January 15th 2017 marked the eighth anniversary of “The Miracle on the Hudson,” when Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger saved the lives of 155 people – including my own – by successfully landing US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t my first brush with death (including hurricanes, tsunamis, avalanches, earthquakes, and the first bombing of the Twin Towers), but this event more than anything I’d survived previously caused me to take stock of my personal and professional life and re-evaluate how I defined success.
Prior to the crash, I was a senior operating executive and former President of thriving divisions within two Fortune 100 firms. I was working 24/7, 365 days a year. I traveled constantly and missed numerous family occasions, but I loved my job and the fact that I could provide a great lifestyle for my family and me. Post-crash, I realized my priorities were wrong and that I needed to fully embrace my life. I also realized that who I am is much more than what I did for a living. I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, mentor and so much more – and these roles were always playing second fiddle to my career.
Throughout my professional life, I’ve tried to follow what I called “The Two P Principle” – have purpose and passion. Believe in what you’re doing and be excited about doing it. I thought that was all the motivation I needed to succeed. But it wasn’t until I was looking at the city skyline from a raft in the middle of the Hudson River that I realized I was missing the most important “P” – perspective. Passion and purpose are critical to success, but without the benefit of perspective, the context is missing.
In the aftermath of surviving trauma, from a plane crash to shuttering a business, here are some lessons I’ve learned about how to take these experiences and develop a perspective that will allow you to thrive moving forward:
Take Stock of Your Life
After the loss of a job or any major life-changing event, the most important thing I have learned to do is sit back and take stock of the things that are most meaningful to you. And don’t worry if you don’t know what to do right away. In fact, I suggest you commit to nothing right away! Give yourself at least six months to recharge and reenergize and explore all possibilities.
Don’t be Afraid
Throughout these life-altering experiences, I was determined not to let fear, whether it’s fear of failure or death itself, interfere with living. Fear must not dictate the life you lead. I realized that bad things happen to good people. I needed to accept adversity and learn from it because, in the end, tough times don’t last, but tough people do.
Know That it’s Okay to Make a Change
After the crash, I was asked to speak about my experience to several groups, including The Committee of 200 (C200), an organization comprised of the world’s most successful female executives and entrepreneurs – of which I am a member. After my talk, I was surrounded by the friendship and support of these wildly successful women, who were at all different stages of their careers in business. It was through these conversations that I ultimately decided to make a change and step off the “treadmill” of my executive career. I wanted to a find a position that was intellectually stimulating and would give me an opportunity to make a significant contribution at a strategic level but would also allow me to spend more time with my family. With their sage advice and counsel, I decided to pursue a new career – building a board portfolio.
Believe There is a Way
Maybe it was prior experience, or delusion, or shock, or how quickly it all unfolded, but even after we were told to “brace for impact,” I never believed we were going to die. In the short time we had to process the Captain’s warning, I had just a single thought: I was going to see my family again, as I had too much to live for. I honestly believed there would be a way out. Sometimes there isn’t, but remaining upbeat and positive and recognizing that doom is not always the result of a hard time can be very powerful.
In life, everyone will face loss, trauma, and hardship – within our families and our careers. My “The Miracle on the Hudson” isn’t about the four minutes after take-off or the crash itself – miracle though it may have been. The story is really about what came after when the plane started filling with water, and we began to evacuate. All the passengers worked together to help one another without a second’s hesitation. And it didn’t stop there. I saw acts of kindness and compassion – both big and small – all around me that day. Believing there is a way to overcome any hurdle, and drawing strength from those around us, is absolutely critical to moving forward, past these traumas, to what’s next.
To me, perspective is more than just having a vision or a career plan – however well thought out it may be – and a strong base of knowledge to inform your point-of-view. Perspective is also more than just recognizing you must change. Perspective is an acknowledgment that we are often at our most vulnerable when we think we have the answers. When we think we see the world for what it is. Because, in reality, we draw strength from the intangible things – the things we cannot see. The love of our family and friends. And our faith. These are the essential elements that help us through adversity.
When we remind ourselves of the love in our lives, our perspective changes. It’s easy, particularly now, to look to the future and only focus on the worst possible outcomes. And lose sight of all the good that surrounds us and humanity’s incredible potential for compassion. Instead, I believe we must choose to focus on sharing our lives with the people we care about. Focus on the love we have to offer and the love offered to us in return. Because living and sharing your life with others guarantees a life of meaning. And quite frankly, that’s the only perspective that matters.