There was this one week workshop of a H2020 Research & Innovation Action in beautiful Italy. The workshop was going to be exciting, since we – the consortium – invited external parties to test the beta version of a tool we are developing. Of course, this first test was of interest to the European project officer and so, the project officer also was present. Completely prepared, a group of 5 from the coordinators’ institute departed from the airport. The first dread the project manager, and even more so, a colleague had to conquer was the forgotten passport of the colleague. Hurray for Schengen and drivers licences……they bring you through the sky as well as over the road. About an hour later, just after taking the seat in the plane, a very familiar name was called through the speakers, telling that the flight attendants found your public transport card on the floor. Keep smiling and be thankful for this happy coincidence.
After a two hour flight we arrived at Rome Fiumicino. From there we had to take a train to our venue, so one of us bought our tickets through the machine. Since it is still quite a long walk to the train station and it already was a little past 19:30, we bought the tickets for a departure after 20:00. Of course, we arrived way before 20:00 at the station, so we decided to act blunt and catch an earlier train. But the closed gates and the guard wouldn’t let us: we needed to come back after 20:00…….at least that was what we understood. So, Italy, what do you do? Grab an espresso of course. Around the time we were allowed to depart, we tried to get through the gates again. No luck. Then we are told the tickets are only valid for tomorrow. Which should have alarmed us, since when buying the tickets the machine clearly told us that ‘the tickets are valid today.’ When asking at the ticket office if the date could be changed, we were informed that this was possible but useless, since on Sunday evening no train would leave anymore to our destination. And no, tickets could not be refunded. No influence on this anymore, so…….the obvious solution was to grab a taxi. This whole intermezzo was not so much a dread, but it certainly was a waste of time and money.
A next shock for the project manager – you know: responsibility and so – was the message that there was no room reservation for the coordinator on that specific evening. The coordinator was supposed to have a room as of the next day. Of course, also this was easily solved but the stoic principle started to be shaken a little and the blood pressure went up a bit.
Throughout the week, there were smaller and bigger hick-ups that needed to be solved, some of these within the influence of the project manager and others not. And this of course is the biggest challenge for a project manager: you know there are issues that can make or break the goal of the workshop. You also know you have no influence on this whatsoever, but still you worry and get panicky. Exactly this moment is where you have to realise some issues are outside your span of control. Exactly here you need to act in a stoic way. Of course you can stay on call to assist wherever you can be of help. But where you can’t be, the best thing you can do is to stay calm, trust that others will solve the issue and make sure your own part in the play is conducted perfectly.
Despite smaller and bigger issues, the workshop was successful and promising for the future of the project. Because of the smaller and bigger issues, it was a week we will not easily forget. Especially, since someone wanted us to enjoy the full experience and decided to cancel our flight back home. Now, this was not a fun moment after a heavy week, being exhausted. But also this was solved for the better: the coordinator arranged for a flight that landed home at a time our original flight still had to depart from Italy.
The Stoic lesson from all of this? Stay calm, decide what you can do to solve things and leave the things you can’t solve to the people who can. And never stop smiling and laughing about all the silly things that can happen.