The scariest experiences can teach the most important lessons.

On January 15, 2009, US Airways Flight 1549 began its route from New York City to Charlotte, North Carolina. Shortly after takeoff, a flock of geese collided with the airplane, damaging both of the plane's engines.

As the pilot next attempted the seemingly impossible, he uttered three words to the crew and passengers:

"Brace for impact."

Fortunately, as we now know, Captain Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger valiantly guided the plane onto the Hudson River. All 155 passengers and crew safely evacuated the airplane, and the event became known as the "Miracle on the Hudson." (All of this has been in the press again lately, as a new film portraying the events and their aftermath will be released later this year, with Tom Hanks playing the heroic captain.)

But imagine for a moment you were sitting on that plane, as it headed down toward the water. What do you think would go through your mind?

Ric Elias, co-founder and CEO of marketing firm Red Ventures, had a front-row seat on flight 1549. In the five-minute TED talk below, he opens up about three things he learned as the plane crashed, and how the event changed his life.

 

And here are the lessons:

1. Stop procrastinating.

We all know the dangers of procrastinating. But Elias has a unique perspective on the matter.

"I learned that it all changes in an instant," says Elias. "We have this bucket list, we have these things we want to do in life, and I thought about all the people I wanted to reach out to that I didn't, all the fences I wanted to mend, all the experiences I wanted to have and I never did."

He continues: "As I thought about that later on, I came up with a saying, which is, 'I collect bad wines.' Because if the wine is ready and the person is there, I'm opening it.

"I no longer want to postpone anything in life. And that urgency, that purpose, has really changed my life."

2. Let go of the ego.

Right about the time the plane cleared the George Washington Bridge ("which was by not a lot," says Elias), there was only one feeling of regret.

"I've lived a good life. In my own humanity and mistakes, I've tried to get better at everything I tried. But in my humanity, I also allow my ego to get in. And I regretted the time I wasted on things that did not matter with people that matter. And I thought about my relationship with my wife, with my friends, with people. 

"And after, as I reflected on that, I decided to eliminate negative energy from my life. It's not perfect, but it's a lot better. I've not had a fight with my wife in two years. It feels great. 

"I no longer try to be right; I choose to be happy."

For Elias, the thought of facing death wasn't scary.

It was sad.

He says he then framed that sadness into a single thought, namely, that he wished he could see his kids grow up.

A month later, while watching a performance by his first-grade daughter, Elias found himself bawling in the audience. "I realized at that point, by connecting those two dots, that the only thing that matters in my life is being a great dad," says Elias.

You may not have children. The point is, in a world where work can easily take over your life--especially if you run your own business--the challenge is to proactively choose your own priorities.

And then treat them as such.

So, I'll ask you again.

Imagine for a moment you were sitting on that plane, as it headed down toward the water. What do you think would go through your mind?

It's a question we should all spend a little time on.

Published on: Jul 29, 2016