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What I thought when my plane crashed

By Ric Elias, Special to CNN
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Elias: I learned while my plane crashed
  • Ric Elias: My life changed when pilot said, "Brace for impact"
  • He says he appreciated how precious time is
  • Elias says he decided to eliminate "negative energy" from his life
  • The most important thing in his life is to be a good parent, Elias says he realized

Editor's note: TED is a nonprofit organization dedicated to "ideas worth spreading," which it makes available on its website. Ric Elias is the chief executive and co-founder of Red Ventures, a company based in Fort Mill, South Carolina, that specializes in using technology to help brands acquire customers.

(CNN) -- When you start your own company and become your own boss, you think, "Life is good." When you actually start making money and growing your business, you think, "Life is great." But when you're sitting in seat 1D of an airborne plane that's completely silent because the engines have been shut down, and you hear the pilot say, "Brace for impact," none of it really matters.

As I sat in the first row of Flight 1549, just moments before it crashed in the Hudson River that day in January 2009, the things that had once seemed so important no longer mattered. I didn't have to talk to the flight attendant anymore. I could see a very distinct look in her eyes. It was the look of terror. And I was going to die.

It was a true miracle that I didn't die that day. It was also an experience that changed me forever. It gave me a tremendous appreciation for life and an immense amount of gratitude for the pilot, Chesley Sullenberger, and the people who were sitting next to me. I took many lessons from that flight, three in particular that will shape the rest of my life.

I learned that everything changes in an instant. We all have this bucket list of the things we want to do in life. And I sat there thinking about all the people I wanted to reach out to that I didn't, all the fences I wanted to mend, all the experiences I wanted to have and never did. So I came up with a new saying for myself: I collect bad wines. Because if the wine is ready and the person is there, I'm opening it. I no longer want to postpone anything in life. And that urgency, that purpose, has changed me -- as a husband, as a father, and as a business owner. 9/11 healing and the mothers who found forgiveness

The second thing I learned that day -- and this was as we cleared the George Washington Bridge, which was by not a lot: I thought, "Wow, I really feel one real regret." I've lived a good life. I've learned from my mistakes and I've tried to get better at everything I do. But in my humanity, I've also allowed my ego to get in. And I regretted the time I wasted on things that didn't matter.

I regretted the time I wasted on things that didn't matter.
--Ric Elias

I thought about my relationship with my wife, with my friends, with people. And as I reflected on that, I decided to eliminate negative energy from my life. Things aren't perfect, but they're a lot better. I haven't had a fight with my wife in two years. It feels great. I no longer try to be right -- I choose to be happy.

The third thing came to me as my mental clock started counting down, "15, 14, 13." I could see the water coming and started hoping, "Please blow up. Please blow up. I don't want this thing to break in 20 pieces like you seen in those documentaries."

And as we were coming down, I had a sense of -- wow, dying is not scary. It's almost like we've been preparing for it our whole lives. But it was very sad. I didn't want to go. I love my life. And that sadness really came together in one thought, which was, I only wish for one thing. I only wish I could see my kids grow up. The hidden beauty of pollination

About a month later, I was at a performance for my 7-year-old daughter. And I started bawling. I was crying, like a little kid. And it made all the sense in the world to me. I realized at that point, by connecting those two dots, that the only thing that matters in my life is being a great dad. Above all, above everything else, the only goal I have in life is to be a good dad.

I was given the gift of a miracle, of not dying that day. I was also given another gift, which was to be able to see into the future and come back and live differently. It was the perfect near-death experience. I challenge you to imagine your life if the same thing happened on your next flight. How would you change? What would you get done that you're waiting to get done because you think you'll be here forever? How would you change your relationships and the negative energy in them? And more than anything, are you being the absolute best parent you can be?

The TED conference was the first time I've ever shared my story publicly. I felt compelled to share it with the tech community as a way to say thanks. I never expected it to resonate with so many people. I've received hundreds of e-mails from people across the globe, letting me know this story has made an impact on their lives. It has allowed me to connect with old friends. In many ways, this story has given me more gifts than I ever thought possible.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ric Elias.

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