Why We Rush

This is real life: Stop and take a look around.

Posted Mar 12, 2014

Heading out to the Tel-Aviv airport this morning is daunting. I have to help my kids get ready for school at the same time I'm reviewing my packing checklist and handling a problem with my hotel reservation. In the midst of the chaos of school-sandwich-making, the taxi arrives, taking me straight into the morning traffic of Israel’s Highway 4.

The driver, a pleasant man in his late sixties, seems calm and unperturbed by the convoy of cars lined bumper-to-bumper on the highway. He is happy to engage in conversation and shares stories of his childhood, growing up in the town where I now live. While he talks, I pull out my mobile phone and launch Waze, an app that calculates traffic patterns. It tells me that I will be at the airport exactly on time. I look at the traffic jam in front of me. The real one, not the one Waze is showing on its map, and I simply don’t believe the app. We are barely moving. How will I possibly be there on time?

An hour later, we arrive at the airport on time, just as Waze predicted. I leap out of the taxi and spring toward the check-in lines. Only there are none. The drop-off area is free of cars, and inside the terminal, bored airline employees sit behind their counters and chat. I’m surprised at my good luck, and encouraged by my time performance so far, I race toward security. I stride quickly, preparing myself for the worst: a long snake of people holding plastic bins, taking off their shoes, and shuffling slowly toward the x-ray machine. But when I reach the checkpoint, there is no line: I’m the only one there. The attendant welcomes me with a smile, and as I start to empty my pockets, she turns to me and asks:

“Are you in a rush?”

At first, I fail to understand what she means. I start wondering why she would ask me that. She looks at my confused face and says, “I’m sorry, it’s just a boring morning, but everyone seems to be rushing, so I’m running an informal survey to see how many people are late or tight for their flight, and actually have a real reason to be in a rush.”

“Well…” I finally respond, “I guess I’m not in a rush at all. I have plenty of time. But I can see that I was behaving as if I was in a rush… Out of all the people you surveyed so far, how many were really late or tight on their schedule?"

"Not a single one," she says. “Something about this place must be causing them to feel like they’re running late.”

After taking a quick breath to bring myself back from the imaginary frenzy my mind was in, I look at my watch. I have more than two hours to get to the gate. I will make it on time even if I crawl on my hands and knees the entire way. As I walk through passport control (no line there, either) I am in awe of my the distorted story that my mind was making up, and how I so easily fell for it.

Arriving at the gate nearly two hours before my scheduled departure, I had plenty of time to reflect on the morning: I guess I am just primed to rush when I fly. Perhaps I’m traumatized. There have been times I've found myself running through the airplane sleeve just before the doors closed, and other times when I've been stuck in overnight connections. Somewhere along the way, I started to think of airports as a zone of permanent stress and danger.

But every now and then it can be useful to peek through the curtains of the mind and run a reality check: If you focus on what’s happening in real life, you may discover that nothing, absolutely nothing, is wrong. You've got plenty of time.