As I sat in my window seat watching one of our two engines burn over the Atlantic, I realized I didn’t have much of an accomplishments list. As a college student, the difference I expected to make was sometime later. All my education and preparation was for a “future moment” where I would do something meaningful. The idea of dying now was both unexpected and unfair — that’s not how it was supposed to happen. The timing was all wrong.
The feeling of falling and shaking was intense and seemed to last forever, though probably was only a matter of minutes. As we waited for the impact, our pilot managed to extinguish the burning turbine and the free fall was replaced with rapid acceleration and lift that pinned us to our seats.
I released my white knuckle grip on the arm rest and looked around at the terrified faces of my fellow passengers. Some began to cry, others just sat in silence. At that moment, I knew I would be ok — but I also knew everything had changed.
In a few hours my hands stopped shaking enough to write down my thoughts and begin to process what happened. Things I once valued seemed worthless. Things I once feared seemed trivial. I often think of that night and continue to add to that notebook, but a few general concepts that I carry with me are:
1. Be grateful for today, but don’t rely on tomorrow.
2. Be purposeful with how you spend your time and who you spend that time with.
3. Decide what difference you intend to make in the world and get started now. Remember, later does not exist.
4. Risk is an illusion. Don’t let it fool you.
5. Do what you believe is right regardless how others view it. Social pressure is useless noise.
6. Don’t be tricked into chasing false value. Money can help achieve things that matter, but by itself is worth nothing.
7. The best investment you can make are in the people around you. Spend freely and often.
A few years after that experience I started a company, not because I wanted to, but because I felt I had to. No one was running a company the way I felt it should be run; I wanted proof that it was possible and I couldn’t wait for someone else. There just wasn’t time.
Friends and colleagues were concerned that a 23 year old kid with no money or business experience in a new town without connections simply couldn’t succeed – but what did I care? What power does failure hold over someone who should be sitting on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean?
Over the next 17 years growing our web product firm, I have had the honor of learning from, teaching and creating software with the best team members, clients and business partners on the planet. Every Monday morning is an undeserved blessing that I am so grateful for — but it’s one I would never have experienced if it wasn’t for that flight.
Act with urgency.
Do it now. Start that company. Launch that product. Take that new position. Go on that date. Start teaching. Learn to dance. There is so much to be done and less time than you realize to do it.
Your only real risk is waiting — and that I would not recommend.