The day was intermittently cloudy. Myself and my buddy waited around the airfield expectantly hoping for the weather to clear so we could do our tandem parachute jumps. Not that we were jumping in tandem with each other – that’d be mad, but that we were jumping together, in tandem with one professional skydiver each. There were several false starts when we thought we’d be heading off, then the gaffer would call it off – “We’ll give it another 20 minutes and see.”
Our on-ground training had been done earlier, first sitting on a bench and pretending to exit a plane, (imagine sitting on the edge of your kitchen table, looking at the ceiling while curling your legs back under the table, rocking back and forth to gain momentum so you’d eventually fall face-forward towards the ground – except the table is two miles up – yeah something like that), then lying face down on the same bench imagining we were hurtling towards earth at terminal velocity (never liked that phrase!) approaching 200 kph from two miles up. At that speed we’d be on the ground in less than one minute if we had nothing to slow us down, thus the essential parachute.
(An aside, anybody out there find ‘on the ground’ a disconcerting phrase? Pilots use it all the time, “Good morning ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We’ll be on the ground in about twenty minutes!”)
The buzz was great. It was Dave Molloy’s first time – I having talked him into it following my inaugural jump a year or so earlier. I was so excited in anticipation of that first jump, only becoming nervous as I ‘bummed’ across the floor of this tiny plane to slide open the side door. The sight of puffy white clouds floating by in an otherwise perfectly blue sky that time made me ask myself was I mad? I did the rocking back and forward thing and fell… and it was wonderful!
This time it was very different, murky grey skies, clouds everywhere conspiring to keep us on the ground longer than anyone would’ve liked. Dave and I were well back in the queue of prospective jumpers and we were getting set to call it a day when a party ahead of us decided they would. That bumped us up. We’d be on the next plane should it take off.
We’d been suited and booted in our jumpsuits for some time when we got the green light and ourselves, our tandem partners and two sisters from Cork, along with their tandem professionals jumped aboard.
Flight up was bumpier than I remembered first time, which I put down to weather. Dave and I kept giving each other the thumbs up and shouting over the noise.
Our time came. The side door was slid open, bum over, strapped to me man – welded more like. In truth the rookie is really just a passenger.
Sit on the edge, look up, fold arms across chest in an X, each hand up at the opposite shoulder, tuck feet back under the plane, rock back, rock forward, rock back, rock…
Noise! Wind! Clouds! Patches of green through same! Cheeks flapping! Adrenaline! Speed! 195 kph, 53 meters per second! Terminal velocity!
Such a rush.
Me man is videoing me, has a type of camera strapped to his wrist, I’m strapped to his almost everything else.
The seconds are ticking. At terminal velocity, 53m per second, and having exited the plane at 10,000 feet (3,048m) we have about fifty-seven to impact.
Next thing yer man lets out an expletive! “F***!” I’m thinking, “That’s my video ruined.”
Then our descent begins to slow, but it wasn’t like last time. A small parachute is stretched above us but something’s definitely not right.
Then some cables dangle in front of my face. Ok. This doesn’t feel right. The skydiver on my back reaches forward and asks me to hold said cables in a bunch while he fiddles with something. I comply. Oh! Do I comply! An item, a large item, is ejected from us and plummets to earth at ‘terminal velocity’ (there’s that phrase again). “What was that?” I asked, as you would, like. “Our main chute.” came the reply. “Failed. Pity. We’re ok though, we’re using the back up.”
With the loss of the dead weight (these phrases!) of the main chute we slow even more.
I’m thinking, “Failed! Pity!”
“Are you ok? I asked HIM. He was. A bit breathless, but ok. You see I knew if he was ok, I’d be ok.
But he was right. The parachute had failed. And it was a pity because the experience was not like my first time out. We were using the back-up parachute which did exactly what it was supposed to, but back-up parachutes are not as fancy as main ones so there was no twirling around in the sky enjoying the view, we were going straight down, thankfully not at terminal velocity any more.
I managed to scan the skies and saw Dave and the two ladies dancing around above me, having an absolute ball and I was happy for them.
When we landed, the professionals took over, like it was just another day at the office, someone was sent out to the field to escort me back in while another debriefed the skydiver. Dave landed and his guy walked across to our little group and told the runners which field across which hedge the main chute had crashed in. Dave was buzzing, I was alive. My skydiver buddy and I shook hands, then he went and got another parachute kit and introduced himself to his next passenger and the process started all over again.
What did I learn?
(A friend said I should learn never to go parachuting again, and I haven’t since, but never say never. It really is a thrill. And it’s designed to be safe. Professional skydiving men and women are highly trained to do their jobs.)
The two lessons we can apply to our lives and our careers are:
Firstly, we must step out of our comfort zones. We must take risks if we are to truly be alive and experience things life (and we only get one) has to offer. My son, Steven, gave me a plaque some years back that simply stated, “LIFE BEGINS AT THE EDGE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.” How true is that?
Philippe Petit, the man who famously (an illegally) high-wire walked (with no safety net) between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, on the morning of 7 August 1974 is known to have said something like, “Walking the wire is living. All the rest is waiting.”
Jumping out of a plane is outside the comfort zone for many.
Secondly, and crucially, it’s all about preparation and planning. We must be prepared for what happens should things go right, but we must also have thought through the downside, figuring out what happens should things go wrong. We must have a back up plan.
I knew the guy I was strapped to was a professional. I knew he had been trained for all eventualities, and when the call came, he did exactly what he had been trained to do. And as a result I’m still here to tell the tale.
Astronauts don’t go into space for a mission without first planning in gnat’s ass detail what they are going up there to do, what is the mission? what does success look like? and crucially what are we going to do should this go wrong, or that, or that, or that… or anything they can think of. The real challenges only arise when something happens that no-one on earth had actually considered.
Jumping out of a plane is no different, starting a business is no different, making a career move is no different. We make moves expecting things to work out, but we have to make sure we have a back-up plan considered, a plan B should plan A not work out.
So, this week, my friend, live life. Step out of your comfort zone, take a risk, expect plan A to unfold, but make sure you have a plan B considered and thought through.
Thanks for thinking with me. I wish you well.
(PS. PM me if you want to go skydiving, I might join you…)
Thanks for thinking with me.
Watch | Listen | Read | Think.
Did you enjoy that? Fancy a sip of some of my recent “Coffee with Colm” Blog posts:
- Why Professionals Never Lose and why “They is You” – click here.
- What Breaking the Sound Barrier (and Yours Truly jumping out of a plane) can Teach Leaders – click here.
- Is there Life Before Death? Or what, when, where, who are you waiting for before you start living? Click here.
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