A Valuable Lesson in Gratitude

By Marshall Goldsmith

I love my job! The only tough part of my profession is that I travel constantly. On American Airlines alone, I have over 11 million frequent flyer miles!

Have you ever seen the movie Up in the Air, starring George Clooney?  If you have, you will know what this means – I have the card!

Not only do I travel in the United States, I travel around the world. I have over 1 million flyer miles on British Airways. You know you travel a lot when you have over 1 million frequent flyer miles on an airline from country that you don’t even live in!

If you travel as much as I do, you cannot let the day-to-day tribulations of life on the road get on your nerves. If you do, you will quickly go crazy!

The airplane is a fascinating place to watch people become agitated, upset, and angry in a manner that is completely useless – over environmental factors they cannot impact.

I’ve learned a few simple lessons in my travels. For example, I cannot make the plane take off and I cannot make the plane land. I have almost no control over anything that happens.

One environmental trigger that makes a lot of people crazy is the announcement that the airplane is going to be late. I’ve seen so many people upset themselves, get angry, yell at flight attendants, and act like fools because the plane is late.

I have found simple way to turn this negative trigger, the announcement that the plane will be late, into positive trigger.

Every time I hear the announcement that the plane will be late, I remember a picture in my library – a picture of me on a volunteer trip to Africa with the Red Cross when I was about 30 years old. The picture shows me with many starving children. Their arms are being measured. If their arms are too big they do not eat. If their arms are too small they don’t eat. Their arms have to be just the right size – meaning they are not too hungry to survive and not too well fed so as not to need food – their arms size determines if they will eat that day.

This was an eye-opening experience for me that I never want to forget. It reminds me how fortunate I am. When I feel “justifiably” upset, I remember that photo and those beautiful children. I repeat this mantra over and over in my mind: “Never complain because the airplane is late. There are people in the world who have real problems. They have problems you cannot even begin to imagine. You are a very lucky man. Never complain because the airplane is late.”

Next time that you board an airplane, and you hear the announcement that the airplane is going to be late, say to yourself, “I am such a lucky person.”

I hope someday that this story helps you turn a moment of pain and anger into a moment of gratitude and joy.