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Shoot for the stars, not for the ceiling!

Skydiving in Netheravon, England

They say to shoot for the stars, not for the ceiling. I always thought this is because if you aim for the ceiling and you fall short, you miss, but if you aim for the sky and miss, you’ll likely still hit the ceiling. You also won’t pull back your energy when you think you’ll overshoot.

But there may be more to it than that. If something is still possible, but very difficult, it may be so scary you’ll never do it. However, if you aim higher, there comes the point where the brain gives up protesting, as it doesn’t seem real. So, it just does it.

Take your first sky-dive. If you do a tandem, it’s scary as heck, because it’s still possible - you jump out if a plane, but you are wired to a guy who hopefully knows what he’s doing. So, you are not doing anything impossible, just something really, really dangerous.

If you do an AFF (Advanced Free Fall) as your first jump instead, however, it looks somewhat like this:

You are not wired to anyone. Two instructors will hold on to you with their hand in the air, they say, in case you pass out or freeze and don’t open the parachute, but if you are too unstable, they may have to let go or simply get flung off. You then walk to the waiting area. There are some people practicing on a metal frame with grips. You ask them what they’re doing. They say the grips the are there, so you can practice hanging on to the plane from the outside. You go: “Yeah, right, hahaha!” and don’t understand why they look at you funny. You enter the plane, sitting on the floor, 1 yard from the exit hole, which just casually gets opened at 5000 feet without warning. When you unclench your hands, which have gripped whatever or whoever was nearest and open your eyes again, you realize you weren’t sucked out into the hole but are still sitting on the plane. You then spend the next 10 minutes pondering that shortly you will be jumping out of that hole into nothing. When your turn comes, one of your instructors casually HANGS ON TO THE OUTSIDE OF THE PLANE, AND YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO LEAN OUT AND GRAB HIS CHEST STRAP. The other instructor casually grabs some grips on your suit. While you are now supposed to give the signal to jump.

That’s when your mind gives up and goes: “Oh well, the other guy goes out backwards, and he looks so happy, at least I see where I’m going, it can’t be that bad.” Of course, that thinking makes no sense whatsoever, but it’s just not real at that point. You may have resisted and turned around if you had done a tandem, but this is just too crazy. So, you do it, because it doesn’t feel real.

But it IS real the second time around, which makes it much harder. That's the difference between your first and your second startup.

But once you've made it, and you've learned you can survive, even jumping out of a plane can get boring, if you do it long enough and frequently enough, people have even been known to fall asleep on the way up. So, you look for the next level, just as in business.

In skydiving there is a number of crazy things you can progress to. One of them is trying to jump out of a biplane - you know, one of these second world war things with the two wings? You think that’s crazy enough when you realize how old these planes are, and that they only go to 2000-3000 feet, a height where you hope your parachute will open in time, especially without slip stream. However, when the pilot proceeds telling you that you can’t just jump out but that you will need to open the door, step on the wing (“not this bit, your foot will go through and we'll both die!”), close the door again from the OUTSIDE, and you are then told you will need to climb out further on the wing at 3000 feet, so you can jump out without hitting the rudder (“otherwise we will both die!”) making sure you don’t open your parachute too quickly (“we will both die!”),  but also not too late (“this time only you will die”), and you realize sitting in the plane on the way up that nobody told you to put on a seat belt, and you don’t know where the seat belt is, and there is NOTHING above you, and you don’t know if the guy wants to turn the plane on its head on the way up to give you a show, at which point you would fall out at a height where the parachute wouldn’t open, and you make it to 3000 feet and you get the sign, open the door and cling on to the wing to close the door again - from the outside - that's the point where your mind goes back to “la la la” again, and declares it not to be real.

That’s why you can do it. You climb onto the wing and close the door from the outside, like one of these stuntmen in old movies. If he had simply told you to do something familiar, like open a seat belt, you would have probably shaken so much you would have messed it up.

Sometimes looking at the stars instead of being realistic isn’t so stupid after all, it may well be what makes you succeed. That’s why newcomers oftentimes succeed at things that experienced people fail at – the people with experience know enough to know it’s real, and they freeze, while the newbies are still in lala-land dreaming while they are making it real.

Business can be like that for some people.

The trick is to choose a large enough field as a drop zone to avoid falling on other people’s heads if it goes wrong.

(First published on Linkedin on 1 April 2018)

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