap change or sense of turbulence I would grab the armrests and hold my breath.

Observe the Experts

How did I get over this phobia?  By watching the flight attendants.  They all had many more hours of flight than I and calmly went about their work ignoring the sounds of what I thought were impending doom.  If they were calm, I could be calm.  When they were asked to sit down I would get a little more nervous.  But by being conscious of the experts, I could calm down.

I carry this process over to many other situations.  I find power plants to be amazing collections of people and processes and big expensive, noisy equipment.  The first times I walked through them as part of a new job, I was jumpy with every groan and roar of the equipment.  But I needed to be cool and not let my terror show.  I realized that the operators were the experts.  And like the flight attendants, they were calm—most of the time.  On the few occasions when they looked worried, I knew that there were problems.

The Not-So-Great Unknown

This works for me because it is the unknown that unnerves me.  Strange noises or out-of-the-ordinary activities send my imagination off in directions that are not good.  My pulse races and my heart thumps.  But if I have some knowledge of the processes or know that the experts have comfort, I can relax.

I shared this strategy with a nice young woman who sat next to me on a flight last year.  It was her first airplane ride and she was clearly terrified and traveling alone.  I explained the noises as they occurred during takeoff and held her hand through the beginning of the flight.  Then when we hit some bumps or heard the flaps shifting I reminded her to watch the flight attendants.  At one point, she turned and smiled at me.  “They are not worried and they are the experts” was her comment.

Facing New Situations

Life is full of occasions where you are confronted with new situations.  New jobs, new homes, new cities, new clubs or organizations—these all can be filled with unknown and unforeseen processes.  But someone else has been there before you and knows what to do.  Someone else knows whether it is time to be nervous or just roll with the flow.  In every situation you can find the flight attendants.  Use them.  Ask questions and gain the knowledge you need to be comfortable.

Who are your flight attendants?  How do you find the experts? How can you cope with new situations?

Christine Jacobs is an experienced corporate executive and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.


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