Capt. Sully Shares the Inspiring Life Lesson He Learned After Retiring

The 68-year-old "Miracle on the Hudson" hero shared an empowering message about having an impact.

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It's been 11 years since a plane carrying 155 passengers took off from New York City's LaGuardia Airport, lost power after being struck by a flock of geese, and safely landed in the Hudson River. The incredible event became known as "The Miracle on the Hudson," and the plane's pilot, Chesley Burnett "Sully" Sullenberger, now 68, quickly became a national hero. To mark the anniversary of the flight, which took off on Jan. 15, 2009, Captain Sully recently sat down for an interview with LinkedIn editor-in-chief Daniel Roth, where he shared the inspiring lessons he's learned since retiring from the airways a year after the historic flight—a move that surprised many.

After grounding himself on land, Sully became a lecturer and keynote speaker on the importance of aviation safety. He told Roth that he'd been in "work-'til-I-die" mode prior to the flight, but by the time he retired in 2010, it was clear that the industry had changed. Sully said that all of the "economic downturns" and "multiple airline bankruptcies" following the 9/11 terror attacks resulted in him and his colleagues taking significant pay cuts. Sully said he took a 40 percent cut himself, while his first officer on the famous flight took a 50 percent cut and lost his job as captain.

"We were all trying, late in life, to make up for things that we really didn't have time left in our professional careers before the mandatory retirement age to recoup what we had lost," he said. While his fame from "The Miracle on the Hudson" gave Sully the freedom to change direction, it was a difficult transition. He'd been flying planes since he was 16, so starting over in his late 50s wasn't easy for him.

"My family and I had to learn very quickly how to live this new, very difficult life, and it was hard," he said of the sudden fame.

So, how did Sully manage to make it through the transition so well?

The same way he had always done everything else in his life. "I applied learning [this new speaking profession] the same way I did my flying career, by having discipline and diligence," he said. "I felt an immediate and intense obligation to not walk away, but to use that voice."

And Sully believes there's an inspiring lesson in that for anyone who wants to make a career change, but is too scared to take the risk.

"No matter what station in life one has, no matter what title you have, for each of us, there is some part of the world that we can affect, we can control," he said. "And I think each of us has an obligation to use our influence over that part of the world. And when you choose—and it is a choice that we have to make on daily basis—to try to make your part of the world right, just, good, safe… If each of us does that, in aggregate, it can make a big difference."

Well, if that's not empowering, nothing is.

Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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