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Up in the Air

posted 18 Feb 2013, 12:28 by Mpelembe   [ updated 18 Feb 2013, 12:29 ]
You never know whom you will meet when you are flying. You can
learn a lot from a stranger, if you are open to having a
conversation and enjoy the art of listening. Case in point, on a
recent flight, I found myself sitting next to a man who was
returning from Florida to Michigan. He was an entrepreneur, a
successful entrepreneur, a few times over. He was able to retire
early and was so effective at starting businesses; he was
continuing to help others create small businesses, and enjoying

When I asked him what he credited for his success. He said that
growing up on a farm gave him a hard work ethic. That used to be
a common theme in rural America. I wonder what will replace
"farm living" for the future generations as we see more
movement away from agriculture. And, he felt his college degree
from Michigan was also an asset. I agree, a college degree is
always a good life investment no matter how you use it. Now
pushing 70, it's hard for him to slow down. He loves putting the
pieces together. He is still passionate about business
development and has a lot of experience, knowledge and business
savviness to share.

I transferred planes in Detroit to finish the last leg of my trip
back home. A solider sat down next to me in seat 7-B. The man in
camouflage was returning home after serving a year in the Army
Reserves in Afghanistan. As a dad in his mid 30's, he was hoping
he would make it home in time to see his son play JV basketball
that evening.

Afghanistan…a world away. He said it was overwhelming to be
dropped there, with very little language skill. He had a job to
do and despite the steep learning curve, he did the best job he
could do. He was looking forward to sharing his experience with
high school students who know so little about Afghanistan, just
like me. He would also pick up where he left off on his job
search over a year ago. A year in the active Reserves provided
income after he lost his other job. He certainly has some
additional information to add to his resume.

Two different seat mates, two different stories about making a
living from men who were in different stages of life and with
different skill sets. We landed. Four friends greeted the solider
at the gate. I saw the embraces and a few tears. I had a tear as
well. Thanks you for a job well done, solider. Thank you for
taking a year from your life and your family to serve.

I picked up my luggage. As I drove home, I thought, what a ride.
I felt transformed and humbled by the strangers I met while up in
the air. What did this career coach learn during her flight home?

I learn a lot about the world of work by talking to people.
Hearing from people first hand is the real deal. It's one thing
to read about the workplace, it's another thing to hear about it
from people who are working. Be genuine, be curious, and share in
the dialog. For readers looking for work or considering a career
change, it is about talking to people. Do your research on the
Internet and read articles and publications. Then, contact
someone to talk to them in person or by phone. Do a short
informational meeting to learn more the industry, their position
or a related position, or learn more about what attracted them to
the field. Have a list of prepared questions, but be prepared to
listen and respond. Be flexible with the questions, read the
situation and be ready to have a few questions come back at you.
There is a need for ying and yang in any discussion, so look for
the balance in your exchange.

When opportunity knocks, take a chance to engage a stranger
whether you are up in the air or have both feet on the ground!

Barbara Wulf MS, ACC, CPCC, is a Certified Career/Life Coach
and writer helping people redesign their career paths by
supporting and inspiring them to stretch, seek, and achieve
work/life success.