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One Airline Pilot + One New Mindset = A Digital Business Owner
By David Harder on September, 5, 2019

One Airline Pilot + One New Mindset = A Digital Business Owner

We have practiced a little ritual every September since 1990.


We look back on what has happened since Inspired Work was launched on a beach in Malibu. When I found my life’s work in 1990, everything changed. My life fell into place. Like the many people who’ve participated in our program, when we find the work that will be most meaningful to us, the work that matters the most, a different type of motivation takes place. We become far more willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. So, for almost 3 decades, our focus is to help everyone we encounter identify what they would most love doing and to make a great living from that.


This month, we will be sharing stories from some of our inspiring participants. Each walked in the doors of our program and emerged with a different life. Everyone demonstrated their own unique brand of purpose, courage, and willingness.


Our first story is the most personal one of all. It began 8 years ago with a blind date at La Petite Bistro on Sunset Plaza. As I looked around the patio tables, there was Paul, an airline pilot with United Airlines. I always went to blind dates prepared for a quick get-away if something strange happened. But, there he was; handsome, smiling, rock-solid, smart, interested and interesting. We have been together ever since.


Paul demonstrated a fairly modern outlook about his careers. He had the kind of creativity and adaptability to do the work that interested him rather than feeling bound to any one thing. In his 20s, he worked in Silicon Valley as a tech and Internet professional. But, he didn’t like being tethered to a desk. He had always loved travel, adventure, and responsibility. Becoming an airline pilot seemed the next best place to grow. So, while outwardly doing well, he packed his bags, moved near a flight school in Florida and became an instructor.


When we met, he had been with United Airlines for 6 years. Much of the debacles the nation has seen about dragging passengers off planes, having dogs die in transit, and other ongoing negativity is an extension of how the company treats its employees. Just after Paul joined the company, a new CEO dissolved many of the benefits that had attracted him in the first place. Every year, his morale sank just a bit lower due to coping with a disengaged culture.


His turning point happened in Chicago. A mid-winter storm was pounding O’Hare with bitter snow and ice. As his plane was getting de-iced, he watched a young man struggling to get across the tarmac to a United Express jet. He was a double amputee. No one was there to help him. He slipped and was now using his arms and hands to walk, pushing his crutches and carry-on ahead of him. Paul called a gate agent and urged her to get a couple of employees out there to help him. She could have cared less.


Not long after that experience, I extended what turned out to be a life-changing invitation for both of us. I said, “You aren’t working this weekend. Would you like to participate in the Program?”


“I’m so glad! I’ve been waiting for you to ask.”


We agreed to not get overly close as he navigated through the two-days. There is a fine balance between giving our participants the room to deal with their truth versus my getting too directive with them. I find that quality is best put to use when a participant has a clear mission, vision, or purpose. Throughout the first morning, I saw that Paul was being his rock-solid self. After lunch, he came in and made an announcement that surprised all of us.


He said, “I love flying. I love being in the air, being alert, and constantly managing the big picture. I love the details. I love the unexpected. But, I have fallen so out of love with being a commercial pilot, that I will be leaving United Airlines shortly.”


I asked as gingerly as possible, “What are you going to do?”


“I’m going to start a digital advertising agency. I’ve already been online looking at how I can get up to speed as quickly as possible.”


Once again, Paul demonstrated one of the emerging needs of a modern and successful career: Active Learning. Instead of going back to school to attain another degree, he customized a new education. Every day, more computers, products, books, and learning systems arrived at our home. He devoured information on his long commutes and overnights in the Midwest.

Within weeks, Paul took over the digital marketing of Inspired Work. At one point, more business was coming from social media than referrals. Five years ago, we moved to the beach. Just a few days later, Paul was up at 2 a.m. The dogs were voicing their displeasure as he left for his last four days with United Airlines.


Four days later, he came home and turned Success Media Services into a fulltime business. At first, much of Paul’s work was centered on building beautiful and unique websites. Today, it is centered on growing businesses and revenue. The sites are more beautiful than ever, but the content strategies and campaigns are precise, strategic and effective.


A significant part of my work today is in orchestrating the success of our participants. That work is evenly divided with ambitious career marketing campaigns and helping participants that are launching businesses for the first time. I don’t view myself as a coach. I am an orchestrator. That can include branding, strategy, business plans, visuals, skill-building, and game-changing introductions. Many of them have asked Paul to take care of the digital side of their business.


I didn’t anticipate how much Paul’s new direction would impact my business. Recently, our shared clients give me versions of the same general theme:


“The two of you produce magic.”


To progress from watching him trudge out to his car at 2 in the morning to become a partnership in the success of our clients is unexpectedly gratifying.


This year, we are deep in the launch of a new multi-media digital platform. The journey began one night over dinner with my dear friend, Kim Sheperd. We met 19 years ago when she had just become the CEO of Decision Toolbox. One of my change projects had produced a crisis. We needed 36 medical professionals and managers. Not only did she help us, Kim went on to become a strategic partner and friend. A year ago, we were celebrating the sale of her company and contemplating what would be next in both of our lives.


I told her that while I was preparing my last book for the market, after digging through statistics, I reached the conclusion that underemployment is one of our country’s biggest sources of turmoil. About half of our workers characterize themselves as “underemployed.” That means that a big portion of our workers is getting kicked to the curb by change. Kim suggested, “Go write a new business plan that is about changing the world. We will deal with how to make money from that afterward.”


A couple of weeks later, Kim went over the plan, looked up and said, “This is going to be a game-changer.”


Relieved, I asked, “What do you think we need to get started?”


She said, “You have everything you need. You have Paul.”


I laughed and said, “Look, all of us love him to pieces. But, why are you positioning him as all that I need to get started?”


With all of the force that accompanies Kim, she said, “Two reasons. He has total integrity, he is always truthful, and there are no hidden agendas. Those qualities are hard to find in the tech world. The other is that he is one of the most skilled active learners I have ever met. To get that in one package? It doesn’t get better than that.”


Som what have I learned?


When we take the initiative to help people transform their lives, we cannot predict how it will impact us. Most often, I find the results are bigger and more moving than our wildest imaginings.


Paul walked into the Inspired Work Program. Five years later, he brings magic to the lives of my clients, he brings innovation to Inspired Work. Now, we are preparing for investor pitches in Silicon Valley. I doubt that any of this would have happened if I hadn’t offered that one invitation.


When we met, I was such a workaholic that he needed to clarify one unique expectation. He said that if we built a life together I would need to agree to regular vacations and travel. My initial response was, “Great, I will pencil that in.” Since then, we have traveled the world, snorkeled in volcanoes, and regularly returned to Lake Como. I have stood with my head back in awe taking in the ceiling at the Sistine Chapel and realizing that Michaelangelo laid on his back for years producing an unimaginable demonstration of devotion. We have sped over the waves in race boats and sailed into perfect lagoons. I have become overly emotional when I realize that wherever we are sitting is so perfect, there isn’t one damn need to race on to the next destination.


Why am I sharing this with you?


Stay open. Be available. Do the footwork. Set any cynicism or resignation aside and recognize the new world coming towards might turn out to be a far better proposition than the one we lived in before.


Find the work that you love. Invent your most meaningful life. Be open to your highest possible good. Find the right people to help you.


When that life shows up, every struggle, every detail, even the most mediocre lessons, will take on deep value because it all got you here.


You can view a portfolio of Paul’s work at


More to come!


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.


Schedule 15-Minutes to Discuss Your Workplace or Career with David (Here)


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