Where were you on September 11th, 2001? It’s rare that such a specific moment can be remembered by an entire population, but such is the case with that day. As we approach the 10 year anniversary (hard to believe, right?) of such a horrific experience, it’s important to reflect on how our society has evolved over the last decade, for better and worse. It’s important to consider the lives that were lost on that day, and the families who were left behind. And it’s important to recall the immense outpouring of unity and patriotism that flowed out of such a hateful and evil action.
Still, perhaps most interestingly, it’s useful to think about how the event impacted various Americans in very different ways. Certainly, for everyone September 11th was a very real reminder that life is short, and that we must live each day in as fulfilling a manner as possible. Yet for most of us (myself included) that reminder faded away with time, and we resorted back to our routines, behaving much the same way as we had before the tragedy. For the others, however, that reminder was much more palpable.
There are a number of reasons why someone may have had a more profound experience with September 11th than others. Maybe they knew someone who worked in the Twin Towers. Maybe they knew someone on the planes. Or maybe they were supposed to have been in one of those locations and were not because of some fluke chance. Whatever the reason, the terrorists who attacked us on that day succeeded in mass murder, in contributing to our economic struggle, and in forcing us to be constantly vigilant against another attack. However there was one lesson they did not account for: They taught us that we could wake up one morning, go to work, and never come home. What a powerful motivational tool they gave us? To make sure you love today because there may not be a tomorrow for you to fall back on.
So for all of the lives that were lost, many lives were saved that day. The lives of people who woke up out of their ‘zombie-like’ existence and decided to change their path to one that made them happy today – not 10, 20, or 50 years down the line. Here are the stories of 5 such incredible people:
Mike Jaffe falls into the category of someone who should have died on September 11th, but was saved by chance. He worked on the 96th Floor of the World Trade Center, but was late to work that day because he had decided to have breakfast with his wife and daughter that morning. When he showed up to the office, there was a whole where his floor used to be, and most of his coworkers and friends had already perished. “I lost many friends and coworkers on September 11th, which served as a painful but powerful reminder of how precious life truly is. I knew I could never again settle for a life that was simply fine,” he told me. So, what does Mike do now? Well, he left his financially secure corporate lifestyle in favor of becoming a motivational speaker and life coach. Today, he works with thousands of individuals to help them find the motivation to make the same type of shift that he has. “I see myself as a Human Wakeup Call, waking people up to new possibilities for their lives and businesses, without losing another precious day.”
Read more about Mike’s story at: www.humanwakeupcall.com.
Rob’s story of transformation is as selfless as it is inspirational. To begin, we have to start a day earlier, on September 10th, 2001. On this day, Rob boarded a plane on a flight from Denver, CO to Newark, NJ. Sitting next to him was a stranger named Jason Dahl. The two talked throughout the flight, as you do when you are placed next to a stranger on a plane. Dahl spoke of a dream he had to take his 15 year old son to a NASCAR race to meet his idol, Jeff Gordon. Hearing this, Quillen offered Dahl tickets to the upcoming NASCAR race in Kansas City. Sadly, the next day, Captain Jason Dahl took off piloting United Airlines Flight 93, which ended up crashing in a field in Shanksville, PA. But Quillen was determined to honor his word, and 19 days after September 11th, Jeff Gordon flew his private jet to pick up the Dahl family and made them all guests at the Kansas City Speedway.
Fast forward to 2011, Rob just released a book entitled, “Why Wait?” which discusses his journey since that seemingly harmless encounter on a flight back on September 10th, 2001. “The premise behind the book is, why do we wait until it is too late to make other people’s dreams come true?” he said. “All of us have the amazing power to make other people’s dreams come true.”
A good portion of the proceeds of the book, as well as income generated from Quillen’s pending speaking tour, is going to the Jason Dahl Scholarship Foundation. As Quillen reminded me, “This has changed my life clearly. I have written a book to raise money for a foundation in honor of someone I knew for 3 hours. I have dedicated my life to making sure that this foundation is around forever.”
