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I’m writing this while sitting on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. This is a special flight, primarily because my wife and I are on our way to see our son after he moved out to the Big Apple just after Christmas. Secondarily, due to the fact this is our first flight in two years.  

Talking of choices, this trip so far has reminded me of the power of choice and how some employees choose to give their best efforts at work and some, not so much.  

At 5:15 a.m. we boarded the shuttle bus and our driver was a delight — she clearly was either a morning person or she’d had 16 cups of coffee already. She was joyous from the moment the doors of her bus swung open, insisting to assist with baggage. She positively interacted with each of her customers and listened carefully to the airlines she needed for our drop-offs. I know this sounds almost unbelievable but she even interacted calmly with the crazy drivers weaving in and out of her lane while staying focused on making our short journey as smooth as possible.  

After checking in our bags we approached the TSA gate to have our boarding passes checked and our carry-ons scanned. I started to twitch as the memories flooded back of gruff-looking individuals making me feel like a terrorist just because my toothpaste tube was too large. But… surprisingly and refreshingly, the agent who served us was polite, friendly and even charming when she remarked how much she liked my wife’s hair.  

Sensing we were on a roll, I asked the TSA agent if she liked my hair, too, and she said (with that broad Angeleno accent I’ve come to love): “Dude, don’t push it.” I knew she was just kidding when I mercifully saw the smile in her eyes.  

I had no doubt this TSA agent was still diligently doing her job protecting our borders and airways but, while doing so, she clearly wanted to make a positive contribution during what must be a rather monotonous process. 

Sadly, it was during the flight itself when I was reminded of the principle that we do indeed first make our choices and then our choices make us. L.A. to New York is a long flight and so before you know it, trash can quickly accumulate around one’s allocated area. After patiently waiting and waiting, I decided to literally take the various matters into my own hands and walked to the back of the plane in an attempt to be rid of the rubbish. 

Clearly the airline hostesses were on a break as they sat chatting and cackling among themselves. Even though I was in full view of two of the “service” agents, they clearly thought it was much more important to finish their conversation about their new favorite Netflix show than to wonder what on Earth this customer would possibly want with his arms full of plastic cups and paper. 

After what was clearly not a “New York minute,” one of the ladies pushed the trash receptacle toward me without even looking up. I mustered up a non-sarcastic, “Thank you” and the best I got was a non-eye contact of “Hu-hu” which I guess is Californian for, “You’re very welcome.” 

George Orwell once wrote, “By the time you’re 40 you have the face you deserve” and I must say I agree with his rather terse turn of phrase. You see the bus driver, the TSA agent and the air hostess, I’m sure were each north of 40. But the difference was in the face of the first two: refreshed, vibrant and alive. The trash-bin pusher and her pals, I’ll just leave it by saying: They looked the complete opposite. 

During the flight I listened to the late Meat Loaf’s signature album, “Bat Out of Hell” and he sang into my steady stream of consciousness while typing away in 28C, when he ruminated that, “Two out of three ain’t bad.” 

My closing salutation is this: On the basis we only have one life on this Earth — why not go for greatness? Why not be the very best version of yourself, in all of the roles that we play in this one precious life? I know in the workplace, your colleagues and in my case, your customer, greatly appreciate you for that choice. 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). For questions or comments, email Butler at paul.butler@newleaftd.com. 

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