April 11, 2020

COVID-19: The illusion of options 

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By Dimeji Bassir

For someone who has lived and worked across two continents for over a decade, global mobility strangely still invokes a slew of sinusoidal emotions within me.

Aside from dealing continually with the psychological bifurcation of not belonging in any one place permanently, a wave of exhilaration and excitement during the peaks, as well as apprehension and anxiety (in the trough) dominates my feelings, particularly in the days before an upcoming trip.

Ready for a change of scene, I am typically swinging between the excitement of changing locations after I must have spent anything from a couple of weeks to a couple of months at my location of departure and absurdly, apprehension and anxiety about the trip and what could improbably and remotely go wrong, – missed flights and connections, bad weather etc.

Over time, I have come to accept that the emotions of apprehension that overwhelm me prior to my trips are not unconnected with the separation from people and things I have over time developed fondness and attachment to – family, friends, colleagues and work in Nigeria.

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The not so obvious upside of life as an “ executive nomad “, a moniker by which I frequently introduce myself, is that this lifestyle provides me “ options “ whereby I essentially see myself as having the best of two worlds.

I relish having the flexibility to be wherever, whenever I need to be there and gloated in the fact that the choice of how to go was entirely mine.

Somehow, American consumerism had etched in my subconscious the notion that it is my prerogative to pick not only the airline but also the cabin and seat I would travel in – it was my right, so I believed, and I exercised it without the slightest sense of propriety.

I had completely bought into the narrative that the airline owed me certain perks and benefits in exchange for my loyalty and dedication to spending all my air flight dollars with them not realizing I had an exaggerated view of the contractual dynamics.

By no stretch of my flailed imagination could a scenario where I would be begging for a seat to travel on a day I was not ready to and via a route I would not ever consider within my pool of options and to top it, on an airline I have deliberately avoided over the years have featured; After all, I am the consumer with options, the guy with that enviable status on the largest network of airline alliance partners; I always had a choice, again, my “ options “ meant that I could always travel on my own terms.

Impossible, I thought, this has got to be my imagination gone rogue and running amok as I contemplated what was unfolding.

Subliminally, I had been infested with an inordinate expanse of ego and vainglory that had gone unfettered and over time detached me from reality.

Unbeknownst to me, my sense of judgment and sensibilities had atrophied and I urgently needed to be brought back into the present.

A series of uncoordinated decisions taken by several governments in response to the aggressive onslaught of the stealth coronavirus fissured my illusory state and defused my bubble.

The raging pandemic had thrown the entire world into an unprecedented state of flux with world leaders struggling to keep up with the pace at which the situation was evolving.

As a fallout of this dynamic situation, my original flight and a rebook to take me back to the US from Lagos got cancelled within a spate of forty-eight hours. When a good friend informed me of the cancellation, I realized I was at the epicenter of a crystallizing fiasco and a starker realization of how helpless I was in the situation rendered me completely feckless.

The first signs of impending trouble manifested when all efforts to reach an agent on the dedicated premier desk dead-ended.

My vulnerabilities were made bare and my pseudo-confidence unraveled as I frantically scampered to find any available seat on whatever airline was still flying out of Nigeria and would connect to the US  – my situation being akin to that of the Lagosian who would effortlessly hop onto an overcrowded Forty-nine-seater “ Molue “ traveling at 60 miles per hour and be happy to be “ sandwiched “ among the ninety-eight other passengers standing, to borrow the analogue from Fela’s 1977 suffering and smiling song.

By a streak of what could only have been divinely mediated, I was spared the horror of “chasing after the plane on the tarmac “ and was able to get a ticket that would eventually take me to a North American city (not my destination).

Faced with two choices – take it or leave it, I had to settle for what was available at the date and time it was, truncating my planned winding-down activities including one of extremely significant importance prior to leaving Lagos. Yet, I was thankful.

My mind began its self-healing process as I began to contemplate the lessons learned from the entire experience. A different type of emotion swept through me – Anger. I was angry with myself for having allowed the airline prey on my emotional mind at the expense of my rational mind.

I was angry that I had become so self-absorbed to the point of grossly overrating my worth to the airline. It took an invisible pathogen to take me back to a place of rational construct where I could ponder and reflect over my thirty plus hour trip back home.

The experience illuminated the folly of investing so much hope in “ options “ I believed investing in the airline loyalty scheme would always offer me.

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It recalibrated my thought and reinforced the understanding that our strengths and what we achieve is best drawn from the value of our genuine and true friendships, connections and collaboration such as those which facilitated my awareness of the cancelled flight, the purchase of a new ticket and my smooth passage to the airport. It highlighted the futility of relying on one’s ego or abilities but rather understanding that we are all created equal and are stronger together. It caused me to think about the effect of the sweeping wave of materialism that has consumed the larger society and sullied our collective value system.

Finally, I believe the covid-19 pandemic is a health crisis that will ravage the global economy and permanently alter our way of life and perhaps livelihood in many ways.

Ironically, social distancing, the method advocated to stem the spread of the virus is one that appears to promote isolationism but realistically I project will foster more communal spirit, community and cooperation, albeit virtually.

A common Yoruba idiom “ Ibi ti aye ba ti ba yan la ti je “ which translates literally to “ where life meets one is where one will enjoy it “ is an axiom that will guide the way we interact with other humans hereon.

Our learning, entertainment, work and even perhaps dating will be mostly virtual. A new normal will emerge and I believe my experience is a wake up call and hopefully arms me with the forethought to be post covid-19 compliant temperamentally, mentally and psychologically.

Chances are that you are geographically grounded for the foreseeable future, like I am, wherever you are as you read this piece.

This for me, shatters my illusion of options but with my recent experience getting out of Nigeria, I am attuned to adapt to the emergent changes through this period of global crisis and beyond.

Dimeji Bassir is an oil and gas industry professional passionate about leadership development and innovation. He contributes this piece from Houston TX.