On Character

January 15, 2009 is certainly not the greatest day in all of history. There are no national holidays, no special sporting events on television, or anything that could be counted as a big change in the annals of human history.

Well… that might actually depend on who you are. For 155 people, their lives were forever changed on account of a flock of geese. More specifically, US Airways Flight 1549 struck the flock of birds right after take-off, disabling both engines and rendering the airliner a giant glider. In an act of extraordinary professionalism, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger guided the damaged aircraft to a smooth landing in the Hudson river, saving the lives of all 155 souls on board.

In this single act, “Sully” became a household name even though he claimed he was just doing his job that day. In reality that really is all he was doing and that day just happened to be the day the job got a whole lot tougher.

Yet it also highlights today’s point: this one single act is what he is now best known for. Of course he deserves the accolades for his actions when the stakes were so high and for the lives he saved, but they pay little attention to the decades of experience he gained leading up to that moment. They don’t count how many times he got a plane off the ground, the other landings he performed, the number of times he went through his checklist and walkarounds before even turning on the engines…

His character was indeed revealed in such a great moment, but it was all that time leading up to it that truly defined how well he would perform when the moment finally came. Even Sully’s own comments from on particularly interview  suggest this: “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years, I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

Don’t ever get sucked into the mistaken thinking that it’s the great things that define your ultimate success. Those moments certainly come, but instead focus your energy and thoughts on your daily routine as you build your character over time. Hopefully you won’t ever have to ditch an airplane in the Hudson river, but it’s in your daily routine you will find your true character, and that is what will carry you through when the big tests do come your way.

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