Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Life Coach

My one year anniversary at the airline is coming up. It’s tomorrow actually. It really brings back a lot of fond memories from the whole employment process. For those of you that may be less familiar with the employment process of working for an airline, it takes a long time. It took about three months from the time I submitted my application to the time I started orientation.

The day after orientation, we all flew down to Memphis. FA (flight attendant) training would be three weeks long. If we graduated from the FA academy, we would get our wings and begin flying the friendly skies.

When I was first accepted into the training program, they explained to me how many applicants there had been, and how few were chosen out of that vast number. It made me feel good; it made me feel like they actually recognized the assets I could bring to their company. I was one of the elite, one of the chosen.

My ego quickly deflated when I met the rest of my classmates. Most of them were nice, but I wouldn’t exactly call them the crème de la crème ( They didn’t all pass. In fact, one lady got caught cheating. Believe me, they were not difficult tests.). They came from various backgrounds. About half of an FA class will be nineteen year old girls, they can afford to work there because they still live with mom and dad. The other half of an FA class will be divorcees. Either a woman gets divorced, so she decides to finally “do something for me,” or she becomes an FA and it wreaks havoc on her marriage, so she eventually gets divorced. Either way, most older woman that are FA’s are divorced. With the exception of the nineteen year olds, they’ve all had previous careers, be it housewife, secretary, executive, or…..a life coach.

Maybe you aren’t completely familiar with what a life coach does. I know I wasn’t. Honestly, it doesn’t sound like a real job to me. For instance, if my life was in really bad shape, I doubt I would have the extra cash to go out and pay someone to tell me what to do. And if my life was in really bad shape, it probably wasn’t because I didn’t know what I should be doing, just that I didn’t want to. Oh, actually the most likely situation would be that I was just too lazy.

My father is a pastor, he guides people through difficult situations and advises them all the time, but he doesn’t charge them for it! I mean, if you’re looking for a good life coach, what do you do? Check references? I don’t even know what a good turnaround rate is for a life coach. “Oh yes, 30% of the people I coach really turn things around.”— See, I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Does Consumer Reports test life coaches? Does U.S. News and World Report rank the all time best life coaches? I bet a really good life coach has like a 90% success rate. I could probably only afford a mediocre life coach, someone with a 50% success rate. So my chances would be fifty-fifty. I don’t know if those are odds I would be comfortable with. I could always just spend that money on ice cream.

How do you find out if you are overpaying your life coach? Do you ask your friends? You probably can’t. It seems like admitting that you have a life coach, would be equivalent to admitting that you’re a loser. So I doubt that you would feel comfortable asking anyone you knew, and I really doubt they would be comfortable telling you. More so, I think that life coaches are probably like sex therapists (without all of the formal training of course). Does anyone run around saying, “Hey do you need the number of a good sex therapist? Cuz I know a great one. He really helped me a lot!”

Is there a life coach association somewhere? Maybe a guild? Are they union or non-union? Maybe they are union, what do you do if you find out that your coach is a scab? There are just too many questions.

All of this is to say, we were fortunate enough to have such a coach amongst the ranks of our new recruits. For the sake of the story, we will call her Nancy. Nancy had been a life coach. I don’t know why she stopped coaching. I do know that it’s suspect.

My first real encounter with Nancy was shortly after we arrived at the Memphis airport. We had to start the process for our background check. The first step is fingerprinting. They took us into a small room with a set up similar to that of a DMV. We all sat in chairs and waited to get called up to the window. We had been instructed that if we did not have a passport yet, we would need to present our driver’s license and a certified birth certificate. My number was finally called.

I approached the counter and presented the young lady with my driver’s license and my birth certificate. She gave the certificate a strange look and informed me that it was not needed. I was confused (it occurs to me that I get confused a lot in these stories.), and tried to briefly explain why I had brought it. I didn’t get more than a few words of explanation out. I was interrupted. Nancy had appeared out of thin air and was right next to me. I swear I don’t know where she came from. In my surprise I quickly scanned the floor for a trap door.

Nancy was a larger woman, and she was waving her hand a lot, speaking in incomplete sentences. She was loud, “Just don’t even worry about it, there are just so many (I’m going to spell this phonetically) Sen ARR ee OhS(I think it means the same thing as scenarios, but it sounds a lot different). She repeated herself again, in case I didn’t understand about all of the, um… Sen ARR ee Ohs, the first time. Even if she was saying scenarios, I don’t know what that had to do with the situation. I didn’t know what all of these scenarios were that she was referring to. I wasn’t hassling the lady. I wasn’t raising my voice. I wasn’t being rude. I had barely asked her about it, before Nancy had materialized. I was a little freaked out.

