I just came back from a business trip to Orlando, Florida. Getting on the airplane brought me back to the time I learned I would be going on my first airplane trip. The summer I was 16, I participated in the Health & Safety Speaking contest in 4H. After winning at the county level, I moved onto the regional level. This required my parents to pick me up in the middle of summer camp and drive me a couple of hours away for the competition. I was successful there and moved onto the state competition held during the Ohio State Fair. This was the same year I was in the All Ohio State Fair Band, so competing required me to do a quick change from my band uniform into a dressy outfit. I resumed my band activities soon after the competition and was so busy that I didn’t even think about the awards ceremony.

After the evening concert, my parents handed me an envelope. In it was a letter congratulating me on winning the state competition and letting me know that I had won a trip to the National Safety Council Congress taking place in Orlando in September – all expenses paid, including airfare.

I jumped up and down and screamed. I was going to Disney World! By plane! You would have thought I won the lottery. Until this point in my life, I had never flown. (I’ve recounted my family’s extensive travel by car in an earlier blog.)

September came and I got on my first flight with the trip chaperone and my fellow speech contest winners. In some ways the trip was symbolic of my increasing independence. I earned the trip on my own and made the flight with the support of, but without my parents by my side.

I didn’t fly again until I was 19 years old. I flew solo numerous times during college to visit my now-husband in California. Now I am a semi-frequent flyer for my job. Even when I might dread an early morning flight or a prolonged layover, I remind myself of earning that first airplane ride. And I remind myself that every airplane ride I have taken since then I have earned. Early on I paid for tickets out of my meager savings, later my husband and I scraped together airfare to fly home to Ohio for holidays, and now I’ve gotten the job that comes with frequent airplane trips.

Small Town Leadership Lesson: Remember where you started. I take a moment during each of my frequent flights to remember my first flight as well as the path that got me there. I relive the moment I received great news and remember how proud my parents were. I remind myself that a trip I’ve earned is better than any free ride.



Small Town Leadership Founder; Natalie believes everything she needed to know to succeed in her career she learned by growing up in a town of 600 people. As a Certified Professional Coach and award-winning public speaker, she helps her clients and audiences make wherever they are feel like a small town. She lives in Dublin, Ohio with her husband, Rob, a professor at Ohio State and two little girls.

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