I nearly died last Saturday while making a skydive. Now, this technically isn't anything new -- When you think about it, every time I skydive, I have to actively take a role in preventing that from happening. It's no different than looking both ways before you cross the street to avoid being mowed down by a bus. In fact, it wasn't skydiving that nearly killed me. It was complacency.
Some brief background: When a parachute deploys after a freefall, it slows the skydiver from 120 miles per hour to approximately five miles per hour in, on average, three to five seconds. To do this without breaking several bones in the skydiver's body, a piece of fabric called a "slider" comes off your back first, "pushing against" the air you're falling through to slow down the opening of the parachute. (It's a bit more complicated than that, but that's not important to this story.) Anyhow, the end result is that your parachute opens nice and calmly, and you gently float to the ground.
During one of my jumps on Saturday, my parachute slider didn't "slide." Instead, as you can see, the slider (the white thing at the top of the picture, below the blue of my parachute,) hung up all the way at the top of the unopened parachute, just barely inching down the lines, while my speed towards the ground slowed to only around 80 miles per hour.
"I'm sure it'll open." I said that to myself over and over and over, for what seemed to be an eternity, while the altimeter on my wrist spun round and round towards ultimate zero: the ground. My hand snuck to the one place I always hope it will never have to go, my cutaway handle, to be used if my main parachute isn't functioning properly, allowing me to pull my reserve parachute.
With less than two seconds before I had to pull my reserve, and eleven seconds (ELEVEN!!) since I started the opening process, my parachute did open fully, resulting in an uneventful canopy ride. But looking back and watching the video, a much bigger issue arises:
"I'm sure it'll open," nearly killed me. As it happened, complacency cost me 1,200 feet of altitude I should never have been willing to give up.
I was complacent. I let hundreds of past "no-problem" openings dictate my actions this time. And that's a mistake that can truly hurt you, whether it's your body impacting the ground, your business going broke, or your personal life imploding. Make no mistake: Complacency can kill you.
As they say on financial firm commercials, past performance is no guarantee of future success. Just because it worked once, or a hundred, or even a thousand times, is no guarantee that it'll work that way again. Not taking action because you're uncomfortable making a change into something new is the absolute worst thing you can do, whether it's a business deal or a relationship. If something looks or feels "off," it probably is, and just because it worked last time doesn't mean it will this time.
Complacency leads to indecisiveness when the one thing you don't need is to be indecisive. Don't let yourself settle on something "because it worked like that before." That's called comfortable shoe syndrome, and it's dangerous. (You don't bother getting a new pair of shoes because you spent so long breaking these in, yet they have no tread, no support, and are slowly ruining your feet.) You need to evaluate each situation differently, because each situation calls for different actions. Autopilot only works in planes, and even then, the override switch can never be that far away.
Pulling that reserve and changing your course of action is a scary thing, sure. But you know what's even scarier? Letting something negatively affect you, your life, or your business because you chose not to take any action to change your course of events. I got lucky this time, and I know that now.
The video of my eleven seconds of complacency and indecisiveness is below. To my fellow skydivers, know this: I was in the saddle fully opened at 2100 feet, a hundred feet above my hard deck. Should I have been in the process of cutting away when it finally opened, probably yes. While technically I didn't go below my hard deck, I'll still call this one a screwup/learning opportunity on my part. Specs: Safire 2/229 -- Just back from the factory after blowing out my left stabilizer on, ironically enough, a one-second insta-canopy opening. Newly relined, with a larger slider, per Velocity's suggestion. Bringing it to my rigger before my next jump to try and figure out what the heck is causing the snivel. (Happened on all three jumps Sat, with this last one being the longest.) Ideas welcome.
PS: To my friends and non-skydivers: This post should in no way turn people off to skydiving, or make people think that it's an unsafe sport. It's not. Quite the opposite, the training, the people in the sport, and the self-regulation we impose on ourselves makes it one of the safest "extreme" things you can do with your time, and the benefits and rewards I've received, mentally, emotionally, and physically, have never come close to being matched by anything else out there. Want to make your first jump? Start here.
Peter Shankman is usually not complacent or indecisive. When he's not skydiving, he's a two time bestselling author and corporate keynote speaker on customer service and the customer economy, and leads a wonderful mastermind community of hundreds of entrepreneurs from all around the world. This post was cross-posted at Peter's digital home, Shankman.com. Thanks for reading, comments welcome and encouraged, either below, or to me on Twitter or Facebook.
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