One of the most terrifying moments in my life was conducting my first Military Free Fall parachute jump.
It was terrifying for me not because of the height, which was roughly 13,500 feet. Don’t get me wrong, that’s high and it’s odd to be standing on the ramp of an aircraft looking down from that height. No, the real reason I was so scared was that I had to pack my own parachute. Up until that moment, every parachute I had used during all 50 of my static line jumps had all been packed by a professional “rigger” who packed parachutes for a living. I never lost that much sleep the night before a static line jump, I had witnessed those riggers in action and I had little concern that my parachute wouldn’t open.
But this morning was different; the chute on my back had been packed by me the night before on a cement floor in a hangar in the desert of Yuma, Arizona. I hadn’t slept a wink. And you might not have either had you failed almost every room inspection at the Naval Academy. I could never seem to get my bed made quite right let alone having all my t-shirts folded perfectly, or my socks smiling, or my underwear squared away. Nope, every time I looked at folding something I seem to invent a new way to do it (I still have this problem today). Now here I am at 4:30 am, standing on the edge of the ramp of a C-130 looking at the first rays of sun coming over the mountain range near Yuma, and I’m questioning myself if I folded my parachute correctly…while I’m internalizing these questions I hear my instructor yelling:
“Sir – BACK UP TO THE EDGE OF THE RAMP!” (We’re going about 160 mph – it’s VERY loud when the ramp is down).
I respond with a nod of my head and take baby steps backwards until I’m on the edge.
He yells: “SIR – PUT YOUR HEELS OVER THE EDGE!”
“SIR – LOOK DOWN!”
I do it and look back at him with a quizzical look on my face.
He smiles at me and says: “PRETTY HIGH ISN’T IT?”
Great I think to myself, I have a comedian as an instructor…
He then asks: “SIR WILL YOU JUMP?”
I nod my head and respond tentatively with “Yes”.
He smiles again and says: “GOOD – I HAVE ONE LAST THING TO TELL YOU!”
I look at him shocked and say “WHAT?!” (He’s been working with me all week and now he decides to tell me one more thing?!)
He smiles crookedly and says: “SIR, YOU HAVE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO OPEN YOUR PARACHUTE!”
And before I can register exactly what he says he pushes me off the ramp!
I am somersaulting through the air, trying to get flat and stable, and all I can think about are his final words.
I finally get control of my body position, I look at my altimeter for about the 100th time in less than 20 seconds, and he flies in towards me to yell: “THAT’S ABOUT 54 SECONDS!”
My chute did open, and the next 40 or so of them did too. Over time my butterflies went away about packaging my own parachute, but it definitely took time!
I love telling this story because I think it’s a wonderful metaphor for our lives. Not the part about “we have 60 seconds left”. The part I’m referring to is taking the leap – making the jump and knowing that the jump is up to you.
Every time you jump, you’re jumping into the unknown.
Just like our lives, they are up to us. I was intentionally none too subtle about naming Captain Tim’s home town Uptoyou – as in UP-TO-YOU.
The point is, your life is Up To YOU. You decide what you think, what you listen to, what you say, how you feel, and what actions you take. Your attitudes and actions are up to you, PERIOD. The same goes for your teammates. You can influence their attitudes and actions but at the end of the day it still comes down to them performing, for them taking the leap and pulling that proverbial rip cord, and making the difference. For them, and you, to make the differences that will matter for your team, they need to know the objective.
That’s what this three part series is all about – The WHY, HOW, and WHAT of Goals.
I’m a goal setter.
I start my goal-setting process on my wedding anniversary in November. I do three sets of goals: Professional, Physical, and Personal (this includes Family). In all cases, I involve the people who are going to help me achieve these goals. Every year my wife gets the first pass of my goal setting. We discuss goals in minutiae, sometimes much to her chagrin, but by involving her from the beginning she gets a front row seat into understanding what’s important to me (and her). This way, when I take that business trip over a weekend, she has the context in knowing that trip is leading in the direction of the goal we’ve both agreed upon committing to.
The same goes for teammates Whether they are serving with me for our country, company, or community, we all go through a goal-setting process. When leading my SEAL platoon, I had each one fill out 1-, 3-, and 5-year goals – the top three for each year. Some liked it, others didn’t. But those who took it seriously made remarkable strides in their lives, such as “Sailor of Year”, or “becoming an officer in the Seaman to Admiral program” (he just finished a tour of duty as the Executive Officer at SEAL Team 10).
Goals give you direction.
They act as a conscious and subconscious filter on your brain. It’s like you’re giving your brain a command: “Figure out the actions to achieve X”. At first not much happens, but over time if you keep reminding yourself of those goals and the reasons they’re important to you (why you care about them), then your brain will start focusing on figuring out a way to accomplish them. I’m not saying just write something down, apply a meaning and voila, your goal magically comes true. No, it takes disciplined effort to get the job done, but making the goal is what gets the ball rolling.
There’s more research than you can shake a stick at that talks about the importance of goals and how those that set goals get more out of life. The fact is, life is short and as far as we know we have one shot at it. So why not give it all you’ve got and dream up some epic goals?! I know, it can be a little scary in beginning, it can be a little bit like standing on the ramp of that C-130 and jumping into the unknown, but if your goals don’t give you butterflies in your gut then they aren’t big enough!
Here’s to jumping head first into 2017!
DREAM – DARE – DO,