The next three weeks dragged out. Training was at least eight hours of classroom a day. Some nights we would go to the hanger and practice evacuation drills until the early morning. The classroom time covered material that, for the most part, was common sense. Unfortunately, a lot of the students hadn’t been in school for twenty years, if ever. They found it very intimidating. So they asked a lot of questions. The asked A LOT of questions. Nancy asked more questions than anyone. She would create hypotheticals and inquire about them. They got more and more bizarre as training went on, and the teacher’s patience got thinner and thinner.

I think I offended Nancy because I wouldn’t go to her study groups. People had highlighters and flash cards and mnemonic devices. It seemed like overkill. I was already spending way too much time each day with these people. I wasn’t going to devote another three hours a night to review material that I understood the first time the teacher explained it.

About a week into training, the teacher explained the requirements for student participation at the FA graduation ceremony. These requirements are two fold: first, they class must perform a class skit. This makes a lot of sense, because it really puts a stamp of professionalism on the whole career. Second, a class speaker must address the class at commencement.

I suspected that I would eventually be chosen for class speaker. Some of the girls knew that I had speaking experience, and I knew that none of them wanted to do it. I guess that’s not entirely true, Nancy lit up at the mention of a class speaker.

I never had any intention of working on the skit. I really think it’s the dumbest idea ever. Why should anyone have to worry about putting the final touches on a skit, when they have their final test the next day? None of it makes sense. One night we were all at the hanger, and the girls decided to start working on the skit in their down time, since only one person can use the plane at a time. I kept my distance, I wasn’t going to participate in the planning. I would do whatever they asked me to do in the skit, but I wasn’t going to help write it.

As my roommate Travis and I drove back to the hotel that night, he explained to me that I had been chosen as the class speaker. I told him that I thought Nancy wanted to do it. Apparently everyone knew that Nancy wanted to do it, and no one was interested in having to listen to another lengthy diatribe from Nancy. So that was it; I was the chosen speaker.

Over the next two weeks, it came up occasionally. The teacher wanted to know that we had chosen someone. They told her how they had chosen me. Everything seemed in order.

Finally graduation day came. We all took our last tests that day, including the rather lengthy emergency evacuation drills. We just had to wait for our scores and graduate. I was given a gift certificate to present to the teacher during my brief address.

After lunch, we all donned our new uniforms and excitedly filed in for the wings ceremony. There was a video presentation welcoming us to the company. We performed our silly skit. We were presented with our wings. Then the teacher looked at us and said, “And now it’s time to hear from your class speaker.”

My intuition kicked in, my “Spidey” sense, whatever you want to call it. I hesitated ever so slightly. Then I caught a flurry of movement out of the corner of my eye. She was up, and out of her seat! Nancy hurried back to her bag, grabbed a large handful of notes, and scurried up to the podium. The entire class was looking at me like, “what the hell is going on?”

So Nancy addressed the class. She cried, she shared, she dragged on. Then, and this is very flattering…she announced to the class that there was ANOTHER gifted speaker amongst them today, and at this time, she would like to invite him up to share the podium with her. It was very surreal.

I never cared about addressing the class. Believe me, there isn’t a lot of prestige associated with the whole deal. It’s the same ceremony where we performed a skit. How big of a deal can it be? If I still wanted to do public speaking for a living, that’s what I would be doing. If Nancy had ever asked me, “Hey, do you mind if I do the speaker thing instead of you?” I would have said, “Sure, I don’t care.” But running up to the podium before me? What if I had stood up? That would have been awkward. I would have just been staring at her, you know, with a confused look on my face.

I gave my sixty second address and presented our teacher with the gift certificate. It was a little hard to focus because of what had just happened, but I fought through. At least the strangeness was over and done with. The ceremony ended, and everyone started to disperse to find the cake and punch.

And then I heard it….

“Wait, wait, wait everyone! I have a song for the teacher!” Apparently, at some point, Nancy had brought a boombox into the room. She then proceeded to play “Wind Beneath my Wings.” I’ve never noticed just how long that song is. It’s really, really long.

It still wasn’t over…

Just as I thought I was reaching my threshold, when I didn’t think that I could get any more uncomfortable, Nancy told us all to form a “love circle” around the teacher. Well I liked the teacher, but I’ve never been real big on “love circles.” Honestly this was the first one I had ever run into, but it didn’t really appeal to me. I stood back. Maybe the other students were more familiar with such circles. Besides, I wouldn’t even know what to do in a “love circle.” What if I did it wrong and ruined it for everyone?

Then one of the other students says, “C’mon. Get in the circle.” Well now I have to get in the circle, because if I don’t get in, it’s like saying that I don’t love the teacher. There needs to be some sort of gesture that tells people, “No, I like the teacher, I just hate love circles.” But there isn’t. So I had to join in. The song was still playing. There we were, all holding hands and swaying. Have I mentioned how long that song is?

After it was all really over, all I could do was pray that I wouldn’t have to sit next to Nancy on the flight home. Thank God that I didn’t. It still weirds me out when I think about it.

If you ever start to think that you might need a Life Coach, give me a call. I’ll come over and kick you in the head….for free.


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