On Sunday, October 14, Australian skydiver and daredevil Felix Baumgartner set the world record for skydiving over 128,000 feet (over 24 miles) from a helium balloon following his ascent for over two hours far into the stratosphere.
I hope you got to see the jump. I was watching a football game with friends but we had the jump coverage streaming on the computer nearby. The fact that my friend Sean and I had gone skydiving for the first time over the summer caused me to get sucked in even further. As the countdown neared, we paid less and less attention to NFL Sunday and held our collective breath as “Fearless Felix” finally went hurdling through the stratosphere, breaking the speed of sound on his own free-fall back to earth. 4 minutes and 19 seconds later, Baumgartner deployed his parachute and soon after landed safely on the ground in Roswell, New Mexico.
Since Red Bull had sponsored the “Red Bull Stratos” project, it didn’t take long for them to begin flooding promotional materials and videos online. In particular, I found this video on YouTube, posted on 10 days before Baumgarter’s final record-setting jump, which I believe can teach us several lessons about how to live – and lead – on the edge, Felix Baumgartner-style.
Traditional Wisdom Says to Just Play it Safe
My high school football coach used to say that our greatest challenge as football players wasn’t the opponent who lined up across from us. It was our mothers who usually didn’t want us to come out and play the dangerous sport in the first place. It was the same for Baumgartner, having been as a child not to fall off anything. However, he responded by “learning to love what you’ve been taught to fear.” Not everyone has the opportunity to jump from space, but each of us has the opportunity to take a risk in life. In the end, either you master your fears or they master you.
You’ll Never Know What’s Possible Unless You Push the Limits
Before Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile in 1954, the common belief was that it simply couldn’t be done. It wasn’t humanly possible, scientists said. Bannister chose to believe otherwise and today the 4 minute mile is now the standard for all male professional middle distance runners. If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. If you’ve ever participated the “gallon challenge” (trying to drink a gallon of milk in under an hour), you know that it’s best to submit to some limitations. But others can be not only life-shaping, but world-shaping as well, provided we commit to push through real or artificial barriers.
Early Success Can Spoil You
I thought it was ironic how Baumgartner commented on this when any failure on his part could result in certain death. If this is something Baumgartner believed, how much more true is it for you and I? Looking back on both my military and educational experiences, I realize now how unfounded any fears of messing things up in a training environment were. What better place to push the limits, make a huge mistake, learn from it, and perform at a higher level when it counts? If you can’t fail, can you really succeed?
You Can’t Do It Alone
We get so tempted to think that success is an individual accomplishment. But just look at the Red Bull Stratos team that surrounded Baumgartner. He had scientists, meteorologists, sports psychologists, outfitters, and an entire mission control team working to ensure his success. Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming we need to “prove ourselves” to the critics who want us to fail. In actuality, most people usually want us to succeed, and some of them will even sign up to work toward our success. Like Baumgarter, there is often no way we can do it alone.
Living on the Edge is a Lifestyle
I was gripped by Baumgartner’s statement that, “I believe in God and I truly think that there is a plan that He has for everybody. And I also think He has a plan for me. It look like I’m becoming an astronaut!” Many people of that mindset would advise against taking the “plans of God” and risking them by living so close to the edge. But according to Baumgarter, daring mighty things was meant to be part of the plan itself. Mavis Leyrer said that “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely….” Baumgartner shows us we ought to plan to encounter risks (and even invite them) instead of trying to avoid them at all costs.
Like I mentioned previously, not all of us will have the opportunity to break the sound barrier while free falling. In fact, you can’t be the first person to do it anymore. But opportunities to accept a risk and take a chance are all around us, whether to start a business, start a family, deliver a public speech, run for office, apply to a program, or any number of other things. Will you join me in living on the edge – Felix Baumgartner-style?
By the way, do you want to see how the Mission from the Edge of Space went down (pun intended)? Red Bull posted another short video last week to give you a front row view!
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.