Yesterday I had the opportunity to take Peter Thomas’ Life Pilot class with a room full of people from around the US and Canada. At my age, it’s not easy to help me improve my life, because I’ve already learned so much by sheer trial and error. But Life Pilot was an eye-opening and mind-bending experience for me.
Peter said he hoped we would have an epiphany, and I did. More than one.
Amidst four hours of personal anecdotes and accumulated wisdom that he shared were a couple of stories I will never forget. In one story, Peter was going sky diving for the first time. A friend and he had decided they were going to do it as a “life experience.”
A man who prides himself on being fearless, Peter went up in the plane with the parachute on his back, and prepared for the dive. But he’s uncomfortable with heights, so once he got out on the wing, he continued to hang on to the plane out of fear. In fact, he said, his fingers were gripping so hard he was making ridges in the plane’s sheathing. He was determined to hang on to that plane until it landed again rather than jump.
The pilot said to him, “let go.” Peter didn’t think it was time to let go. After the pilot told him to let go a couple more times and Peter didn’t, the pilot realized that Peter was actually paralyzed by fear. So he let a silence fall, and all of a sudden barked in a loud and strident voice: LET GO!
Peter was so startled by the volume and intensity that he finally let go. Once in free fall, his chute opened up and he was having fun pulling on one side of the parachute and then the other, changing the direction of the glide.
But then the ground started to look pretty close, and Peter realized he wasn’t where he was supposed to be–back at the jump site. Somehow, while having fun, he had “wandered” off the path. He came down nearly waist deep in a pile of pig manure on a nearby farm. He got up, extracted himself from the pig poop, and started walking. A while later, he finally rejoined the others at the jump site.
That made me remember that Peter’s an entrepreneur, and entrepreneurs are used to taking risks, and landing where they didn’t expect to end up. But the value, for him, wasn’t in where he landed, but in taking the journey.
I can’t tell you how much all these shared stories– the transparency with which Peter Thomas shares his life, his successes, and even his failures (he lost all his money a couple of times and made it back, and even lost a son)– meant to the people in the room. He’s a singular man, and his own willingness to take risk and admit failure gives him a charisma you rarely see outside the rarified world of SIlicon Valley twenty-somethings who haven’t learned yet. When these people get to Peter’s age, will they be willing to give back the way he does? I hope so.
My epiphany? You take off and if you don’t land where you thought you would, you brush off the pig poop and walk back to where you started, proud of the journey.
- At age 73, Peter Thomas starts up another company (bizjournals.com)