What happens when a person (me) who prides herself on being ‘in control, without being controlling’, meets the unscripted world? And how did a chance momentary glance at a little, unassuming writing pad break through my delusion of control and permanently change my outlook? Read on to find out.
Durham, NC, Mid-August 2019. I was on my second visit to a client to conduct a workshop. This time my colleague suggested a new hotel where she was going to be staying. Unscripted was in Downtown Durham. I love a downtown vibe — with interesting restaurants and walkable streets — so I booked there.
Because I frequently juggle multiple clients, and to make the best use of my time, I booked a late flight into Durham that would get me there close to 10pm. That was contrary to my normal Modus Operandi. I like to get to a city while it is still light outside; it makes me feel a little more secure. But this time, I was going to take the risk and besides, I could simply send my location to my husband when I got into the Lyft. No worries.
In Durham, the Lyft lady brought me to the hotel safe and sound. However, the GPS directed us to what looked like a private access garage entrance with no door to the hotel in sight - though it clearly seemed to be the right hotel. On the outside I appeared confident as I told the lyft driver that the door was probably right around the corner and I would be fine. But on the inside, I was starting to get a little nervous. I got out of the car and noisily dragged my peach suitcase behind me on the brick sidewalk. I turned the corner towards the long side of the hotel looking where one would expect to find an entrance. It was not there. No awning, no welcoming potted flowers, no door mat. Nothing. I took a few more steps. My nerves were now taking over. After all, downtown Durham was no NYC at 10pm. Most establishments were closed and the streets were bare except for three "suspicious" guys at the end of the block dead ahead. I figured it was not a good idea to go further. I would go back to the main intersection and find something that was open to ask where I would find the entrance to the hotel. As I turned around, I realized I was standing right next to an unassuming front door with the word ‘Unscripted’ etched in the glass. Immediate relief - The door to the hotel! "Unscripted alright!", I muttered under my breathe.
Entering this hotel was like entering a tribute to the 1980s. A bar on the one side and lots of lush seating on the other. Mirrors and large, colorful abstract pictures adorned the walls. Further ahead and past all that throwback vibe was the registration desk with a tired young lady waiting for her shift to end. I walked up and told her how I had a hard time finding the front door and jokingly (and begrudgingly) asked if it was part of the unscripted theme. She laughed, apologized for the angst it had caused, and consoled me with a free drink coupon.
Coming out of the elevator on the second floor, there was no mistaking it: I had picked a very unusual hotel indeed. My room was among the many that bordered the pool and outdoor bar area. I made my way in, now almost expecting to find something unusual. What a surprise to find that it was a normal room: 2 queen beds, a long desk, a TV, and a bathroom. Plain vanilla.
With nothing new to worry about, my attention immediately went to planning for the next day. I went through the checklist in my mind of all the things I needed to take and what I needed to do when I got to my client. I laid out the clothes I was going to wear. I would have a very early start the next day…I was going to leave the hotel with my colleagues promptly at 7am and that meant I would need to wake up at 5:30. I put the alarm on and got ready for bed.
The next morning I woke up to the ring of the alarm and went into auto-pilot mode — completing my morning routine. When I went into the bathroom, I started noticing in more detail the unfamiliar style and features.. It had a modern, sleek feel — all white and black. There were two ceramic sinks side by side, a toilet on one end and a shower on the other — only the shower area was not a tub nor a stall. There was no shower curtain or door separating it from the rest of the bathroom. I recalled something about my room being a handicap accessible room. Well, that would certainly explain it! The first thing that occurred to me was that the bathrooms in India were very similar — one big space with sink, toilet and shower. I recall how the entire bathroom would get wet. But the houses there were built for that. I was not sure that was the case in this American hotel. I took note to make sure I was careful about where the water splashed. I also noticed there were two shower options. A shower head on one side and a hand shower in the middle. I was happy when I saw that. I had just gotten my hair done and the hand shower would help me have more control while keeping the water away from my hair.
I undressed and stepped into the shower space. There were 2 knobs — a format that I had never seen before. I wanted to be careful about turning the right knob lest the shower head would turn on and mess up my hair. I turned the top knob and bingo! It was somehow already on the hand-shower. But there was only a trickle of water. So I turned it further in one direction. The water stopped. …Okay then, try the other direction. Still no water. I came back to the same position it had been in before. Still no water. Now I was starting to get confused and frustrated. I moved my body as far away from the shower area as possible and moved the second knob — being careful to protect my hair again. Nothing. Now I was getting really annoyed. When was the last time this room had been used? What kind of hotel was this anyway? I began moving both knobs in all directions trying all configurations possible for any merciful sign of water. Nothing.
