My stomach was churning, my heart was thumping and I had this voice in my head asking me in a pretty scathing tone – what the *beep* I thought I was doing.
Agreeing to jump out of an airplane for charity is not the craziest thing I have ever done in my life (after all I do like to scuba dive with sharks as often as I can, and I did ride to South East Asia on an old BMW motorcycle back in the day) but it’s pretty close. I would love to tell you that I agreed to do it out of the goodness of my heart. Of course I wanted to support my dear friend Isobel, who decided to deal with her cancer diagnosis in an amazingly brave and inspiring way, by attacking a different challenge every day for 30 days. And naturally, I wanted to raise lots of cash for the Royal Marsden, the wonderful hospital that performs life-saving operations every day. But if we’re being honest here – I just don’t like having things in my life that I ‘cannot’ do. I’m OK with choosing not to do something, but a fear of heights and some great trepidation over how falling towards the earth at great speed might actually feel, has kept me on terra firma all these years, despite telling myself that skydiving was on my list to do one of these days. I said yes immediately, before I could talk myself out of it, and then spent a few weeks ignoring the date in my calendar that loomed larger and closer. I told myself that lots of people do it every day and I tried to convince myself that it was something I had always wanted to do. In the end, I did it because I said that I would.
Daniel Priestly, author of several brilliantly insightful books (Oversubscribed, Entrepreneur Revolution and 24 Assets), attempts to explain why being an entrepreneur is such an ‘emotional rollercoaster’. He describes how we can ‘swing from rage to optimism, fear to delight, anger to passion’ and everything else in between. I was reminded of this last weekend when I jumped out of a plane and flew like a bird. It brought so many things into perspective – how much I want everyone to know that anything is possible, how much I want to help teams who are struggling, and how much I want to drown out the voice I have in my head that questions what I am capable of, why anyone would want to listen to me, and how I can really believe that I can make a difference.
My business helps owner-managers improve trust in themselves, their teams and their businesses. Many of my clients have fallen out of love with their businesses – it used to be such fun, but now they are drowning in staffing issues, customer complaints and endless, constant firefighting. I help them rediscover that spark they once felt – when anything and everything seemed possible – even jumping out of a plane!
It all starts with a dream, a goal, a vision – whatever you want to achieve, you need to get clear about it. And then make a plan. Sounds easy – right? Get myself to Netheravon, get a bit of training and some gear and then jump out of an airplane! The drive was straightforward, the training clear, to the point and very practical, but the next bit was so daunting that I decided to distract my attention from the impending terror, by forcing myself to observe their system. From a young age, I have been interested in how things are organised – how the people and processes operate together in a system. I can’t sit in a restaurant without watching their system. Do the staff offer drinks up-front? How efficient is their ordering process? How well do the team work together? How do they get people in and out without rushing them? And I can’t spend any time in a business – large or small – without starting to think about their operating model, the team dynamic and how the company is managed. Luckily for my rather queasy stomach and somewhat over-active process radar – the systems at the Netheravon airfield were extremely efficient and effective, and I felt somewhat comforted as I watched nervous looking people return some time later beaming from ear to ear, some saying ‘never again’ but in one piece nonetheless!
Every person has to be trained (to quote our instructor ‘You’re not just along for the ride!’, paired with a tandem instructor and then added to the manifest. There are screens where you can see your name against a flight and a countdown so you know how long you have. It was a beautifully clear and sunny day, and there were hundreds of people jumping, so the tandem instructors were having to turn around pretty quickly. The system needed to ensure that their parachutes were repacked and checked in between jumps, that they had enough time to check in with their next victim (sorry ‘customer’), and also ensure that everything was set up to their satisfaction.
Our names were added and we finally had a countdown – 82 minutes on the clock. I am glad we had time to enjoy our picnic, and lay under some beautiful trees trying to process in our minds what was to come. It was a weird combination of feeling scared and looking forward to it. I was pretty sure I would be fine once the parachute opened but didn’t know if I would suffer from vertigo. The bit I was really worried about was the free fall (45 seconds before he pulls the cord) – I was sure it would be terrifying. Because I love to dive with sharks, some people think I am an adrenaline junky but I’m really not! Having the time to get our heads clear and visualise what we were going to be doing was a wonderful luxury.
