Time to Pull the Chute
It was July of 2000, to celebrate my 40th Birthday, I wanted to go skydiving. I know why jump out of a perfectly good airplane, right? Well, let’s just call it a bucket list item. We drove out to Skydive Chicago, in Morris, IL. As I walked up to the counter, I have to say I was really excited to do this, it wasn’t my normal. I didn’t take a lot of thrill-seeker chances, I was, and still am, much more of a feet on the ground type of person, but this, this was new and exciting for me. The woman at the counter
walked me through the process of what would happen, then proceeded to hand me an agreement, that basically said, if I die, they are not responsible. Which I signed without hesitation; I mean at this point I was all in. The process was interesting, they showed me a video of what to expect, then asked how are you feeling? I replied great. Then they put me in a jumpsuit and had me practice how to hold my hands, feet, and body when I was free-falling. Then once again they asked me how I felt. I’m great, let’s go!! As I waited for the plane to pick me up, I couldn’t help but take a moment to reflect on things. I had my wife and 3 daughters all with me and I was excited to show them that sometimes in life it’s ok to take a risk or two.
Growing up, sitting around the dinner table, I remember my dad always talking about ideas he had for this business or that business. You must understand, he despised his job. He worked for the government as an electrical engineer for 31 years and couldn’t wait to get out. The day he turned 59 ½ he retired, and it wasn’t a day too soon for him. He was never willing to take the risk or pull the trigger on his ideas because although he hated his job, it provided him with the security of a steady paycheck, and that was more important than his dreams. He was after all a depression-era baby. He knew what it was like to go without and that was never going to happen to his family. As a result of my dad, not for what he did, but because of what he didn’t do, or better or for worse, for richer for poorer, when it comes to business, I’m a risk-taker. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. When I began my career, I probably pushed the envelope a bit farther and harder than most. Because I did, I moved up the corporate ladder a bit faster than others. I refused to play the shoulda, woulda, coulda game that my dad felt he had to play. In 1993 when I began my entrepreneurial career, I quickly learned that you must be willing to take risks or you are destined to go nowhere fast. Jumping out of a plane? Was I being a bit too risky? By the way, after my dad retired, he worked for me for the next 20 years, helping me to grow my businesses and ideas, never having to say shoulda, woulda, coulda again.
As the plane pulled up, I boarded first and went to the back of the plane. It held a total of 14 people all sitting on the floor one in front of the other. Now, this was a tandem jump so I would have an instructor strapped to my back. After we got onto the plane and we were sitting there waiting to take off, the instructor tells me that once the plane gets to an altitude of 14,000 ft everyone else will begin to jump out. We would be the last ones out since we are doing the tandem, at which point we would get on our knees and head to the doorway. I should cross my arms across my chest and fall forward out of the plane, tumble a couple of times then open up as we had practiced. He reminds me that we will be falling at 120 mph and that I will be pulling the ripcord. So, it was important to watch my altimeter and when we got around 5,000 feet to pull the cord. One last time, how do I feel? I felt great.
We arrive at 14,000 feet and people begin to jump out of the airplane until it’s only myself and my instructor. So, we get on our knees, he attaches his harness to mine and we head to the door. As we get to the door, I look out and the quick realization hits me. I’m almost three miles up in the sky and I’m about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane. What am I doing? Instead of my hands going across my chest, they both very quickly grabbed onto either side of the doorway, in a death grip that caused my fingers to flinch from the pain of squeezing so tight. Am I really doing this? I must have been insane to want to do this. So many thoughts rifling through my head, that I wasn’t paying attention as the instructor who had taken my hands from the door frame and laid them gently across my chest and pushed ever so slightly as we tumbled out of the door of the plane. For the first few seconds, I wasn’t sure what had happened, then I realized I was tumbling in the air, what to do? What to do? Then suddenly everything snapped into place, probably more of survival instinct than what they showed me, and I immediately opened up and pancaked. Arms in front, my legs out the back trying to get control, except now I’m spinning. Suddenly I feel the instructor take my hands and push down on them reminding me that by cupping them I could control the spinning.
