Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Smoke Signals

I recently reached one million miles flown on Delta Airlines.  That’s a lot of air travel, and it led me to reflect on some of my favorite trips.  There was the 16-hour flight to South Africa with my family last summer, my recent trip to London to expand the 7 Mindsets in the UK, my Hawaiian getaway with my wife before we had children, and the 7 trips in two years I’ve taken to Fargo, North Dakota to help create the world’s first 7 Mindsets Community.  But my most memorable flight was this one…

“Smoke! The plane is filling with smoke!”

People were yelling frantically.  I was sitting in the tenth row, and hearing the commotion, I turned to look.  It was true.  A cloud of white smoke was billowing from the back of the plane and slowly filling the cabin. 

I tried to make sure I wasn’t asleep.  No such luck.  Then the captain came over the intercom and said, “We have a situation and need to make an emergency landing.  Please remain calm.”  Reasonable instructions, I thought, but people were panicking nonetheless.  What to do?  I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and tried to relax. Focus, I thought.  Focus on what I want and not on what I don’t want.

The night before, I had received an exciting phone call that Jane Fonda (film legend, activist, and philanthropist) was willing to meet with me.  Preventing unwanted teen pregnancies was important to Jane, and my team’s research had revealed a new approach to help address this societal problem.  I had been trying to get a meeting with her for six months, and now it was going to happen.  That is, if I could be at her office in Atlanta by 11 o’clock the next morning.  Ordinarily this would be a breeze, but I was in New York City, which often makes things trickier.

I booked a 6:30am flight to Atlanta and got to LaGuardia airport on time.  The plane was half empty when I boarded, and we even left a few minutes early.  Everything was going perfectly… until the screaming began.

Within minutes, the captain announced that we were turning around and landing at JFK, New York’s other major airport.  The airports are only twelve miles apart, but this was an emergency.  I remember thinking that no passenger has ever been on a jumbo jet for only twelve miles before.  With my eyes closed, I focused my thoughts on the outcome I desired.  “We are going to land safely,” I thought to myself.  “They’ll let us off the plane, and I will get to Atlanta on time.  Jane will love me!”  Inhale.  Exhale.

Minutes later, we landed, and shortly thereafter, the door opened.  Inside the terminal, thirty previously frantic travelers formed a long line at the customer service counter in front of me.

I had no time to wait.  I exited the airport and jumped in a taxi.  Before I could shut the door, a man ran up and asked if he could share my cab.  I told him I was going to LaGaurdia, and he said he was, too.  It turned out that he was the captain of the plane I’d just been on.  He told me there had been an electrical fire, and we were lucky that it happened during takeoff.  Thirty minutes later, he used his credentials to get us both on the 8:30am flight to Atlanta, where we both ended up in first class.  I made my 11am meeting with a few minutes to spare.  What a morning!

The meeting went well, and Jane even talked about my ideas that night on National Public Radio.  One highlight of the meeting was when she asked if I was married. When I told her yes, she said, “That’s too bad.  My niece Bridget just broke up with her boyfriend, and she would really like you.”  And with that, Jane exited the room, leaving me thinking, “Bridget Fonda is single?”

That flight was many years ago, but the experience and lessons remain with me to this day.  Even when you have a clear vision of what you want and a burning desire to achieve it, you may still encounter obstacles along the way.  To truly be successful, you must remain calm in the eye of the storm.  Continue to expect success and adjust your course as often as needed.  Sometimes smoke is just a reminder of the passionate fire inside you!

Until next week…

Live Your Dreams

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