Although I have been managing teams, delivering projects and running companies for years, this new venture feels like a completely new challenge which is forcing me way out of my comfort zone. Many of the people I work with have built up businesses by hiring people like themselves – a designer who hires a few more designers, a marketer who hires some more people to handle the workload. Over a period of time, and often without really thinking about it, they find themselves running a business and managing a team – two things they have had no training in and feel ill-equipped to deal with, especially when the team grows beyond a manageable size (usually 10-12 people). It might be the 12th person or the 13th, but suddenly you are experiencing big company problems, even though you still only have the resources, systems and capabilities of a small company. Nobody warned you it would be like this. You never signed up for this. Why are your staff unhappy, why don’t they trust each other, why won’t they step up? Why are your customers complaining and how are you supposed to be everywhere and manage everything? Even though I am seeing these problems every day, and helping teams overcome them, I am working hard to take my own advice once in a while (which is harder than it sounds for some reason!)
I had wondered if you get the option to change your mind at the last minute – but it was pretty clear (although left unsaid) during the training that once you’re inside, you are doing the jump. As soon as I sat down, my instructor, Max, was hooking us together – me between his legs and Isobel and her instructor, Tony, between mine – and then we were off. Tony was chattering away but Max didn’t say a word. I stared out the windows and tried to enjoy the spectacular view across beautiful Salisbury Plain. It takes about 15 minutes to ascend to 13,000 feet – I felt like I was in some sort of weird, surreal dream. It was as if a part of me couldn’t believe I was about to do this, even though I knew I didn’t really have a choice (we asked Tony afterwards if anyone had flat out refused when confronted with the reality at the exit of the plane. He told us about one lady who had said she couldn’t do it, he had agreed and asked her to give him her hands. He then took them, crossed them over her chest and fell with her out of the plane!)
The door opened and we put our goggles on. I felt really sick, almost beside myself with dread. Max took hold of my hands and told me I would be OK. I caught sight of Isobel’s face as Tony manoeuvred her to the hatch – sheer terror! I saw Tony push her head back onto his chest and then they were gone. Somehow that made me feel better – I just told myself to look up and go with it. I don’t remember if there was any pause at the exit (the bit I was really dreading). All I remember is spotting my camera woman Kiera and giving her a rather manic grin and then we were out and falling.
As soon as we were out of the plane, I felt an absolute rush of relief and joy. I was not terrified – it was totally exhilarating. Somehow we were too far up to worry about hurtling towards the ground! It was, without any doubt, the most amazing 45 seconds of my life. Kiera was pointing the camera at me and I wanted somehow to express how good it was to feel so unbelievably alive, but all I could do was grin like an idiot! When Max pulled the cord I actually felt a sense of profound disappointment as we slowed with a jerk and the parachute went up – quite the opposite of what I had been so sure I would feel. Suddenly everything stopped – we went from falling at 120 miles per hour to a very sedate drift at 20 miles per hour. It was very weird looking around and I found myself wondering why I wasn’t scared or experiencing vertigo – out in the open, high above Salisbury Plain, with no protection except for four hooks strapping me to Max. It was such a gloriously beautiful day and we could see for miles. Being in space in a 360 degree way is truly amazing – very much like what I love so much about diving.
When I’m having a bad day, doubting myself or struggling to get clear, I try to remember those moments. Something I thought would be horrific was actually one of the most amazingly fabulous moments of my life. I want to dedicate myself to helping people achieve their potential. Every time I hear someone giving themselves a hard time or using that terrible word ‘should’, I want to help them banish that voice in their head. When I work with owner-managers who are burnt out, stressed and feeling completely overwhelmed, and I help them empower their management teams, get out of the day-to-day, and focus once more on the strategic ‘magic’ in their business, it feels like I am flying once more.
As I felt the slight bump of hitting terra firma, I found myself genuinely lost for words. Isobel and I threw our arms around each other – what a totally bonkers experience! We raised a good amount of money for the Royal Marsden and Isobel was able to go into her operation, and the recovery afterwards, with the memories of lying beneath those beautiful trees in the sunshine and then leaping out into fresh air of the unknown.
What an amazing way to start my new blog. I hope that I have conveyed some of the combination of fear and elation that I am feeling as I embark on my new business venture. My goal is to help thousands of owner-managers and their teams work together more harmoniously. I will be sharing my thoughts on trust and people, processes and systems, and ultimately on getting things done. I hope that the stories and insights I share with you will help you and your business by making you think, encouraging you to ask questions, and above all making you consider going out there and doing something you never thought you would, something that scares you but might just be the best thing you ever did!
Lisa Zevi – June 2017