I finally feel like I have things under control, or at least as under control as you can be when you’re falling at 120 mph where one little movement can cause you to spin out of control again. The other thing I quickly noticed was that it was hard to breathe, the skin on my face was rippling, like water does when you drop a stone into it. Things were all happening so fast that I suddenly realized that I hadn’t looked at the altimeter yet, how far had I fallen already? As I glance at the altimeter, the realization of how fast things were happening took what little breath I still had away. I was at 9,000 feet already; I just fell 5,000 ft in what felt like just a couple of seconds. I only had 4,000 feet to go before I needed to pull the ripcord. Despite all the other distractions that were happening, I had to focus on the altimeter and pulling the ripcord. Hard to catch my breath as the air is forcing itself into my lungs but not allowing me to exhale. I must stay focused, so many things were going on around me all at once. 5,500 ft close enough time to pull the chute.
The unfurling of that chute above your head almost reminded me of those days when you see the rays of sunshine pushing through the clouds and everything looks so amazing, and you begin to feel a sense of peace that the craziness of your life can stop for a moment so you can enjoy the view. As I watched the chute suddenly open, I knew a bit of peace was coming. Of course, I wasn’t quite prepared for the sensation of going from 120 mph to 0 mph in an instant. As I felt the straps tighten through my groin area and my feet fly upward, I have to say It can cause quite the shock to the body if you’re not ready for it and I wasn’t. It only took a few moments for me to adjust to my surroundings and the pleasant flow of a slow fall. I realized that I’m not a speed junky, I was now in my element. It was at this moment that I suddenly looked out and realized that I was still almost a mile up in the air and I could see so many things that I have never seen before. Just as I was revealing in the beauty of seeing so many sites from so high up, I realized that something was missing. It took me a minute to figure it out, all my senses were on high alert, so things weren’t processing as they normally did. Then it hit me, I knew what was missing. Noise. There was no noise. At first, it felt weird, no noise. Then I said to myself, why would there be noise? I was about a mile up in the air. It’s just not something I’d ever thought about before. No noise, only peace, which I fully embraced. At that moment my instructor started to pull on the chute controls to spin us, apparently, he wasn’t embracing my newfound revelations as much as I was. He was attempting to add to the thrills that came after the free fall. I immediately stopped him, this was now my time, I just wanted to enjoy it and take it in for as long as I could. The fact that someone was strapped to my back didn’t matter. To be honest, for a while I forgot he was even there. At this moment everything was under control, I could take a deep breath, embrace the quiet, and see things in a way I had never seen before.
I tell you this story because isn’t that life? Whether it’s your business life or your personal life, sometimes things feel like they are moving at 120 mph. One wrong move and we can be spinning out of control. Sometimes it’s hard to breathe, you don’t know where to look, how do you keep up? Things are moving so fast you are bound to miss something. That’s when it’s time to ‘Pull the Chute’. Whether for 30 minutes, an hour, or a day - pull the chute! Catch your breath, take time to look around, see where you are and where you want to go. Take in the sights, give yourself time to think, time to plan, time to analyze, and most importantly, time for yourself.
My mission for the remainder of my life is to get businesses (and people) to ‘Pull the Chute’, stop trying to run so fast. Take a moment to see where you are and where you want to go.
Life is short and trust me the older you get the faster it goes. I have found over the years that when I take time to ‘Pull the Chute’, I find that it allows me to think clearer, analyze better, and see things with fresh eyes. I encourage you to ‘Pull the Chute’ when things are going so fast that you feel out of control. Take time, to make sure you are still on plan, if not, adjust your course, layout your changes, and move forward again. Just remember that we are creatures of habit and you will quickly find yourself back in the plane and getting ready to do it all over again. That’s ok, it’s just life. The good news is that this time you have a better understanding of what to expect. If you would like to know more about Pull the Chute, please feel free to reach out. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my cell 615-572-9500, I look forward to hearing from you.