This last week marked two important milestones in my life. The first milestone, a professional one, was presenting at Internet@Schools West and attending the Internet Librarian Conference for the first time. The second milestone was more personal: I flew in an airplane for the very first time in my adult life.
My only previous experience in the air was a trip to Daytona Beach at the age of seven; I only have vague recollections of being on the plane. For my entire adult life, I have avoided travel by air. I honestly don’t know where the fear of flying originated for me other than possibly hearing too many stories from my Uncle Raymond, who used to help investigate plane crashes as part of his work at Lockheed.
When I found out in May that I would be traveling to Monterey, California, the fact that I would probably need to get on a plane to get there crossed my mind, but I pushed it to the back of mind. My elation over being able to attend two conferences that I had been longing to experience in person for nearly a year overshadowed the lurking fear of getting on an airplane to actually achieve this “dream” journey.
As the conference date drew closer, I was finally forced to confront my fears because I need to make a final decision as to how I would get all the way from north Georgia to Monterey. I actually contemplated driving and enjoying a cross country tour of our nation, but my family immediately nixed that idea. I then investigated the possibility of traveling by train and even gave serious thought to going west via the Greyhound Bus. However, I finally had to concede that if I wanted to achieve this goal of attending two amazing conferences in one on the other side of the country, I would have to overcome my plane phobia.
I decided to tap into the power of my personal learning network to determine what I needed to know to have a successful first flying experience. I generated lists of questions about what to do at the airport, TSA security guidelines, and what to expect while on the plane as well as transitioning at the airport. I investigated options for travel from the airport itself to my hotel. I also explored services for booking my plane ticket, and finally settled on using Expedia (which I now highly recommend). My queries went out to my virtual friends via Gmail chat and Facebook; I also quizzed my co-workers on a regular basis in between classes in the library or after hours. After a few weeks of researching, worrying, weighing options, and looking for a round trip ticket in my budget, I finally found a deal that seemed too good to be true: a round trip ticket from Atlanta to Monterey for only $360, which did include fees and taxes. I felt a little wave of fear as I committed to purchasing my ticket online and the reality of getting on that plane suddenly loomed large on the horizon.
Last Friday evening, I packed and double checked to make sure all items in my carry-on were TSA approved. I mentally reviewed all obstacles and things that could go wrong that I could anticipate at that time and thought about how I would deal with any challenges I might encounter. I tried to focus on feeling prepared and the anticipation of getting to visit Monterey, not the fear of traveling to the other side of the country by myself .
At 3:30, I arose and finished getting ready to make the long journey. As we drove to the airport, I felt somewhat nervous, but the reality that I was going to be boarding that plane soon still didn’t seem quite real. Once I got inside the airport by myself, though, I felt very small and thought I might even cry. I wondered if I had prepared enough and if I would do everything “right”. In spite of the fear that threatened to overwhelm me, I pulled myself together and made my way to the baggage check counter; I then asked for assistance—the personnel were extra kind once I explained I was flying for the first time and felt a bit nervous. People then helped me follow the procedures in the security check line, and I felt a slight sense of pride as I cleared security and found my boarding gate area with plenty of time to spare. These small victories helped me to feel that yes, I really could do this!
As time grew closer to board, I suddenly wondered how I would know when to get on the plane. I finally asked what seemed to be a nice lady sitting near me, and she explained they would probably call us by seating section. Soon, we finally boarded, and I felt tremendous butterflies as they checked my boarding pass and found myself actually boarding the plane. I was assigned a window seat near the wing, and I wondered if this was a wise decision by the airlines, but I decided I would make myself look out the window from time to time. The two people sitting next to me distracted me with their conversation about jobs and elderly parents until we began to taxi down the runway. I tried to not to think about all the things that scared me about flying or the odd noises the aircraft was making as we increased speed.
