Last spring, I had to fly across country to do a series of speaking engagements.
Minutes before boarding time, an announcement indicated our flight was delayed for hours because our plane was stuck at another airport.
If I sat and waited for that plane, I’d miss my connection AND my chance to get to California in time to speak the next day. After a series of hurried phone calls I found there was one last flight with a connection through Salt Lake City.
One catch though.
It was leaving from a different terminal, and it was boarding NOW.
In the seconds that followed, I had to make a decision. I could call my contacts on the west coast and tell them there was no way I would make it by the next morning. (Give up.)
OR I could choose to let go of my previous plans, my leisurely flight, and possibly my luggage to do what I truly wanted, which was to get there in time to speak. (Surrender.)
What followed was a most ungraceful scene – me at full sprint with my carry-ons, tripping up the escalator, getting a zipper-shaped gash across my shin, and barely making it to the gate. As my leg bled freely, the surly gate agent told me she couldn’t find a seat on that flight for me. Somehow, moments later, another gate agent (whom I’ll call ANGEL) calmly found me a seat.
When we arrived in Salt Lake, the passengers were all a bit edgy. Fearing we’d miss our connections, everyone was a crouching tiger waiting for the door to open. You know this scene. Even the most timid start boxing out like it’s their day in the NBA.
Slight problem though. The jet bridge was having issues and would only roll sideways, not forward. So, we all watched helplessly through the plane windows, trapped with the jet bridge just 15 feet away unable to connect with us. One of the crouching tiger-men was livid, yelling at the crew to do something.
Because I had already chosen to surrender that day, I found the whole scene hilarious. I had done all I could do. So, I made the choice again to simply surrender. To step back and see this scene unfold. My only decision was how to respond to the situation. I could make everyone around me miserable. Or I could choose to surrender to reality and go from there.
I sat back in my seat and said to the woman next to me, “There’s a certain peace that comes with complete helplessness.” She laughed and agreed. She’d spent 20 years traveling internationally for work. She hadn’t so much as batted an eye at this situation.
Believing we can control anything outside of ourselves is an illusion.
But we do have the ability to choose our thoughts and responses to everything. When things don’t go our way, we can still move forward without collapsing or giving up. Surrender is a deeper path.
Surrendering can take form in small ways like my trip. Or huge ways – like the many times in the NICU where I’ve watched parents of critically ill infants make the gut-wrenching decision to surrender and allow their baby to go peacefully when there’s no more science or medicine can offer.
This is not nearly the same as giving up. Surrendering in this way can take monumental strength. Giving up isn’t even in the same category.
Here’s how to know the difference between surrendering and giving up:
1. Surrender keeps you connected. It may involve painful decisions but you can still feel a sense of peace, and a connection with your truth. Giving up feels shallow, reactive, or incomplete inside.
2. Surrender is a decision. When you surrender, you remain engaged. You step in and chose your role in a situation. Giving up is not so much a decision as a way out.
3. Surrender is drama-free. Giving up nearly always involves dramatic exasperation and blame on outside people or circumstances. Surrender needs no fanfare. It makes itself known only through its undeniable clarity.
Surrender doesn’t mean you’re weak or you didn’t try. It means you’ve tried all you can and you’re consciously choosing to let go.
You’ll find grace, humor and expansion there.
Even among crouching tigers.