Great experiences don’t always feel great

Yes Changes Everything!January 15, 2009

Shortly after takeoff, US Airways Flight 1549 loses power in both engines. In what aviators call a “bird strike,” a flock of geese flying straight into the plane’s propellers has disabled them instantly.

In the cockpit, Captain Sully Sullenberger quickly realizes it would be impossible to reach any airport, meaning a crash landing is his only option. Drawing on 42 years of aviation experience, he steers the plane — a giant jetliner called and Airbus — into the Hudson River, gliding to a safe landing that spares the lives of 155 passengers and crew members.

Afterward, Sully remembered the moment when it felt like all was lost, how having “zero thrust coming out of those engines was shocking — the silence.”

More recently, Sully said about that day: “For 42 years, I’d been making small, regular deposits in a bank account of experience, education, and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

“I realized,” he said, “that everything in my life up until then had prepared me for that moment.”

And he meant everything: his family, schooling, experience as a glider pilot and instructor, military service, civil service…everything.

A big waste of time?

I spent years as a communications consultant to large corporations, supporting my kids and my employees.

That whole time, the idea for Blossie’s Books was alive and kicking in every cell of my body. But no matter how I felt, I had to keep being the “corporate tiger.” Too many people were depending on me. No way I could stop consulting to write books.

Beautiful someone, until I listened to that interview with Sully, honestly, I’d often slip into regret (maybe even a little self-pity 😊) for the years I spent serving the corporate world.

Maybe it was all a big waste of time?

We can all do this — spend time regretting our past, something I can relate to not only on a work level, but on a personal level too, having lived through the enormous pain of infidelity and divorce.

But what Sully said kind of makes that impossible…

“I realized that everything in my life up until then had prepared me for that moment.”

Nothing is wasted

Most of us will never experience a moment like Flight 1549, but there’s a bigger message here: the idea that for any given moment, our past, our experiences (good and bad), our histories and skills, have prepared us.

Nothing is ever wasted.

So now I can look at my past through a new lens:

My corporate experience (as unhappy as it was) gave me insights into the pressures employees are under so I can write books about good ways to handle those pressures.

Years as a consultant enabled me to understand the pressures of entrepreneurship and the challenges of being a good manager. They made me a better communicator — or at least one who tries harder!

Infidelity and living through a painful divorce gave me a level of empathy for people going through the agony of rejection. (It also made me fiercely loyal in my relationships because I know what betrayal feels like.)

Good questions

Looking through this new lens, we can all make a list like this. Some questions to help:

  • “What were some of the tough experiences from my past?”
  • “How have these experiences made me a stronger person? How have they made me smarter?”
  • “Who do I have more empathy for because of these experiences?”

In the end, beautiful someone, I’ve realized, my heart to yours: Not every great experience feels great while it’s happening to us. But they’re all important to becoming who we’re meant to be.

Love changes us

Happy October, beautiful someone!

A long time ago, I was taking a fitness class in New York City. It was early morning, a Saturday in the middle of winter. I was going through a seriously bad patch — my husband had decided he was done with marriage. This was a shock, and I hurt everywhere. I remember thinking, “Now I know I have a soul because I can feel it tearing in half.”

I’ve never been good at hiding my feelings, so I’m sure I looked pretty bad. Anyway, after class the instructor walked over to me, put an arm around my shoulder and squeezed tight. Then she turned to me. “I don’t know what you’re going through, but you’re going to be okay,” she said. After all the yelling at home, I think my knees must have given way a little at the gentleness in her voice.

“I want to give you something,” she said.

She reached into her pocket and took out $100 bill which she pressed into my hand.

“This is for you—and only for you,” she said. “Do something nice for yourself with it.”

Before I could say anything, she gave me a hug and walked away.

I watched her, my mouth hanging open, the money in my hand.

I still remember

Everything at home moved fast after that, and I never ended up going back to that studio. Still, divorce, meeting the love of my life, remarriage and two babies later, I remember that day so vividly. It was a moment when I experienced pure love — someone understanding that I was in pain and, like an angel, being inexplicably generous to me, expecting absolutely nothing in return.

I like to think that experience did more than just make an impression on me. It changed the way I thought about love and generosity. It was so powerful that it made me want to do more than just receive love. It made me want to pass love on by looking for chances to be generous in small and big ways.

