Phillipe Petit crosses between the Twin Towers, August 7, 1974

How you can use Phillipe Petit’s secret for accomplishing great things

In 1974, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center complex stood as the highest buildings in the world. On the morning of August 7, Phillipe Petit, a 24-year-old Frenchman, stepped off the edge of the south tower to walk the wire he had rigged between them.

This was not an official stunt. In fact, Petit referred to it as his “le coup, the artistic crime of the century” and spent six years planning. It all led to roughly 45 minutes spent on the wire, where he made eight passes back and forth between the buildings — including kneeling and lying down on his back — before walking off the other side to the waiting handcuffs of police.

The entire story was captured by Petit and his crew and was later turned into a documentary called “Man on Wire,” in homage to the description from the original police report. “Man on Wire” was completed in 2008 and won several prestigious awards, including the Grand Jury Prize from the Sundance Film Festival and the Academy Award for Best Documentary. The movie is terrific; I recommend you make an effort to see it.

I was reminded of Petit recently while watching a TED Talk he gave in March, ’12. As he described what it was like to take that first step from the edge of the building at the top of the world, I couldn’t help but think of how his words applied to every endeavor, every project, every effort we make.

Those of us who work at desks are not often faced with being on the edge, but there are certainly events that push us beyond our comfort zone and raise the blood pressure. Expectations, either internal or external, exert tremendous forces that must be dealt with in order to succeed. Here is how Petit describes these moments and how he quiets the “inner howl” that assails him. The words are his, the emphasis is mine:

On the top of the World Trade Center, my first step was… terrifying.

All of the sudden, the density of the air is no longer the same. Manhattan no longer spreads its’ infinity; the murmur of the city dissolves into a squall whose chill and power I no longer feel… I lift the balancing pole, I approach the edge, I step over the beam. I put my left foot on the cable. The weight of my body rests on my right leg, anchored to the flank of the building. I ever-so-slightly shift my weight to the left, my right leg will be unburdened, my foot will freely meet the wire.

An inner howl assails me: the wild longing to flee. But it is too late. The wire is ready. Decisively, my other foot sets itself onto the cable.

‘Faith’ is what replaces ‘doubt’ in my dictionary.

When he puts one foot on the wire, he has the faith — the certitude — that he will perform the last step. If not, he says, he would run away and hide.

You cannot have a project or goal if you don’t have faith. If not, it will be like ‘Oh, I hope, one day, you know, that success will fall from the sky and I’ll be there to receive it.’ It doesn’t work like that.

“There is no recipe, there is no algorithm, parameter or algebraic formula that I could give to say, “If you need to concentrate in duress or in an amazing moment in your life, do this or do that…” it all depends on who we are.

But I believe he has provided the formula: We have to know both where we’re starting and where we’re going, and we must have absolute faith that we’ll get there. If we do, taking that last step will be as certain as the first.

This is about truth. This is about choice. This is about life before death…This is Water.

In a commencement address in 2005, David Foster Wallace told the graduates of Kenyon College that they were about to face a life of boredom, routine, and petty frustration. He said, “The plain fact is that you graduating seniors do not yet have any clue what ‘day in day out’ really means. There happen to be whole, large parts of adult American life that nobody talks about in commencement speeches. [One of these is that] the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace (Photo credit: Steve Rhodes)

He then explains that the real value of their education is not in teaching them to think,
but in teaching them how to think, by providing them the ability to make a choice about what they think, and when they think it. He continues:

But please don’t just dismiss it as just some finger-wagging Dr. Laura sermon. None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

I could go on about this, but I could never do it the justice that the author did, so I will merely provide the following and encourage you– as strongly as possible– to watch it and then read the transcript. I’m telling you, truer words may have never been spoken and few commencement addresses provide as much real world advice to graduates. This should be required reading in colleges throughout the country.

Video: This is Water

A note about the author: David Foster Wallace was an award-winning American novelist, short story writer and essayist (as demonstrated with applomb by “This is Water.” His second novel, Infinite Jest, was cited as one of the 100 best novels from 1923-2005 by Time magazine. 

Sadly, he suffered greatly from depression and hung himself in 2008, at the age of 46.

 

 

Silence speaks volumes. Are you listening?

Take time to listen...

Take time to listen…

Sabina Nawaz wrote a post today about setting aside time for silence to allow ideas to emerge and new concepts to form. I don’t think I could agree more. This frenetic pace we’re all on to do more with (seemingly) less time has caused a crises of sorts. If we’re surrounded by even 30 seconds of silence, many of us will reach for our iPhones to check email.

In her post, she talks about coaching executives:

Frequently they tell me about the sacrifices they’ve made for their work: how they’ve slept only three hours the night before, haven’t exercised in months, missed their children’s games. They’re busy because their work is important. They operate under tight timelines and competitive pressures. The stakes are high.

