Life lessons learned after September 11th

This Sunday, September 11th, I’ll be heading to NYC on an American Airlines flight.

And yes, I do feel the significance of flying on that airline on that date.

I’m not much for anniversaries, but there’s something about the 10 year anniversary of September 11th that can’t be ignored.  Like so many people around the world, I was glued to the television that day as I watched the events unfold. Two months later, I was in NYC for the first time with Anthony Muller, Disa Johnson and Jill Whalen. I still remember the lights around Ground Zero as they cleared the wreckage. And the way people were just a little bit kinder to each other.

It was a terrible and beautiful time to be in the City and it will stay with me forever. Like so many people around the world. I learned some incredible lessons that day – many of which shaped how I run my business. Here are just a few:

People are good. In today’s “you must practically disrobe before boarding a plane” mentality, it’s easy to see evil around every corner. You hear stories about businesses being ripped off by clients who won’t pay – or mortgage companies kicking folks out of their homes – and it’s easy to believe that the only person we can trust is, well, ourselves.

Once upon a time, I was on yet another American flight. My dog was dying, and I needed to make it home that night so I could spend just a little more time with her before I took her to the vet the next day. My seat was in the back of the plane – and my connection was tight. The stewardess said that I wouldn’t get off the plane in time to make my connecting flight. I was devastated until…

…A wonderful gentleman in first class heard my story and volunteered to switch seats with me (he must have been an angel, because no-one voluntarily gives up their first class seat for a middle coach one). I was the first off the plane – and the last on my connecting flight. Because of that man, I was able to spend my last hours with Corky the Corgi. I’ll never forget him.

There are incredible stories about how people are helping others. Kickstarter is a fantastic example of complete strangers coming together to help someone reach their goal. Conferences have charity parties (SMX East is holding one for breast cancer research.) Churches and community groups help people every day. You can choose to focus on what you read in the paper (which is usually negative,) or focus on the light you see in people. I prefer to see the light.

Don’t judge others. Six months after September 11th, I was rudely pushed out of line as I was boarding a plane. Imagine my chagrin when the “pusher” was my seatmate – and for half the flight, I was stewing over what I saw as a personal affront. Then the man started talking. He was back in NYC for the first time after the attacks. Not only did this man lose many of his friends in the World Trade Center bombing, he told the story of holding a woman who watched her husband die. By the end of the flight, we were both bawling like babies – and I realized what I considered “rude” was just another human being trying to cope.

Consider if you find yourself judging people, and see how you can change your attitude. Do you step around the homeless man on the street with the thought “Get a job” bouncing in your brain? Do you see people who are more successful than you and think, “Well, at least I didn’t have to sell my soul to get where I am today.” Do you judge the writer who asks for too little – or too much – money? It’s amazing how much more clearly we can see others when we drop our preconceived notions and allow ourselves to see people for who they really are.

You can make a difference in someone’s life today. There doesn’t need to be a worldwide incident for you to be the change you want to see in this world. Write a thank you note to someone who has made a difference in your world (I just wrote one to my high school English teacher – and damn, it felt good.) Help a stranger just because you can. Donate to a wonderful cause (Disa Johnson is running for AIDS research and is searching for donations.) Be a mentor and help someone’s career. Heck, even being friendly to your local Starbucks barista (rather than being on your phone and barking your latte order) can make a huge difference.

Other ways you can help right now:

– Answer a question in Linked In or Quora.

– Speak  at your local high school or college.

– Help someone launch their business.

– Volunteer to help a non-profit.

It may not seem like much to you, but spending just a little bit of time can mean a tremendous amount to someone else.

Life is short – live it. In the two years prior to September 11th, I had lost both my father and my husband. Since then, I’ve lost two other friends – one to an accident, one to cancer. What have I learned? I tell my friends that I love them. I cherish every day and take nothing for granted. I live life on my own quirky, eccentric terms. And I hold nothing back. I would rather give whatever I’m doing my all and fail spectacularly (although there’s really no such thing as “failure,”) than do a half-assed job and hope that no-one notices me.

If you’ve been holding yourself back, it’s time to break free. Screw the fear! It does nothing but hurt you. That could mean…

– Quitting your day job and starting your own business.

– Trying your hand at public speaking.

– Raising your rates.

– Trying something new – a new sport, reading a new book. Even listening to new music can pull you out of your comfort zone.

This September 11th, let’s take the time to celebrate ourselves – and each other. After all, we are the change that we’ve been waiting for.

4 replies
  1. Amy C. Teeple
    Amy C. Teeple says:

    Wow. That pretty much sums up how I feel about this post. You express these lessons so well.

    I, too, was in New York City about two months after the attacks. My heart ached when I saw the walls of missing persons fliers. But, there was definitely a sense of community in what was once a large, impersonal city. We even took a moment to stop and thank a police officer we saw. It just felt right.

    Oddly enough, they are lessons that I have been paying attention to more lately. I don’t know if it was the anniversary of 9-11 or the fact that there has been a lot of (let’s call it) “not great” things happening to people in my life these days (including breakups, deaths, cancer diagnoses, and many other issues), but I have tried to treat people – those I love and those I don’t even know – better.

    There IS goodness everywhere – if you look for it. I’m sure we’ve all seen the “People of Walmart” website and pictures. I know that I have made Walmart references before too. However, one a recent trip to my local Walmart, I needed a car battery. Since I was only buying one thing, I didn’t grab a cart (forgetting that car batteries can weigh about 40 pounds). I struggled to the express lane (too stubborn to go back for a cart) and as soon as I walked up, the guy in front of me, told me to go in front of him. I thanked him and stood holding my battery. There was a couple in front of me, but when it was their turn, the wife saw me and told her husband to let me go first. It may have been a little thing to these people, but it meant the world to me. It also reminded me to “pay it forward” and I made sure I looked for opportunities to extend the same courtesies to others when I could.

    Thanks for the post. Have fun in NYC!

  2. Heather Georgoudiou
    Heather Georgoudiou says:

    Heather – Thanks for your honesty and a really uplifting post. The timing is superb.

    We had a speaker at church last week who was a NYC Cop for twenty years and trained a lot of the officers who died on 9/11. He remarked, “we must all be ready – for tomorrow is not promised.”
    He stressed the importance in remembering those who lost family members and loved ones on that day and their continual grief.

    I can relate to Amy and the “life lessons” she mentioned. I too have been through a lot challenges lately – they always seems to come in one big heap! So weird!

    I appreciate your call to action Heather to move beyond the fear and passionately embrace life. You are an inspiring mentor! Go out and enjoy NYC today!

  3. Aimee Kunau
    Aimee Kunau says:


    Great post. All too often it’s easy to get sidetracked by the “me-ism” of society and we need reminders like Sept. 11th to bring us back to reality.

    I’ll be visiting NYC in the spring, first because I have never been there, but also to pay my deepest felt respects at the memorial at Ground Zero. I think about the people who died that day, just going off to work, living their lives, which were cruelly and senselessly snuffed out. To live our lives to the fullest, to give back, and to show kindness in a stressful world, is the best way to honor their memory.

    After the memorial, I’ll celebrate being in NYC with a Broadway show. Seems like a fitting way to enjoy a once and still beautiful, one of a kind city.

  4. Heather
    Heather says:

    Thanks, guys – I really appreciate your kind comments. I wasn’t sure if I should upload my “lessons learned” post – I thought it could be “too personal.” Now, I’m really glad that I did.

    Life is so short, and it’s so important to be kind to those around us. And when you focus on the goodness in people, well, it just makes life a little bit sweeter. :)


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