In July of 2021, I had the opportunity to visit a client in person in Charlotte, North Carolina, which required some airline travel. I always enjoy interacting face to face. As the last year and a half has brought into sharp focus, video conferencing, emails, and telephone can simply never replace the energy and spirit you receive when you meet someone live.
The return trip, however, got off to a trying start. A bad runway at Newark Airport and inclement weather delayed my flight home two times over three days. After nearly five hours at the airport—on the heels of a previous trip with a delayed flight from Philadelphia—I elected to simply move my flight to 6:00 a.m. I headed to my hotel to finish out the day and to await my next flight.
I might have considered all this the normal first-world problems of air travel, but it happened less than a month after the passing of my father. (Read more about my reflections on his death here.) I was feeling sorry for myself and a bit emotionally beat up. I wasn’t experiencing gratitude in the way I normally strive to.
As most people experience before an early morning flight, I had slept poorly and had some nervous energy. I ended up waking at 3:45 a.m. for the day. When I made my way to the Marriott hotel lobby, the woman behind the counter said the airport shuttle wasn’t ready just yet. So, I grabbed a cup of coffee and waited for my ride—still feeling sorry for myself and not tapping into gratitude in any meaningful way.
Before long, a mother walked in with her two young girls, both of whom were in their pajamas. They were obviously catching an early morning flight as well.
The next thing we all knew, into the lobby burst an absolutely huge ball of energy. The shuttle bus driver had arrived. His name was Supreme, and it became immediately clear how fitting that name was.
When he saw the mom and her two little girls, he lit up even more. With a huge grin, he asked them, “Girls, what are you doing? You’re such sleepyheads! When I saw you the other night, you guys were bouncing off the walls!”
Early morning drowsiness was already transforming to giggles.
Then Supreme turned to the mom and me, winked, and said, “I can tell you all want to get to the airport. Let me see if I can’t get you out of here before the rest of the crowd comes.”
Already, with that small, simple favor and Supreme’s infectious exuberance, I was feeling better, and I had a more positive outlook.
But the ride wasn’t over yet.
As we were headed to the airport, I overheard the mom tell her four-year-old daughter that today was her birthday. When Supreme heard this, he immediately began honking the horn and flashing the lights and serenading her with an enthusiastic version of “Happy Birthday.” As we crested the hill, he told her, “Look! They turned on all those blue lights at the airport just for your birthday!”
As we came down the hill, he gleefully commented about how big the jets on the tarmac were. Yes, he was entertaining those children, but there was more to it. He was also genuinely altering his perspective to see the world with the delight of someone experiencing it for the first time.
It reminded me of the Disney Pixar film Soul. In it, the main character gets to look at the world with fresh eyes and capture the wonder and joy that often get lost in the day to day.
Just as the movie made me reflect on gratitude, Supreme helped me remember that morning that there are miracles and wonders every day—if you’re willing to see them.
The longer I stayed on the bus, the more I felt myself lighting up with Supreme’s positivity. I thought, OK. If this guy is driving a bus at five a.m. with this kind of attitude, I can certainly turn mine around.
After giving me pointers for how to get to my gate through the airport construction, he helped the mom and the two daughters off the bus. He did this with the same care and attention he would give to helping his own family.
After the mother gave him his tip, Supreme didn’t hesitate. He handed it directly to that four-year-old and told her it was her birthday present.
I was completely blown away by every aspect of how Supreme conducted himself on that drive. The more I reflected, the more I realized Supreme had made an important decision that day. He had decided that his job wasn’t to shuttle us to the airport. His job was to show up and to deliver joy and happiness on that drive.
I was immediately reminded of a beautiful speech by Brother David Steindl-Rast in a video entitled “A Good Day.”
Brother David eloquently reminds us that every moment is a gift, and gratitude is nothing more than opening your heart to that realization. From enjoying the colors around you to appreciating the beauty of clouds, gratitude is about viewing every moment as a miraculous event. On that shuttle ride, Supreme exemplified and embraced these feelings of wonder and delight. The most important takeaway, though, was not that Supreme seemed joyful. It was that his joy could spread to those around him.
Needless to say, I felt compelled to call the hotel and tell the supervisor what a massive positive impact Supreme had had on me that morning. Thinking about it even brought a few tears on my flight, and thanks to Supreme, I carried gratitude in my heart the rest of that day.
When I mentioned this interaction to one of my Entrepreneurs’ Organization mentors, Brian Brault, he directed me to a video by Ryan Estis, “The Simple Secret to Happiness.”
Estis and his interaction with a barista on Christmas Eve closely mirrored my recent journey with Supreme, and we both walked away with the profound sense that lessons and inspiration are all around us. Every day.
What could have been a forgettable ride to the airport became a treasured memory and a significant moment—all because somebody chose positivity. Somebody made a conscious decision to have a joyful impact.
It was a poignant reminder that we all have the capacity to make this kind of impact on the people in our lives. All it requires is showing up and choosing joy.