What’s Your “Supersonic Space Jump Moment”?

What an extraordinary weekend as we witnessed the first successful supersonic space jump by Austrian Felix Baumgartner.

While I did not get to watch it live, I have played (and re-played) that amazing feat a few times, and one question keeps nagging me:

What is my “Supersonic Space Jump Moment” (SSJM :-)?

You know what I mean – what is it that I could do which would challenge me in such a way that it changes not only my life, but the lives of those who witness it?

Before viewing Mr. Baumgartner’s courageous action, I used to refer to Steve Farber’s OS!M (the Oh Sh–! Moment) as the gold standard for this kind of personal boundary-busting thinking, but it’s hard to beat a jump from 120,000 feet.

What’s your personal “gravity” or “sound barrier”?

We all have things that make us downright terrified:

  • speaking publicly – even to a room with only a handful of people, much less hundreds
  • professional networking and meeting new people at events
  • taking on a project that exceeds our current level of experience or skill
  • meeting with a high level executive or decision maker

You could almost call these our own personal “gravity” or “sound barriers” since it’s usually little voices in our own minds that pull us back to earth through doubt and disbelief.

The reality is that the underpinning fear in all of these situations is fear of failure. What if I stepped out and did this thing and it completely bombed? What would people think of me?

It’s helpful to confront those fears by exploring the worst case scenario, being realistic about the consequences of a particular action.

For Felix Baumgartner, the worst case scenario was death…and yet he did it anyway.

I’m pretty sure that most of what you and I will attempt is not going to risk our lives. It might risk our pride or sense of security, but rarely will it have that kind of life-ending impact. In fact, my experience is that taking a risk to do the tough stuff typically has a positive impact.

The truth is: it was gravity – the force that makes us fall or ‘fail’ – which ultimately led Baumgartner to break the sound barrier. He just decided to use it to his advantage.

Even if you fail, that first attempt to bust through a mental barrier and step out in faith transforms your mind. It tends to take the sting out of that thing that you feared so much. You usually end up saying, “that wasn’t so bad” and “I’m going to try that again.” It’s almost as if the fear that once prevented you becomes the driving force for future attempts.

So I’ll ask it of you as I am asking myself:

What is your Supersonic Space Jump Moment?

What are you fearing to do right now – what action are you failing to take – that you know could advance your career more than anything else?

Why don’t we take some inspiration from our friend Felix and take the plunge?

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David Dejewski

One of mine came in the form of a structure fire in New York. The single story building was fully involved. It had been burning for a long time under the watchful eyes of another local fire unit before our team (a special operations team with expertise in search and rescue, interior attack, and ventilation) had arrived. Our orders were to get inside, find the main hallway, follow it to the B (left) side, and attack the seat of the fire. Several teams had already been in, but failed to find that hallway.

We went in twice. The first time, my Captain was on the nozzle. He got turned around, had his face mask momentarily knocked away from his face by a barbell resting on a weight bench. He took in some smoke that made him confused and disoriented. We got out, recovered, got new air bottles, and prepared to go back in (Chief’s orders) – this time with me on the nozzle & Captain backing me up.

Every time I went into a fire (we did between 200 – 300 of these per year), I had to play mental games to get myself to do what normal human beings and every animal on earth avoid. The response and approach was always about preparing mentally – working up the courage to face death, reminding myself of the “tells” (hints that something dangerous was about to happen) we were given in training or learned on the job, imagining someone I loved was inside in order to force myself to keep moving. Every time I shut down the stream of water to listen to the structure and to the fire, I hoped I wouldn’t hear the tell-tale noises of an imminent building collapse. Every time I took a step, I tested it for that spongy feeling we got when a roof was about to collapse, and I hoped I wasn’t walking on a truss structure that was prone to sudden and catastrophic failure.

The place was a maze. I did not find the hallway, but I did find a fire ball spinning on the floor. This is something that typically happens in the highest point in a room that’s been burning for a while without good air. It’s a signal that a backdraft is occurring – a super suck of air by the fire just before everything explodes. About the same time I realized that what I was looking at was a reflection on the ground of what was happening over our heads, I flattened myself on the ground, yelled for my partner to “Get Down!,”pulled the hose up over both of us and felt the explosion.

We were caught in the middle of a Flashover. Cinematic memories of soldiers coming out of the trenches during WWI and WWII – so frightened that they lost bowel control – flashed through my head. Had I had more to eat or drink that day, I knew I would have left it in my pants. Everything shook with what left like a bomb. Windows blew out and walls buckled. It was so hot and violent that my helmet shield literally melted and deformed.

After the explosion, we got to our feet in a low-crouch position, hopped backwards, following the hose line like drunken rabbits bumping into one another, and rolled backwards out of that building onto the front porch and one another. It seemed like forever, but within what I now know was seconds, we were surrounded by fire fighters dragging us to safety. That structure was lost.

Every time we put our lives on the line and did things to save other people was a supersonic moment. Every time we didn’t know if we were going to come out, but went in anyway was a supersonic moment. When we went in, used our skills and experience to overcome life threatening challenges, we had supersonic moments.

Great post, Andy. 🙂