9/11 10 YEARS LATER: How Four Average People Became Victors Rather Than Victims

The tragedy of 9/11 was a turning point in the US and as a result, many people reinvented themselves.  The stories are gripping and fascinating.  These are ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations.  The events that day changed their lives forever.

Many have sent in their stories of heroism, devastation and inspiration.  No, you can’t stop terrible things from happening to you.  You CAN manage the way you react and respond in the wake of tragedy. 

Here are four stories of average people who became victors rather than victims:

Mike Jaffe, Jaffe Life Design LLC

Mike writes:  “I worked on the 96th floor of the World Trade centre as a Corporate Marketer.  The first plane hit my desk.  However, I survived that day because I had decided to have breakfast with my wife and daughter that morning and go in late to work.  The events of that day not only prompted me to change careers but also gave me the internal fire and vision to completely transform my life.  

I lost my boss, most of my team and many friends and coworkers on September 11th, which served as a painful but powerful reminder of how precious life truly is.  I knew that I could never again settle for a life that was simply ‘fine.’

As a result of my own wakeup call (which actually occurred on Sept 10th when I made the plan to have that breakfast the next morning), I radically changed directions in my career, leaving a secure corporate job in Manhattan and reinventing myself as a motivational speaker and professional business and personal coach.

Over the last decade, through my coaching and speaking work I’ve had the honour and privilege of working with thousands of brilliant, intelligent and highly creative individuals to help them transition their own lives, enabling them to shift their perspective, deepen their relationships, and create and realise the vision they have for themselves in ways they couldn’t have imagined previously.

I see myself as a Human Wakeup Call, waking people up so they achieve more business success and a higher quality of life.  I have set a goal of having a million members join what I call the Wakeup Revolution™.”


Jeff Buske, Rocky Flats Gear, Inc.

Prior to September 11, 2001, I was in electrical engineering designing hands free mobile phone interfaces.  The tragic events that day impacted our foreign policy and significantly changed air travel with loss of liberty and excessive searching.

I turned into an inventor, materials expert, art director, web master and designer of x-ray absorbing garments. The products offer a level of protection and privacy from radiation based airport and security scanners. 

We my wife and I designed a family of products to address the loss of privacy and dignity from the deployment of powerful airport scanners.

Now, 10 years later I am busy running an online radiation protective garment business shipping product worldwide.   We are secure in the satisfaction that we are doing some small part to educate and promote public health on a global platform.


Joe Ariel, “Facebook for Foodies”

Joe, founder of Eats.com which was sold to Delivery.com in 2009 writes:  “Back in 2001, I worked for CIBC Oppenheimer in One World Financial centre, directly across the street from the WTC.  I was one of those guys blinded by the cloud of soot and smoke.  I thought I was going to die that day.  I was a 25 year old finance guy at CIBC Oppenheimer. I went through a severe six month depression where I would rarely get out of bed, I realised after the experience that life was too short to not do something I love and create something that belongs to me.

In 2002, I combined my love for food with my passion of becoming an entrepreneur. I created Eats magazine (and eventually Eats.com), a restaurant menu guide that compiled dozens of the best takeout menus for each neighbourhood in Manhattan.   Over the next 5 years the company grew to more than 25 employees and 3 cities.  The New York Times called Eats.com “The Facebook for Foodies.”

Two years ago my story took an interesting turn.  My company was acquired by Delivery.com whose lead investor was Cantor Fitzgerald (the financial firm that lost 658 employees in 9/11). They wanted to bolster their Delivery.com business division that focuses on local online ordering.  As part of the acquisition, I was brought on as the CEO of the joint business from 2009-2010.  Today, although still a shareholder, I am no longer involved in the day-to-day operations.” 

Joe has definitely turned a passion into a fortune by doing what he loves to do.


Alison Thompson, Humanitarian Extraordinaire!

Just before 9/11 I was an investment banker and part-time filmmaker.  When the towers were hit, I grabbed a first aid kit and raced down there to look for them.  I lived in the streets for six days helping as an independent volunteer at WTC, collecting bodies and washing out firemen’s eyes.  I soon joined the American Red Cross and gave up my film job and lived at the World Trade centre volunteering for the next nine months, seven days a week, 20 hours a day until it was finished. We were all obsessed with working down there trying to make our city right again.

The events of 9/11 showed me there were larger problems in the world more important than myself.  I saw many good things that came out of Sept 11th and the main one was the hope for humanity.  I saw lawyers, bankers, ironworkers, grannies, students and construction workers all working together.  The big lesson I learned that there is room for the independent volunteer to help out and that with these growing disasters and problems in the world that everyone is needed to help in all kinds of ways.  You don’t need many skills to hand out water, to listen, or to give someone a hug.

I eventually dedicated my life to humanitarian efforts and am now a full time volunteer. In 2004 the Asian tsunami struck killing over 250,000 people and I raced over there for two weeks as an independent volunteer. I took with me the valuable skills I had learned on Sept 11th and I knew I would be needed. I ended up staying for 14 months running an IDP camp and a field hospital for over 3000 people.

I also started CTEC, which I still run today.  CTEC is the only tsunami warning centre in Sri Lanka. After my tsunami trip was finished I had 300 hours of footage taken on my little hand held camera so I made it into a documentary called The Third Wave.  Actor Sean Penn saw it and called me asking me if he could take it to the 2008 Cannes film festival.  The film was made to help continue to run the tsunami centre and also to hopefully inspire people to volunteer.  Sean invited me to take 200 young USA volunteers camping around America teaching them about volunteering and we ending up rebuilding in New Orleans three years after the Katrina disaster.

Fast forward to 2010 the Haiti earthquake struck and Sean texted me “Haiti?” and I said, “Yes let’s go.”  So I found 10 doctors on Facebook and he collected people in L.A and we took off for 18 months to help.  We founded an IDP camp for over 55,000 people and I ran the hospital for the first five months.  After that, I started my own organisation, “We Advance” which deals with gender based violence in Haiti.  I work full time in Haiti and live between NY, Miami and Haiti as a full time non-paid volunteer.  I also wrote a book called “The Third Wave” about volunteering.

I now serve as a full time volunteer and am the happiest I have ever been in my life.

Before September 11th I led a selfish ‘me’ ‘me’ ‘me’ life.  Now I am a more forgiving and a gentler me. I have gone off to volunteer long term in four disasters and have made a film and written a book so others will be inspired to do it also.  I have successfully run large IDP camps and field hospitals and created a tsunami warning centre.  I don’t have incredibly large skills but all the little ones have added up.  Through my work I have been able to inspire thousands of people around the world to volunteer.


9/11 was a tragedy that will never be forgotten.  But out of the tragedy sprang triumph and hope.  What is your story?