Earl Nightingale was an American author and motivational speaker who came to be known as the Dean of Personal Development.  He believed the world in which we live and work is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.

The maxim that runs through all of Mr. Nightingale’s messages is that success or failure in life is not a matter of luck, or circumstance, or fate, or the breaks, or who you know; notions the ignorant tend to use as excuses in order to justify shortcomings or failures.  Rather, he advocated the notion that each of us has within us the power to create our own life—and each of us does exactly that every day.

Without ever thinking about it, each of us puts into place actions and ideas that will determine what our tomorrows will look like.  For some, those actions and ideas will lead to extraordinary achievement and rewards.  But for most, they tend to lead to a kind of middle ground in which great numbers of people take their cues from each other without question or consideration, an existence that could best be described as following the follower.

My wife and I recently returned from Hawaii and stayed in an ocean-front condo where we would prepare our own meals rather than incur the expense of dining out three times a day.  But one particular morning we decided to treat ourselves and enjoy the breakfast buffet at the Kauai Sheraton.

After being seated and after our waiter explained the various menu options I casually asked him if the current economic downturn was affecting the restaurant.  His reply was a breath of fresh air—“When you work for tips and have half as many people coming into the restaurant, you have to be twice as nice.”  Twice as nice, what a concept!  Here was a young man who decided that just because business was bad he wasn’t going to use it as an excuse for a reduction in his personal income.  Contrast this with what we experienced from a flight attendant on our trip home.

We were in the first class cabin and slept during most of the overnight flight and awoke about 6:30 AM; approximately an hour and a half before arriving in Denver.  Since we were allowed to sleep undisturbed I assumed that the coffee/breakfast service had already been completed and the flight attendants had chosen not to awaken us.  So I walked to the galley and approached the chief flight attendant/purser and asked him if I could get a cup of coffee.

He gave me a friendly smile and advised that there was no breakfast service or even a coffee service on the flight.  In jest I said it appears that United Airlines is really cutting back, and related how on a flight from Dulles to Denver last year the flight attendants actually suggested to the passengers that we complain to United’s management about the cutback in services.  He gave me an understanding smile saying, “I’m not sure what else they can eliminate,” when out of the blue, a second flight attendant, a middle-aged woman who was listening to our conversation gratuitously announced, “You get what you pay for!”  Perhaps she was referring to the fact that Bobbi and I were using Frequent Flyer miles to upgrade from economy to first class; nevertheless, the purser and I were stunned by the comment.

I returned to my seat assuming this second flight attendant was simply having “a moment.”  However, after sitting down I couldn’t stop thinking about the tone she used with me.  Nevertheless, I consciously took a non-confrontational tone with her while deplaning and asked if “You get what you pay for” was United’s new slogan.  Her response was a caustic “You bet it is!”

The great Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, once said, “Human beings are the only creatures on planet earth that are born into a natural state of disorientation with our world—while all other creatures are guided by instinct, only humans can cognitively shape their environment and create their own life with his or her attitude.”  Recalling this quote I thought to myself how this woman was shaping her life with an acerbic attitude and she wasn’t even aware of it.

Attitude is the position or bearing as indicating action, feeling or mood; and it is our actions, feelings and moods that determine the actions, feelings and moods of others.  Everything we do and say each day will cause a corresponding effect, leading to the truism that “our attitudes will determine the quality of our lives.”

Opportunities come to each of us during our lives, although we may not always recognize them as such.  And somehow I can’t help but feel that the second flight attendant will remain mired in bitterness and discontent while the Sheraton waiter will take full advantage of his opportunities and move on to greater things—all because of attitude.