The Winter Storm in Texas—A Lesson in Mindfulness
Photo by Emanuel Haas on Unsplash
This winter has been one for the books. (Or the blogs as the case may be.)
For those of you unaware of what happens in Texas (which I completely understand), we had a massive weather… let’s just say, event. One could easily say clusterf**k. Millions of people were without power due to a crazy winter storm that rocked the majority of the country. However, most of those without power were only in Texas.
Screenshot from Twitter.
On top of all this, let’s not forget that we are dealing with COVID.
I have talked about how the pandemic has turned me into a philosopher and a kinder, gentler version of myself. This week was full of moments where that work came into play. It also taught me a lot about my family, my business, and myself.
With slightly better planning, it didn’t have to be as crazy as it all was. I have been entirely too focused on work to be looking at anything else, let alone planning for smoothly navigating a once-in-a-generation winter storm.
(Literally, my area of DFW hadn’t seen temps that low since 1983, and the only time it’s been colder was in 1899! Read more about the crazy record-breaking stats here.)
My partner, Melissa (or Mel as I call her, despite how much she hates it), had told me that there would be some ice, snow, and freezing temperatures. We don’t leave the house much (not since COVID), so it only seemed like it would impact my morning walk. Not that big of a deal.
So we spent the weekend doing not much of anything. Mel stocked up on groceries on Saturday, and we spent Sunday admiring the accumulation of rarely-seen fluffy snow.
That night, at 2am, the power goes out.
Mel, ever the night owl, was still awake. She looked it up and found out that they needed to do rolling blackouts to conserve energy. They were only supposed to last 15-45 minutes.
At this point, it was around 10º outside. In case it didn’t come back on, Mel brought the kiddo to our bed and woke me up to tell me what was going on. Again, we assumed we would wake up in a warm house with power.
I got out of bed the next morning and realized it was freezing. So I let my partner on the morning show know that we have no power, which means no wifi, no Zoom, and no show. So I crawl back under the six blankets Mel put on the bed the night before and go back to sleep.
Upon waking a few hours later, I could see my breath in our bedroom. That’s not good.
We get out of bed, layer up, and make some hot tea and hot chocolate for the little one. Fortunately, we do have a gas stove!
Unfortunately, the fireplace in our rented house hasn’t been used in years. And it hasn’t been cleaned since our landlady bought the house. Mel tried to open the flue several days before the cold front, but it was so caked in soot and rust that she couldn’t get it open. Even if we could, we didn’t want to risk catching the chimney on fire since we don’t really know what’s up there.
After canceling all of my appointments for the day, I decided to look for a Goal Zero battery pack to run a space heater. The internet is crawling, and phones are either not working or there’s nobody there to answer them. So I had the brilliant idea to drive around in my 4Runner to go look for one. But everybody was either sold out or not open. (In addition to the crazy weather and power outages, it was also President’s Day, something I didn’t even realize for a while.)
After several hours and many failed attempts, I was sitting in the parking lot of a sporting goods store, wondering where to go next. I called up an Overlanding expert friend of mine. (Thank you, Lopez, you’re the best!) He helpfully informed me that the size battery I’m looking for doesn’t have enough wattage to run a space heater. Ah, good to know.
I thank him and head home. Old me would’ve been furious at myself for wasting time on something that wouldn’t work anyway. But new me stayed mindfully detached from the outcome and was grateful that I have a friend like Lopez that knows things like that. It was also an excellent reminder to consult friends who know more than me rather than listening to my ego that thinks I know everything about everything.
Then there’s the money that his help saved me from spending on something that wouldn’t immediately help us.
My whole reason for spending money on the battery rather than a hotel room was that it would be an investment that would pay off in the future. Even though the battery would be way more expensive than a night at a hotel, I figured it was still a better use of money.
As I’m driving back to the house, I start thinking about how I still need to work on my value and money mindset.
That thought train leads me to the desire to support small businesses more. So I pick up the girls, and we drive around to see if any of our local restaurants are open. But after about an hour, it’s clear that the outages are well beyond our neighborhood. No local businesses were open, and few fast food places were running.
We eventually find an open McDonald’s, grab food, and head back to the freezing tundra that is our house. But on the way there, I found out the hard way I haven’t used the 4-wheel drive capability very much in my truck.