Let love change us

And reading this story, maybe you do too, beautiful someone? Maybe together we can follow my angel instructor’s example by giving financially when we can, but also by letting a car in on the highway. Smiling at that annoying guy at CVS. Letting the harried mom with two small kids go ahead of us in line at the store. Telling the waiter who brought the wrong drink that it’s “totally no big deal.” Dropping a few extra groceries off at the food pantry. Raking an elderly neighbor’s leaves.

And remembering that love, in itself, doesn’t change things.

Love changes us, and we change things.

“The infinite capacity of hope”

Hi Beautiful Someone,

Sorry for the long post, but I really wanted to share this excerpt from my new book, Yes Changes Everything! Please enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Yes Changes Everything!

What do you know about Helen Keller? Probably that she was blind and deaf and lived a long and influential life. Me too. But it was only after coming across one of my favorite Helen Keller quotes on optimism that I started to look closer at her life and realize how truly remarkable she was.

Helen Keller was born a healthy baby in 1880 on a farm near Tuscumbia, Alabama. At six months, she began to talk and at 12 months to walk. Before age 2, however, an illness — later they would speculate scarlet fever or meningitis — had taken Helen’s ability to see and hear. She would live in darkness and silence for the rest of her life.

“She knows! She knows!”

Helen grew up in a loving home, but her family didn’t know how best to take care of her, so they let her run free and be wild.

As she grew, her inability to see or hear must have become very frustrating. And the wild and unusual behavior that was cute and acceptable in a baby and a toddler was totally unmanageable in an older child. By age six, she was prone to screaming, tantrums, and rages. People began to say that institutionalizing her was the only solution. But Helen’s parents were determined to do all they could and find options for her.

Eventually, they found the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. It was there, through Alexander Graham Bell (yes, that one, inventor of the telephone), that they were put in touch with the woman who became one of the most dedicated teachers of all time: Annie Sullivan.

Annie worked tirelessly with Helen to enable her to make connections between objects she could feel and letters of the alphabet that Annie would draw into the palm of her hand.

The Miracle Worker

If you’ve seen the movie The Miracle Worker, you’ll remember the scene at the water pump where Annie holds a seven-year-old Helen’s hand under the spray, yelling, “It has a name!” and spells W-A-T-E-R into the little girl’s hand. This is the moment when, slowly and with great difficulty, Helen says, “wa-wa.”

Everything happens then in the space of a few minutes as Helen runs from the pump to the ground to the trees to the porch steps and demands to have them spelled into her hand. “Mrs. Keller! Mrs. Keller!” Annie screams, “She knows! She knows!” By the end of that day, in the fashion of hand-spelling, Helen had learned more than 30 words.

The infinite capacity of hope

From that moment, Helen Keller’s world opened. She attended the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston, then the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York City. She worked for decades to learn how to read Braille as well as how to communicate through touch-lip reading, typing, and finger-spelling. She was a formidable opponent as a chess player. She attended Radcliffe College where she proved to be a brilliant and extremely hard-working student, graduating with honors in 1904 and becoming the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

Helen Keller became an author, completing her first book, The Story of My Life, in 1905. Others would follow, including The World I Live In, Out of the Dark, The Song of the Stone Wall, The Open Door, and Optimism. Helen had a heart for activism, voicing her views on social and political issues such as women’s suffrage, pacifism, labor rights, and anti-militarism.

She worked tirelessly on behalf of people living with disabilities, traveling around the world and even testifying before Congress about the needs of the blind. In 1920, she helped found the powerful and influential American Civil Liberties Union. She received honorary doctoral degrees from five renowned universities around the world, and in 1963 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The secret of the stars

I love the story of Helen Keller’s life and her amazing breakthroughs and contributions. Even more amazing: late in her life, she lamented in an interview that one of her only regrets was that she had not been able to learn to speak properly — her speech was halting and incoherent because she had heard so little of the spoken word before her illness. If she had learned to speak clearly, she said, she could have helped more people. “How much more good could I have done if I had acquired normal speech?” she said through her teacher. “But out of this sorrowful experience, I understand more fully all human strivings, thwarted ambitions, and the infinite capacity of hope.” What a poignant example of transforming incredible hardship into lasting good!

All this is a backdrop for one of my all-time favorite quotes about optimism that sparked such an interest in the story of Helen Keller from none other than Helen herself:

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”