We all have humbling moments. It was late morning and I was flying back to the United States from my motivational event in Canada. I had my laptop out and was watching an episode of Dexter. While watching, I was chomping on a bunch of delicious cherry licorice. All of a sudden we hit a rough patch and the plane started bucking and shaking. The captain came over the intercom to warn us there was going to be a lot more turbulence ahead, and to make sure we were buckled up.
This was the absolute wrong thing to tell me. I am a six foot, five inch tall baby. I get motion sickness on roller coaster rides, the teacups at Disneyland, and anything that will spin me in a circle. I fly close to 200,000 miles a year, but I’m no fan of flying. When I was 17 years old, my older brother was killed in a plane crash. I believe this is the source of my anxiety about flying. But still, I always press on and get on the plane—not knowing if it will be my last ride. I know that, statistically, I’m almost as safe in the air as on the ground, but that does little to help.
My typical routine when I get on a plane is to sit down and make sure the air is blasting hard on my face. I locate my barf bag, making sure it’s in sight and easily accessible. I know there’s a good chance I’ll need it.
So here I am on this brutally turbulent plane and my stomach is starting to get hot. I loosen my collar, adjust my air and take a swig of cool water. I am trying to keep my mind off the motion sickness starting to rise from my gut up into my throat. I try to focus on my laptop to see what Dexter is doing. I keep desperately chewing my red licorice, messing with the direction of the air and taking swigs of water. Then I feel it. My stomach is very unhappy. This is happening. I quickly fold my laptop and stick it in my backpack.
There is a certain point when we’re sick and cross a line. I can feel the vomit coming up my throat. I quickly grab my well-placed barf bag and fumble around trying to open it, but can’t get it right. My body convulses as I open my mouth wide to export the contents of my stomach. Trying to make it into the bag, I barf with terrible force against the side of it. There was so much power as I heaved that the vomit ricocheted off the side of the bag up into my face, on my glasses, in my eye, up my nose. My left lens was covered in pink barf from the red licorice. My eye was stinging from stomach acid.
This was a small plane. There were only fifteen or twenty passengers. Everyone was looking at me. I was sitting in the aisle seat and nobody was sitting next to the window. Good thing, because my body decided to throw up for the second time. I wasn’t prepared and barf went all over the exit row door and all over my pants and shirt. The flight attendant came and handed me more barf bags and a huge wad of paper towels. It was disgusting. I can be loud. When I sneeze, the whole world hears me. But when I barfed, it was so loud I feared I might have started a chain reaction that would have really turned this plane into a vomit comet.
I sat there in my humiliation, wishing I could fall through the floor of the plane, until the ride from hell mercifully came to an end. I was so embarrassed I decided I’d be the last person off the plane. I hid my face in shame as people walked past trying not to stare. I kept wiping barf off my face, pants and shirt. Hooray—everyone was off! It felt like a miracle. No more motion sickness but just the terrible aftermath. A cherry red war-zone in my seating area.
I got up and thanked the flight attendant for her help. I was totally humiliated, but I gathered my things and got off, smelling like a pig in slop. I thought the ordeal was over. But no—the saga continues.
I was walking along the silent, lonely hallway, headed to customs to enter the country. I decided to hit the restroom first to wash my face and neck, and soap up my clothes to give them a clean smell. As I walked into the restroom, three guys were standing at the urinals doing their business, when I hear one guy say to his buddies, “ Did you hear that big guy go aaauuufffff?”
They were all laughing at me, mimicking the terrible sound of my barfing. They had no idea I was behind them so I quickly walked to a toilet stall and closed the door. I continued to hear them mock me, the big six foot, five inch crybaby. I pulled out my phone and texted my wife “I feel so lonely in this world.” She texted me back with encouraging words and I began to feel better.
When nobody was was left in the restroom and the coast was clear, I decided to come out of my cocoon and clean up. I had to laugh. One minute I’m on stage motivating and inspiring a few thousand people, feeling like a rock star. The next moment I’m feeling like an ant drowning in elephant’s spit.
But hey, what do motivational speakers preach? Get back up, Derek Clark! So I checked myself in the mirror and got ready for the next adventure in my life. These little things that humble us need to be taken humorously and in good stride. I always look for the positive. Maybe next time I will eat black licorice and look like an alien frothing at the mouth, saying “I’m back!” in my best Terminator voice.
Watch a short video clip of Derek Clark’s motivational keynote about never giving up.