LEARNING BY THE WATER-COOLER: Episode 13


LEARNING is everything and everything is learning. That Sliding Doors moment — we’ve all had one. The concept in my head goes back to a movie I saw back in the day in 1998. Now that I’m a father of a 14-year-old boy and a pre-teen girl, my cinema intake these days is (like almost every parent I know) dictated by that unavoidable reality. My buddies whose kids are grown up ask me if I’ve seen this new hottest flick or that one. I tell them no, but I’m right up to date on the Fast and the Furious and The Avengers franchise. Clever rom-coms aren’t normally on the menu, but Sydney Pollack’s 1998 movie Sliding Doors — starring Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah — was different. Why? Well, the whole core concept of the movie resonates with me. Gwyneth Paltrow plays a PR executive who gets fired from her job. As she leaves her office, distraught, she drops her earring and a man picks it up for her. She rushes away to catch her train and misses it. The man catches up with her, they talk, they connect as people and you know the rest. The clever part, though, is that the film then rewinds, and the scene is replayed: but this time, she makes the train. That key meeting never happens and we see two stories unfold — how her life goes with him and without him. It’s neat.

It’s her Sliding Doors moment. I can still remember mine like it was yesterday. I was a young executive out on business with my mentor for a presentation to a huge client, dreaming of landing the big contract. We were waiting to begin a key meeting with the President of the organisation and he was being guarded by the receptionist who allows those with the right credentials into the inner sanctum. Our scheduled appointment time came and went. The clock ticked on, and we made an enquiry to the Keeper of the Gate. “He’s very busy, he’ll get to you when he can. Please have a seat. Coffee?” Minutes dragged on, I played my spiel that I was going to give through my mind for the thousandth time. Then my mentor looked at me and said quietly: “C’mon Kurt, we’re out of here.” He began marching toward the bank of elevators and pressed the button. The doors opened. As we boarded, the receptionist began running towards us with a puzzled President two steps behind. “He will see you now!” she said breathlessly as the doors began to close. My mentor replied: “No, he won’t. We’ll reschedule. With all due respect, our time and diary is also important to us. Have a good day.” And the elevator pinged and we began our journey back down to the street. That was my Sliding Doors moment. The lesson from my mentor as we spoke on the way down was simple. Always have respect for yourself and belief in your abilities.

If you’re not being given that courtesy, it’s time to speak up or get the hell out of dodge. If we’d stopped the door sliding closed and gone back in, I’d have been a different person both in business and in life. I loved him for his steely resolve that day and his faith in us and how we worked. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

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