Yeah, we got stuck going up an icy hill. Several other cars were stuck and had emergency lights flashing. I figured my big beast could make it, but I had to slow down too much to get in between all of them. That’s when it happened—spinning tires.
I shift into 4-wheel, and… nothing… Still just sitting there. Turns out, you actually have to take it back out of neutral to go anywhere. Once I realized and fixed my mistake, Fiona (yes, I name my vehicles) makes it the rest of the way up like a champ.
We get home and start choking down cold burgers and limp fries. As we eat, we decide that this isn’t sustainable for another night, and we have to find a hotel. Thus begins the fruitless calling. Again, the internet is barely working, so searching for a room that way wasn’t cutting it.
As I call and call, Melissa and Alice quickly pack some overnight bags.
Since we’re unable to find a room relatively close to the house and because we are absolutely freezing, I tell them that we’re getting in the truck and driving until we find a place to stay. Believe it or not, I still had no idea how far and widespread it was. Since cutting so much media out of my life last year, there are plenty of moments where I’m a lot less informed than I should be.
For context on the severity of power outages in the state, Galveston is on the Gulf of Mexico and over 300 miles southeast of us. The beaches were covered in snow, and they dealt with power shortages all the way down there.
That’s how crazy this storm was and how devastating it was for Texas’s completely unprepared and unregulated power grid.
And for those that think wind turbines were the problem, they weren’t. Our state mostly runs on gas, coal, and nuclear energy. And those all failed. Additionally, the wind turbines we do use should have been better regulated and winterized to work in these low temps. Wind turbines supply power in the arctic; they work perfectly fine in sub-zero temperatures with the right maintenance.
Anyway, it took three hours of driving, dozens of phone calls, and multiple stops to run into hotel lobbies before we finally found a room. It was 40 miles from our house, it was the last room they had, and it had no TV.
When I asked Melissa if the lack of visual entertainment was okay, she said something along the lines of, “YES! Are you f**king kidding me? I don’t care about a TV right now!”
Though far from the nicest hotel I’d ever been in, we couldn’t have been happier to get a room! We showered, ate, and relaxed for the first time in what feels like an eternity. It was heaven.
Since I didn’t bring my journal (silly me), I sat there thinking about all of the things I had to be grateful for and how I’d handled the day. I’m in a position where I can cancel calls and meetings without hurting myself too much or worrying about losing a job. I’ve worked so hard on mindset, Stoicism, detachment, and empathy that I can navigate stressful situations and my family’s reactions to them a bit easier.
I was still thinking about this when we piled into bed and quickly fell asleep.
The next day, Tuesday (I think, time lost all meaning during this adventure), all reports say we should have power back soon, and we’re naive enough to believe it. Before we leave, we take advantage of the WiFi while we can. I go ahead and cancel all of my meetings for the week, once again thankful that I can. We also proactively booked a hotel room closer to the house just in case we don’t have power yet. I figure we can cancel if we don’t need it.
Mel’s mother and brother were also without power in their apartment. After discussing what they should do, they decided to book a room in the same hotel so that we could pick them up.
We pack up and head back to the house, hoping we’ll have power when we get there. Of course, we don’t. I didn’t bother trying to find out what the temperature was in the house at that point, but the windows were literally frozen over on the inside.
While we’re there getting clean clothes and extra stuff we didn’t pack the first time, Mel started loading up coolers and tubs with food. She filled them with snow and put them either outside (for frozen food) or in the garage (for refrigerated food.) Smart cookie, that one. We ended up not having to throw out any food except for some frozen bananas and tomatoes that live on the counter. She’s still trying to revive the basil, but I think it’s a lost cause.
Before we leave for the next place, I post about our adventure so far on Facebook. Several amazing friends immediately reached out and offered us a place to stay. As kind as that was,
- we had already booked a room and thought we were in the clear, and
- there’s no way around it; Melissa is a huge introvert and wouldn’t feel comfortable staying with friends.
So I told everybody thanks but we were covered. My friend, Sales Throwdown co-host, and former boss Al calls and tries to convince me to stay with him and his partner, Nannette. (If you’ve watched or listened to the podcast, yes, they are together. It’s not a secret; we just don’t actually address it on the show.) I told him that staying with them is a last resort because we don’t want to impose, which he insists we wouldn’t. But that’s not how Mel would see it.
