Happy Friday the 13th: The Mystery of Negative Framing

I’ve always been drawn to the intrigue of mystery, thrillers, and the intersections of life when the world goes a bit dark. I love “Silence of the Lambs,” I’ve read most of James Patterson’s Alex Cross series, and I can’t wait for Halloween to arrive so we can visit a haunted house or two. That makes it lots of fun when Friday the 13th rolls around. Today, on this Friday the 13th, I woke up thinking less about darkness we might seek out for fun, and more about the darkness that each of our minds can create with negative framing. 

I recently had a few business trips for speaking engagements. During my time at the Filene Research Institute, I used to travel weekly. In my role at Canvas, I am not traveling nearly as much as I once was. While traveling can be taxing, when I traveled a lot, I had a routine that was fairly well-tuned. I packed well. My parking or Ubering was finely honed. When things went awry with flights, I had a good sense of when to respond, how to respond, and how to navigate the inner workings of the airlines. I’m a little rusty (and gladly so).

When I landed at home in Denver after a trip two weeks ago, I moved quickly through the airport. I am a big believer in not checking a bag, so I was able to head straight to the parking garage. Despite not traveling a lot, I have very quickly fallen into a new routine when I do fly. I park in generally the same area each time. Without much thought, I headed out the door to find my car. I was so excited to see my daughter, MacKenzie, and my heart beat quickly, thinking about having dinner with her and hearing about her day.

As I approached where I was sure that I had parked, I did not see my car. I had a clear picture in my mind about where I had parked, as I had spoken with a person working in the parking garage about the reserved place I was using to ensure it was okay. I never want to make a mistake and come back to find my car having been towed based on picking the wrong spot.

I walked up and down three parking aisles in the area where I was sure I had parked. As I came to the end of the third aisle and did not see my car, my heart started to race. I remembered my conversation with the parking lot attendant. I wondered if he didn’t have the information necessary to direct me to the right space. I wondered if I had misunderstood him. I was certain my car had been towed. I imagined spending the next several hours working to find my car, paying for my car having been towed, and missing the precious few hours I had envisioned with MacKenzie.

I Googled the phone number for parking at the airport and worked my way through the prompts until I got to a person. The woman asked how she could help, and I told her, “My car is gone. It is not where I parked it when I left for my flight.” She asked me where I had parked and when. I answered and she asked for my license plate number. She said, “Ma’am, I’m sure your car is still in the garage. I would see the license plate number if it had been towed, and it isn’t in our system.” I said, “But I don’t see my car. It isn’t here. I’m sure this is where I parked.” My voice started to break a bit and she responded, “It’ll be okay. Let me take a look in our system and I’ll call you back.” I thanked her and hung up.

I told myself I was very stupid. How could I park in a spot where I’d get towed? As I was kicking myself around internally, I looked around. I noticed that the lettering I was looking at wasn’t familiar. I remembered the woman on the phone and her words, “I’m sure your car is still here.” I thought about a situation when we first moved to Denver. I was picking up my husband at the airport, and he was on the west side while I was on the east side, and we continually missed each other. I started walking to the west side, and started feeling even sillier.

As I took the elevator down, I knew I was about to find my car. I had absolutely just walked to the wrong side of the airport parking. I had gone east when I should have gone west. I called the parking lot call center back and the same woman that helped me answered. I said, “I just spoke with you about my ‘missing car,’ and I found it. I was on the wrong side. You were right and I am so stupid.” She was very kind and said, “It’s no problem. This happens all the time. Don’t worry.” I apologized again. She kindly responded, “I’m just glad you are all right. Get home and have a nice evening.” I thanked her and wished her the same.

I got in my car and took a deep breath. I laughed at myself and how my autopilot race to get home left me making such a silly mistake and also going so dark. I thought about what a worrier I am. At least once a week, I overthink a situation and race down a rabbit hole considering the very worst outcome and how that might negatively impact me and the people I love. I often tease my mom when I talk and say, “Today, I’ll probably get hit by a bus.” She kindly reminds me to not bring that awful thought into the universe.

I’ve always lived a bit by the mantra that “only the paranoid survive.” I think my skepticism and ability to imagine the worst has, at times, served me well. As all of us do, I’ve had a few dark situations come to life. Each one of those causes me to put my guard up and prepare my mind for next time by being sure I’ve imagined the worst. As I got closer to home and readied myself to share my silly adventure with my family, I thought to myself, “You aren’t always doing yourself a favor to think the worst.”

As dark as we think the world might be, sometimes it’s not dark. Sometimes you just park on the wrong side of the garage. Since this happened, I’ve been challenging myself to consider how many times I have wasted mental energy on the worst-case scenario. I’m using my “lost” car embarrassment to remind myself that while being able to imagine the worst can help, it can also hurt. Sometimes you just went east instead of west and your car is still safe and sound.

On this Friday the 13th, I invite you to join me in enjoying the dark and stormy. Rent a scary movie. Get lost in a murder mystery novel. Prepare for the frightening feelings, savor a bit of paranoia, and also realize that sometimes, around that dark corner, there’s no monster, there’s no worst case scenario, there’s just a dark place being lit by the gorgeous Friday the 13th moonlight.


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