Suddenly, we were in the air! Now I realize this sounds rather corny, but I truly marveled that we were somehow miraculous gaining altitude and flying. I wondered, “How does this really happen?” and felt a sense of awe as I bravely peeked out the window and looked down from time to time. My non-engineering mind still can’t really comprehend the miracle of modern flight and how technology enables us to move across vast distances safely in just a few hours. As we flew, I tried to focus on how great I would feel once I finally got to Monterey and what an amazing time I planned to have at the conference. At the same time, I mentally reviewed what I was supposed to do once we got to Phoenix, where I would make my connecting flight and take the next step in my journey to Monterey. I tried to not worry what would happen if my luggage was lost as I had enough goods in my carry-on bag to last for at least an additional day if needed as well as my laptop and digital camera for the conference.
When we finally landed in Phoenix, I successfully found my next gate even though it was on the opposite side of the airport. However, fear rose up in my throat as I boarded a tiny and hot plane; I wondered if it was sturdy enough to take us to Monterey in one piece! As we took off, the plane wobbled ever so slightly, and I tried to not have a panic attack or scare the lady sitting next to me. Once we had reached cruising altitude, the pilot announced Monterey was fogged in and that we might have to possibly land at an alternate site; the passengers released a collective groan. I began worrying about how I would get to Monterey from there and if alternate travel from Bakersfield was going to be expensive. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so prepared anymore and felt a little worried that I had not planned for this kind of obstacle. However, I calmed myself with the thought that others were worried too and that perhaps we could all work together if we were forced to make other arrangements. I also felt more confident when I remember how helpful my iPhone could be if I needed to look up information for a contingency plan.
As we soared over into California from Arizona, I looked down at the ground and saw mountainous, rocky terrain that often looked dry and barren. From time to time, I was surprised to suddenly see an oasis of green and a town thriving in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. I wondered how such places flourished in such isolation and felt a sense of respect for those who managed to carve out a life in such places.
After about an hour, the pilot announced we would be making our descent into Monterey. We began encountering what appeared to be an ocean of thick, billowy waves of gray-white fog. I was astonished to see how enveloping the fog was and seriously began to question if the pilot could land us safely without crashing into another plane or a mountain. My faith in the pilot’s ability to get us on the ground and the faith in all my planning seemed to be crumbling in the face of this all- encompassing fog and began clouding my vision of seeing myself in Monterey.
Just when I truly thought we would never break through this blinding fog, I suddenly caught a glimpse of the ocean and the beach through a hole in the sea of fog. Within minutes, I saw blue sky instead of fog, and the next thing I knew, we were landing! I felt a tremendous sense of joy and accomplishment as we rolled to a stop and I saw the Monterey Airport. I knew I had finally reached my destination, and my faith was restored! As I strode into the airport and caught a taxi to my hotel, I felt a tremendous sense of joy and accomplishment.
In reflecting on the journey while in Monterey, it occurred to me that my experience of flying for the first time is comparable to what we as librarians experience when we try something new for the first time. Our excitement of setting out to achieve a goal or to try a new approach is often tempered by fears, worry, and the “what ifs?” and “how will I…?”. We question our faith in our ability to successfully map out and execute a plan of action for achieving a new initiative for our library. While it is easy to succumb to the fear and the fog, we can strengthen our faith and gain confidence through careful planning and then being flexible enough to adapt if our plans don’t go as anticipated.
This experience also reminded me how important our personal learning networks are to us–without the knowledge I gained from my PLN, I would not have had the preparation, knowledge, and resulting to courage to do something I thought was impossible for me. By reaching out for their help, my PLN helped me keep a focus on what I wanted to do and achieve rather than dwelling on fears and doubts. The experience of flying through the fog and landing safely in beautiful Monterey also reminds me that we must keep our faith even under the most questionable and seemingly dire circumstances if we are to persevere; wobbles and strange rumblings are sometimes distractions that are part of the journey.
Pushing ourselves to face down our fears and to try new things not only builds our confidence, but it also encourages us to take additional risks and bolsters our courage to “go for it”. Now that I have successfully traveled cross country via air, I am now ready to do it again! While I still may feel butterflies in my stomach, I will feel more confident to do something again that I once did not think was possible for me. I will remember these lessons when I am trying new tools and approaches in my library, in the hours of self-doubt when I think I am crazy to attempt seemingly impossible things. Focus on faith, not your fear and fog, so that you and your library can soar to new heights!