January 2009 — 155 of us on the wings of the plane in the Hudson River
Jan. 15, 2009 was a life-changing day for me. It started out as most days…it was busy, and I was focused on my agenda and all that I needed to accomplish. That afternoon I boarded a US Airways flight in NYC bound for Charlotte. About a minute and a half after take-off from LaGuardia Airport, I heard a series of bumps and clapping sounds. I looked out the window to see a large flock of Canadian geese bouncing off the aircraft. The engines caught fire, then shut down. Silence. Some 4,000 feet in the air above Manhattan, no engines in an Airbus A320 with 155 people on board. Most passengers were frightened and stricken with panic, but I was having a very different experience. My thoughts immediately took me back to the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. My older brother George was a NYC firefighter who gave his life as he worked to rescue those trapped in the towers at the World Trade Center. And now I was certain I was going to be killed in a plane in Midtown Manhattan.
As it became clear that we were headed into the Hudson River, Captain Sullenberger’s made one announcement to the passengers and crew: “Brace for impact.” We successfully landed on the Hudson River, and all 150 passengers and five crew members evacuated onto the wings of the aircraft and were rescued.
“Brace for impact.” I’ve thought a lot about that phrase. Every day, from the day we are born, brace for impact. Unexpected and difficult things are going to happen in life. It’s what we do with these experiences that can make all the difference. We must each decide if we will learn and grow from difficult experiences or be defeated and set back by our life’s challenges. I have been blessed with a positive outlook, and over time I’ve found ways to share my experiences and hopefully help others.
In doing so, I’m deliberately sharing and investing in both my Grant Thornton clients as well as colleagues. It fits perfectly with our firm’s core value of bringing our whole selves to our work. We invest in each other. I tell my story to provide insights that might be meaningful in others’ professional and personal lives, and to invite their stories.
Takeaways from my story
#1 There are no guarantees other than today. Be fully engaged in everything you do. Don’t multitask through your day.
#2 Values matter in all aspects of life. Focus and invest your time and energy only on those things that matter and are core to your values.
#3 If this was my last day, did I spend it doing all I could or giving all I can to those around me?