• Terry Virts

Impacting People

Updated: Jul 22

20 Sept 2019, New York City

Alex Sonnenberg with a couple of nice lobsters
Alex Sonnenberg with a couple of nice lobsters

I had dinner last night in Manhattan with a new group of friends.  A pretty remarkable group to be honest; bankers, doctors, entrepreneurs, a social media mogul, and me (I’m not sure what I am….).  Some had been long-time colleagues, some were meeting for the first time.  We didn’t have an agenda, it was just a dinner organized by Brian Kinsella, my buddy and the one person who knew everyone there.  We talked about everything from changing careers to the seemingly crazy new world order to business strategies to making movies to fixing gun violence to sick kids (one person’s daughter was sick and her husband didn’t know what to do- sounds familiar). 

Overall a great night.  We didn’t change the world, but I definitely have some new friends that I’ll be staying in touch with.

Alex Sonnenberg
Alex Sonnenberg in the mountains

And then Brian and I remembered that we had been introduced to each other years ago by a mutual friend, Alex Sonnenberg.  Alex was a veteran like us, a Navy special forces guy (EOD, or explosive ordnance disposal, not the safest of jobs).  After too much time in Iraq, he went to business school at Wharton and became a very successful private equity guy in the energy industry.  He was also a good friend, and we would get together occasionally for dinner with other mutual friends.  Alex was an adventurer for sure, and his passion was wing suiting.  Jumping off mountain tops and flying through canyons with a high-tech body suit that acted as a wing, allowing some amount of maneuverability.

Alex Sonnenberg after a jump
Alex Sonnenberg after a jump

One night, Alex and a mutual friend and I were having dinner (I like to eat) and he showed us some GoPro footage of one of his jumps, and it was crazy. We told him “dude, it’s time to find a new hobby, that looks dangerous!” This coming from me, a man who rode several rockets full of millions of pounds of high explosives into space, and spent several decades flying jets, and needs all of his fingers and toes to count the number of times he almost died. “Pot, this is the kettle, you are black.” But still, it was pretty obvious to us that wing suiting was a dangerous business.

And then, last year, he was killed in a wing suiting accident in Switzerland, doing what he loved, but damn we all miss him, and selfishly wish that he hadn’t done that last jump.

Alex Sonnenberg on the skis
Alex Sonnenberg on the skis

As Brian and I got to remembering Alex stories, it hit me: you can impact people in ways you can’t even imagine. I’m sure Alex was busy the day three years ago when he took the time to email Brian and me to connect us for business purposes. I’m sure he had a million things to do and could have very easily blown that off, but he didn’t. He took a minute to put us in touch, and here we were, years later, hanging out and getting connected to new people. Maybe the mental health care business that we were talking about will take off, because of a collaboration within our new group of friends, improving people’s lives. Maybe less veterans will commit suicide because of the “Stop Soldier Suicide” organization we were talking about, and the doctor from the VA who was at dinner will be able to get better help more efficiently to the vets who need it. Maybe I’ll be able to make the movies I want to make to move the needle on important issues that affect us all.

Alex Sonnenberg on his travels
Alex Sonnenberg on his travels

Who knows. Maybe it was just good food and a fun evening. But I do know that it wouldn’t have happened had Alex not taken a minute out of his day to make a difference in my life.

Which leads to a much bigger point here. You never know how the little things you do can make a difference in other people’s lives. Stopping to help a mom with her suitcase as she’s boarding a plane w/ toddlers. Simply talking to someone in a city of millions, that can be the loneliest place on earth, in a sea of strangers’ faces. Texting a “thank you” or “you were awesome at the meeting today” to a colleague. The list goes on.

It reminds me of a great song by a friend of mine, Brandon Heath, “Give Me Your Eyes,” that talks about having empathy and realizing that everyone has issues and struggles. Pretty cool stuff.

I don’t want to be too sappy or cheesy, but I think there is more than enough bad going around; there’s plenty of negativity out there. So take the time to be a positive in someone’s life. Who knows what it might lead to, paying it forward. And we all never know how many more chances we will have to make that difference.

Alex Sonnenberg with mountains in the background
Alex Sonnenberg

#Life

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