Finding Personal and Professional Fulfillment with John Cerqueira

On September 11, 2001, John Cerqueira was working on the 81st floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center in New York City. Before fleeing to safety from the crumbling building, John and his boss stopped to help a wheelchair user down 68 flights of stairs. The course of his life, like so many others, was forever altered that day. 

Because of his heroics, John was featured in dozens of interviews, articles, documentaries and on talk shows during the aftermath of 9/11.

During the two decades that have passed since then, he has led a successful career consulting, selling, training, and coaching sales professionals and leaders. 

I asked John to share what he has carried with him from that day – the lessons, insight, and perspective that have shaped not only his personal life, but his professional life and goals. 

While John says that processing the gravity of that day is ongoing, he does have a “working theory” of what he internalized that day and since:

Do what you can do with the things that you can control. 

On that September day, John’s focus was on the task at hand: getting himself and his companions out of the building. 

“It sounds really trite, but if we hadn’t had someone else to focus on, if we hadn’t had that camaraderie or purpose, I’m not sure that things would’ve played out as well as they did for me – even mentally and emotionally.”

Focusing on helping others is the path to feeling fulfilled and powerful, connected and capable. That was a clear lesson that John latched onto immediately and has carried with him since. 

In a world of chaos, fear, turmoil, and political division, serving others is a point around which we can center ourselves – it not only benefits those we serve, but in truth, it benefits us. 

We are most fulfilled when we serve others.

This is not only true in our personal lives. In fact this idea carries through, almost more powerfully, when applied to our professional lives. 

Think about it:

Especially as sales professionals, we want to compete. We want to win. We want to close the deal. (As we should!) We want to push, strive, and fight for success. 

But almost counterintuitively, the best way to do this is not through “fighting” or “competing” to win for our own self-interest. The way to “win” is by serving others. 

Take ownership of your customer’s problems. 

Lead them through a process to make the right decision for their business and themselves. 

Put others’ needs before your own. 

It can be difficult to apply this idea in our daily lives, especially in a world that is driven by ego and survival. It takes faith, work, trust, and hard work to do that – it almost goes against our human nature to survive and compete. 

We have to be aware of our natural, sometimes selfish, tendencies as humans and take the time daily to rewire our brains to remember this truth: we are most fulfilled when serving other people. 

If you’re interested in learning more about John’s story and his insights on finding personal and professional fulfillment, you can watch my full interview with him here. You can also find him on LinkedIn and through his work now with an amazing company called BetterUp.

In the twenty plus years since that day, John has been able to shift the interviews he does to be “less about me, the circumstances, and the story, but to push the camera to what I learned, not only that day, but since, to other people who during COVID and political division and racial injustice and income inequality and geopolitical conflict, just could really benefit from the message of being conscious, service to others, and prioritizing mental fitness. And that’s the working theory of what I’ve learned.”