In response, she suggest they try something counter-intuitive: Do less. She recalls John Cage‘s seminal piece 4’33”, which consists of exactly four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but you might find it difficult to sit still that long. When the BBC aired the performance, they had to turn off their emergency systems that are designed to automatically fill silence with music. I suspect that your emergency systems would kick in almost as quickly as the radio stations. But silence is exactly what all of us need more of.

If you’re stuck on a problem and the answers evade you, silence can lead the way. If you have writer’s block and can’t seem to find the perfect word (or the motivation to look for it), try silence. If your teenager asks for a car, silence might just work wonders. (Just kidding.)

Nawaz suggest some tips for making your forays into the world of silence successful. Intention is the key, she says:

Set aside a specific time. Find two hours a week. It’s helpful to block out times that are least likely to be requested for meetings: Friday afternoons or before colleagues arrive in the morning.

Turn off the noise. This is not the time to answer emails or tackle a long-neglected project.

Experiment until you find the right format for you. Some people stay at their computers but turn off all Internet access; others journal. Some leave the office to avoid interruptions; they go to a separate building, on a long walk, or a drive into the mountains.

Keep your white space dates. Just as you don’t build muscles by showing up sporadically at the gym, perspective isn’t something you find once and then never need to foster again.

For me, I’ve turned off the radio in the car. I often ride without headphones. The hour I spend in Adoration each week is perhaps the most perfect silence I’ve found. You may find it differently… you may also find that anytime you sit quietly for four minutes you fall asleep, which is really telling you something else entirely.

If you’re reading this, you probably agree. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Today’s #trust30 prompt is:

It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance

The world is powered by passionate people, powerful ideas, and fearless action. What’s one strong belief you possess that isn’t shared by your closest friends or family? What inspires this belief, and what have you done to actively live it?

This may be one of the most thought-provoking things I’ve encountered and, I confess, I’m having a difficult time coming up with an answer. The problem isn’t coming up with things in which I strongly believe; the difficulty lies in finding one that my family and friends don’t share. But isn’t that the way of the world?

I believe, and I think my friends and family would agree, that our beliefs are what bring us together. I would have lots of acquaintances and friends who may disagree on a whole bevy of issues, but on the core issues– the closely held beliefs that essentially define who we are– we’re much more likely to be the same than vastly different.

In the spirit of the exercise, I’ll tell you a few of my beliefs and you can let me know if you disagree:

  • I believe the exuberance of youth is enhanced (not quashed) by the wisdom of experience.
  • I believe as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another man.
  • I believe that open, honest communication– even if it hurts– is better than the alternative.
  • I believe your future is only limited by the limits you place on yourself.
  • I believe in the power of dreams.
  • I believe we should help each other, not for the purpose of some future recompense, but because it’s the right thing to do.
  • I believe God formed you in the womb to be the person that you are and parents should follow the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.”

I’m sure there are others, but these are on my mind right now… What do you think?

#trust30 on Twitter; on the web; on my mind.

Initial thoughts on the iPad 2

SAN FRANCISCO - MARCH 02:  An attendee holds t...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

I saw this story today and couldn’t resist sharing:

[Apple’s] focus this week has been to troubleshoot all the iPad 2s that customers are returning to the stores. One iPad came back with a post it note on it that said “Wife said no.” It was escalated as something funny, and two of the VPs got wind of it. They sent the guy an iPad 2 with a note on it that said “Apple said yes.”

I’m sure the guy who received his new iPad will find the experience matches mine. I won’t bore you with details: I love it. It’s hard to explain, really, considering I already had the first generation iPad. But the new one is noticeably thinner, not so much by looking at it, but when you hold it in your hand. It just feels…better. It’s lighter, too. Again, not so much that you really feel it; it’s more like you notice that it doesn’t seem quite as heavy after you’ve been holding it awhile.

These are the biggest changes, at least for me. The speed does seem quite improved. The speakers are louder. The camera is nice to have, but I don’t use it that often. (It should be noted that you can look only one of two ways when you hold up something as big as an iPad to take a photo or a video: either like an idiot, or someone who is trying to say, “Look! I’ve got an iPad 2 and it has a CAMERA!” In either case, you kinda look like an idiot.)

And then there’s the cover, with which I have a love/hate relationship. I love it’s form factor. It’s very well designed and does, somehow, keep fingerprints off the screen. I love the way it folds to become a stand that is much sturdier than Apple’s previous case. And I love the self-aligning magnets that magically grab right where they’re supposed to. But I hate that it doesn’t do anything to protect the back of the iPad. I’m sure Apple will tell me not to worry about it, but I do.

Oh, and there’s this other thing… The way the hinges on the cover work, they tend to rub on the back side of the iPad. This has removed the finish from the hinges (which isn’t a big deal), and it’s removed the finish from the back of the iPad (which is a big deal.) True, it doesn’t do anything to affect the usability. Everything still works perfectly. But to see those two little smudges on the back like ugly blemishes of abuse… It’s very frustrating. Especially since I’ve been exceedingly careful not to abuse the thing. Still, it’s a very small thing in the overall scheme. This generation exceeds the original in every way.