Beth Marshall seemingly had no reason to be so emotionally impacted by 9/11. She didn’t work in the towers, she wasn’t supposed to be on one of the flights, she just simply had a good heart. She had also recently lost her mother, and understood the pain of losing someone close to you. She was compelled to do something to help the victims and their families. Shortly after the tragedy, Beth wrote and self-published a book entitled, “A Time to Heal: A Grief Journal.” Originally, her effort was a way to do her part, to offer up ways to help families to get over the incredible sense of loss they must have been feeling. She donated copies to the FDNY fire stations, and to the Army Chaplain’s office at the Pentagon.
At the same time, Beth left a job she had held at Delta Airlines for nearly 25 years, to pursue her true passion of pastoral care ministry. Then a funny thing happened. Her book caught on. Most recently, she has gone full time sharing the story, helping people to cope with massive grief. Her book was even translated into Japanese in order to help tsunami victims to begin to heal. “I don’t think that either of my prior careers were a waste of time, but this most recent chapter has surely been amazing – I’m definitely following my dream,” she told me. “I just hope that some of my story, or the journal itself, might be helpful to someone.”
On September 11th, 2001, Joe Ariel worked for CIBC Oppenheimer in One World Financial Center, directly across the street from the World Trade Center. When the towers fell, he was blinded by a massive cloud of soot and smoke. “I thought I was going to die that day,” he recalls. His health is still followed by the WTC Health registry (The effects of that day may not be fully understood for years). After that traumatic experience, Joe underwent a 6 month depression where he would rarely even get out of bed. “I finally realized that life was too short to not do something I love and create something that belongs to me.”
So he did. In 2002, he came up with a way to combine his love for food with his passion of entrepreneurship. He created Eats Magazine (which became eats.com eventually – you may have heard of/used it), a menu guide that combined dozens of the best takeout menues for each neighborhood in Manhattan. Over the next five years, the company grew to more than 25 employees in 3 cities. Finally, in 2009, Joe’s story came full circle. Eats was acquired by Cantor Fitzgerald – a financial firm that lost more than 600 employees in 9/11. They wanted to bolster their Delivery.com business that focused on local online ordering. Joe became the joint CEO of the business until 2010. Today, he spends his time as an expert resource on restaurants, e-commerce and the web. His re-branding effort has been enormous, but today he is a much happier, more fulfilled individual because of it.
A few years prior to September 11th, 2001, Dan Nainan was a senior engineer with Intel Corp. His job was to travel the world with Chairman Andy Grove, doing technical demonstrations on stage at events. At this time, he was incredibly nervous about speaking on stage. Based at corporate headquarters in Santa Clara, CA, he decided to take a comedy class to get over the fear, and realized that he was actually quite talented at it. In 2000, Dan got promoted to a job that was two levels higher in New York City. “Even though it paid a lot more money, I hated it. No travel, no playing with technology, and I was home-based and rarely got to see any coworkers. I was absolutely bored.”
On September 11th, Dan was able to watch both towers fall from his corner in Manhattan, NYC. After watching so many people die right in front of him, he realized that he needed a change. He left his job to pursue comedy full time. And what happened? As you may guess, it was the best decision he has ever made. “Since then, I have performed at the Democratic National Convention, at a TED Conference, at three presidential inaugural events, for Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and many similar luminaries. I also appeared in an Apple commercial last year.” His story is incredible, though as we are learning, not unique. When asked to describe his life today, he jokingly replies, “My life is like that of George Clooney in ‘Up in the Air,’ just without the sex!”
Read more about Dan’s story at: www.nainan.com.
So What’s the Takeaway?
These are five people who experienced a watershed moment in their life that caused them to radically shift their path. To change their personal brand to one that was more reflective of their true identity. When I issued a query for sources on this topic, the response was staggering. I featured five stories here, but trust there were tons of other people who submitted their journey. And there are millions of other people out there with similar experiences. As we remember the 10 year anniversary of September 11th, let us remember and mourn the lives lost and the families left behind. But as I learned through writing this piece, we need to also celebrate the lives that were saved because of those terrorist actions. The people featured above, and those like them, changed their brand, and changed their future. If ever you could draw a silver lining out of the tragic events 10 years ago, this is it. I hope for myself, and for readers, that it doesn’t take another tragedy for us to experience our own watershed moments. This year, think about your life and your brand, and ask yourself, if I went to work today, and never came back, would I be satisfied?