As much as I love my family, my decision-making is a lot different with them than it would be if it was just me. I, alone, would choose a friend’s house over a motel any day. Not Mel. Her comfort level with other people is microscopic, even with friends we’ve known for years. She needs her space, and she needs to avoid conflict at all costs, even when it’s only in her head.
So we left to pick up her family and headed to the next motel.
The previous 24 hours was a breeze compared to the next 6.
We pull up to the motel, and the manager meets us at the window before I could even put the truck in park. “We’re out of power, so we can’t let you in.”
“Even with a reservation?”
“Yeah, sorry, you’re gonna have to cancel and get a refund. We’re shutting down.”
So we get on the road and just drive. Mel starts furiously googling and calling hotels. We stop at some to get out and check the old-fashioned way. Nothing. All full. Or no power and answered phones. We were coming up empty.
Things weren’t going any better in the backseat.
Melissa’s introversion and anxiety aren’t an anomaly. Her whole family suffers from mental health challenges in one way or another. She’s actually written a little about her brother’s severe struggles in this Sales Throwdown blog post.
He’s put in a lot of work and made a lot of strides towards getting better. Their mom, unfortunately, hasn’t. She struggles a lot. So while we were trying to find a room, my brother was just trying to keep her calm while she sobbed due to stress and fear.
We headed east since we’d heard they hadn’t lost as much power there. But once again, we drove for hours before we found a motel that had rooms.
Their power had just come back on within the last hour, so they warned us that there would be no refunds if it went out again. I mean, at this point, we thought we deserved a little luck. So we got two rooms.
We put our stuff down. I checked on some work things, the girls ate. In the other room, Mel’s mom took a shower.
Just as she was getting out, the power went out. Her nerves were so fried that she immediately threw up.
We sat there in the dark for about an hour, waiting and hoping that it would come back on. Normally in a situation like this, I’d be dwelling on how crappy my luck always seems to be.
Instead, I stayed calm and thought about how many other people were freezing, hungry, and thirsty right now. Even though my situation wasn’t optimal, I still had choices and resources.
I wanted to call Al, but I had not one but three people to convince. But when Mel asked her mom, much to all of our surprise, she answered, “Let’s go!”
We pack everything back up, and I told Melissa to leave the key on the dresser. She said, “But what if the power comes back on as we’re leaving?” I scoffed and shrugged.
Sure enough, just as she gets to her family’s room to help them with their stuff, lo and behold, the power comes back on. At that point, I was going to Al’s no matter what. I just didn’t trust the electricity to stay on through the night. I understood if they didn’t want to come with me, and I would pick them up the next day.
Again, much to my surprise, everybody was on board with going.
I knew how anxious Mel was to stay with friends, even though she’s known Al and Nannette for many years now. But we don’t hang out with them regularly, and even if we did, she would still feel like she’s imposing.
As anxious as she was, I knew her mom and brother were 10 times more so. Partially because their anxiety is worse than Mel’s and partly because they were complete strangers to them. So I was really impressed and thankful that they made the decision to go despite all of that.
All the stress and tension of the day literally melts off us in front of their enormous, crackling fireplace. Nannette, the world’s most amazing hostess, got us into our rooms and opened her home to whatever we needed. They had mouth-watering food cooking, wine glasses already filled, and gallons of fresh, clean water ready to drink.
We spent the night drinking, eating, watching Nannette cook with our kiddo, playing cards, and just spending time together without thinking about the last 48 hours.
Finally, climbing into bed late that night, I thought about how much stress I’d been carrying around for the last few days. Upon closer inspection, I realized that I’ve probably been holding on to mountains of stress daily ever since COVID started. Being somewhere other than my home and in a place where I was comfortable and relaxed made me recognize how rarely I feel relaxed these days.
It’s hard to not think about work when you’re running a business that is still trying to recover from the pandemic.
As I contemplated the issues I need to address, I also felt intense gratitude. I was thankful for the whirlwind of empathy and care from Al and Nannette and for my family who faced their fears, came with me, and joined in the celebration of being safe and warm together.
