She was young, thin and blonde – the stereotype of everyone I feel surrounded by these days and a representation of what I once was.  She “bebopped” down the airplane aisle and the energy exuded from her when she plopped down in the seat next to me. After helping her find the charger port under her seat, she said, “thank you, ma’am.”

Ugh. “Ma’am.” She was  incredibly polite, but I suddenly felt ancient. I quickly surmised that she was a twenty-something year-old that saw me as a “has been.” I was so wrong. We both put in our earbuds and drifted off to our private space. She was listening to music and I was listening to nothing. It was simply my signal that I did not want to talk.

After take-off, we both removed our earbuds and began clearing our laps. We looked at each other and in that knowing way that we were both preparing to head to the bathroom as soon as the “fasten seatbelt” sign was turned off. Ever the strategist, I told her I would go to the lavatory in the first class cabin and she could go to the one in the rear. She said, “they won’t attack you for going up there?”  “No.” I told her. “I’ve got this.” With great confidence, I sprinted through the first class cabin to the lavatory without slowing down.

Returning to our seats, the young lady and I had bonded over the bathroom experience. She was impressed with my confidence and I was intrigued with her personality. Her vibe was electric and her smile was contagious.

We began talking and she shared a difficult Human Resources challenge at work. I helped her think about solutions and she helped me think about my next book. A few minutes into the conversation, I realized that she is a brilliant young woman. Very curious, she asked about my work and started taking notes about my book suggestions.

When I shared the focus of my next book, she gave me several topics to include based on her own experiences. By the time we landed, I could have hammered out six chapters and she was prepared for an upcoming meeting. We did work together in those 90 minutes.

Leaving the plane, I signed a copy of my latest book, Bet on Talent: How to Create a Remarkable Culture that Wins the Hearts of Customers, and gave it to her because I knew she would read it. She contacted me on social media an hour later to show me a photo depicting that her boss had already ordered 15 copies.

Nice stories should always be followed by a lesson to learn.  This is it in a message to myself: Girl, (or ma’am), take your earbuds out! I almost missed what could have been a divine appointment. This incredible young woman is bright, insightful, confident, connected and wise beyond her years. I almost missed it because I wanted my 90 minutes of quiet time.

Reflecting back on the interaction, Bethany sat between two women that day on a plane. One of us had an amazing experience, the other one kept her ear buds in her ears. The lady in the window seat was so close to growing right along with us, but she missed the opportunity.

My former boss was fond of a quote that I think about almost every day: “You will be the same person 5 years from now as you are today except for the books that you read and the people that you meet.” I am really thankful to have met Bethany. My life was enriched in that 90 minutes and I am encouraged to meet someone that will be a world changer in her generation.

So my advice is this: the next time you sit down on a plane,  think about taking the ear buds out and see what you might receive. Discover what you might give.