I had already wasted 10 minutes and my perfectly timed morning schedule was in serious jeopardy. I was not going to let this get the better of me, but I was also not going to my client’s office without having taken a shower. I glanced over at the two sinks. Okay then, I would simply fill one and use a washcloth. But first I needed to check if the sink would be cooperative. I turned the faucet handle and to my relief there was water flowing and the sink started to fill up. Perfect. The stopper was even set to collect the water. Yes!
After filling about ⅔ of the way up, I thought I should check to see if the water would drain afterwards. I pulled up the stopper. Broken! The water level was locked in. Unbelievable! I felt myself say a few choice words under my breath. I was going to rage at the front desk ….but right now there was no time for frustration. I would calmly complete a good-enough washcloth bath and deal with the front desk later. As I pulled a towel to dry myself, it fell into the un-drainable sink full of water. OMG!!!…I was bursting with pent-up frustration. This was obviously going to be one of “those” days. I pulled another towel — much more carefully this time. I dried myself and went about completing the rest of my checklist at a mildly frantic pace.
Fortunately, I was able to make up the lost time and had five minutes to spare before I had to meet my colleagues. But not so fortunately for a hapless hotel employee, I had just enough time to call the front desk and give them a piece of my mind. I would tell them that their fancy shower doesn’t work and that if the unruly plumbing came on suddenly on its own, it was likely to flood the whole bathroom. (which I could care less about, at this point.)
As I maneuvered to the hotel phone, I noticed a little writing pad and pencil next to the phone. The pad said in black bold cursive lettering — “Live Life” and at the bottom, “Unscripted DURHAM.” — Those words hit me in a way that let my frustration gave way to a smile. ‘Live . Life . Unscripted.’ At that very moment, that very message resonated with a very receptive soul. My tight body softened immediately.
“Man plans; the gods laugh,”
is a quote I recall hearing from someone years ago. They must laugh often and heartily!
The hotel management will never know of the impact that that unplanned series of events had on me, but that experience has permanently shifted my outlook.
I asked myself, how do I want to treat the problems, challenges, and mysteries when they inevitably show up?
What if I treated life like the unscripted story it actually is?
What if, instead of getting frustrated, anxious, and annoyed, I am open and curious, and welcome them with a sense of wonder?
What if I allowed life to unfold in a more unscripted way?
How many new possibilities could be revealed? How much more ‘extra-ordinary’ could life be?
After that whole travel ordeal in downtown Durham, I have started paying much closer attention to how much of my life I let play out predictably to a self-directed script and how much I allow to manifest unscripted.
And next time a zig becomes a zag … I’ll perk up my ears for the faintest signs of chuckles from the heavens and smile back, consciously accepting the wonder of experiencing the world unscripted.
So what?, Why should you care about this story?
The VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world that we talk about is an unscripted world. And no matter how much we think we can script it, the truth is, what often unfolds is unscripted.
Here are three suggestions and a key observation that I can offer on navigating an unscripted world.
1. Slow down to go faster
When navigating the unscripted world, allow yourself more time. You may have noticed that when things started not going my way, I started moving faster and operating out of greater anxiety, which only further ramped up my anxiety and made me more accident-prone — like dropping the towel in the sink and walking past the door to the hotel.
In your projects, to avoid anxiety from uncertainty, start earlier, give yourself more time. That will help you stay calm and create more space for resourceful responses.
2. Stay curious to be resourceful
When navigating the unscripted world, stay curious in order to be resourceful. What I did not tell you in this story is that the shower was not broken(!). I simply did not try enough options in attempting to solve the problem. I later learned that I had to pull on one of the knobs to make it work.
I believed I had tried all configurations and nothing worked. So I shifted my perspective and considered another solution in order to not “waste” any more time.
In your projects, when something is not working, try many different options. You may need to loosen up, get creative, and change your perspective to look for an unusual new solution.
3. Be open to the extra-ordinary
When navigating the unscripted world, have a healthy sense of wonder. When life shows up unscripted (as it always does), how you respond can make all the difference.
So the next time things don’t go according to script, remember you have a choice. You can choose to get frustrated, anxious, and annoyed or you can be open, curious, and challenged with a sense of genuine wonder.
Life’s lessons come from the most unexpected places.