The next morning, we all slowly crawl out of our different sleep spaces, some of us in better shape than others. Our amazing hosts put together a delicious breakfast, and we eat, watch the news, and chat.
I quickly start to notice the fidgeting hands, anxious knees, and pacing of my family. Sometimes, it’s tough for me to understand that kind of distress, especially after the wonderful evening we’d had. But I try to remind myself that we all have our challenges, and I’m no different. Mine just don’t manifest from social interactions the way theirs do.
While we’re discussing plans for the day, my landlady checks on the house and lets us know that the power is back on.
While we’re very excited to hear about having a warm home again, I couldn’t help but think about how I haven’t felt this carefree in a long time. Plus, I was skeptical that the power would stay on.
But I’m in the minority here. Melissa would feel more comfortable in her own space, and the family agrees.
As much as I wasn’t ready, we got our stuff together, profusely thanked our hosts again, and made our way home.
The internal pressure I felt that I needed to get back to work started building as soon as I closed the car door. To be fair, it had been growing throughout the week. Pretty much as soon as I canceled everything on Tuesday morning. The list of meetings moved or postponed, of tasks uncompleted, and of emails unread was daunting. Going home meant an end to the often unused ability to turn ‘work John’ off for a bit.
My family’s comfort, however, was more important.
We brought Mel’s mom and brother home with us because they didn’t have running water at their place. Pipes busted all over their apartment complex, so we all agreed they should stay with us.
We conserved power for the other homes that were still struggling with outages as much as we could. We boiled gallons of water due to the water plant being unable to filter it. Melissa did a bunch of cooking, and the family settled in.
Finally, it was all over.
Days later, Texas returned to its usual temperatures. As I sat to begin writing this, it was a comfortable and sunny 56º, which is crazy considering the high was 14º less than a week ago.
Mel’s mom and brother decided to go home. They didn’t have water yet, but the apartment had been working on it non-stop for days, and it should be fixed sometime during the weekend. (It was, they had water again by Sunday afternoon.)
Despite the insanity of our adventure and what happened to our state, things quickly return back to normal.
With the house all to ourselves again, I finally had space and time to reflect on everything that happened and how I dealt with it.
If I’d ever wondered whether all of the Stoicism, mindset work, and journaling was having a real impact on my thought processes and reactions, this experience proved that it has.
During all of this, there were many times that the old me would have complained, gotten irritated with my family, and devolved into ‘poor me’ mode. But believe it or not, that didn’t happen once.
Sure, there were a couple of times I was a little short when somebody asked me a question or gasped at my driving. And of course, I certainly had some enormous ‘god this sucks!’ moments. And several times when my battery was low from stress and exhaustion, I couldn’t help but dwell on the work that I needed to be doing and couldn’t.
But overall, I kept calm and focused on what needed to be done.
Now that it’s over, I have a whole new appreciation for the amount of work I’ve put into my attitude and behaviors. Without it, the week would’ve been a lot more difficult for everybody!
I also have a deeper awareness of the anxieties that other people deal with. I may not understand it. But I can better acknowledge how difficult it can be, how much strength it takes to overcome it, and how much time and space is needed to recharge. It was also a good reminder that I need to try a little harder to reach ‘empathetic John’ when I’m in task mode. ‘Robot John’ isn’t great at nurturing conversations when things are tense.
As for work, I discovered that some things need to change with my business. While I love what I do, the nature of it requires too much of me. I’ve got stuff in the pipeline, such as my Sherpa course and my upcoming book, that will help with that, but right now, everything depends on me being present and hooked up to WiFi. That’s not sustainable in the long run for a multitude of reasons.
Finally, I was again reminded of how many things and people I have in my life to be thankful for. Al and Nannette were lifesavers for all of us. I’m just as grateful to all the other people that reached out and offered a place to stay. I’m fortunate to have friends like Lopez who know so much about many unique and interesting things. We’re incredibly lucky that we didn’t have any burst pipes or lasting damage from the weather. And I’m so appreciative of the fact that we are all healthy enough and had the means to get out of our houses and look for a warm place to stay.
Nietzsche was right. This winter storm reminded us that “That which does not kill you, makes you stronger.”