I’ve always been one to take on adventure. Even if I have no idea where I’m going or how to get there, I prefer to say yes, instead of no, and learn along the way. After all, life is more fun when you say yes!
So when Per Lindström came to Virgin in 1987, wanting us to sponsor his world-record attempt to cross the Atlantic in a hot air balloon, not only did we agree to brand the balloon, I also signed up to be his co-pilot.
As you can see in the trailer for my new documentary, Don’t Look Down - which we screened to an audience in Las Vegas last week - I was a total novice. But that didn’t stop me. As the Virgin Strive Challenge philosophy says: Growth happens when you put yourself outside your comfort zone, and magic happens when you do it with others.
I never stopped to consider that things wouldn’t go to plan on that journey - or the others we took afterwards. Always an optimist, I looked to the adventure, thinking about the new skills I would learn and the fun we would have.
It was far from smooth sailing - or should I say, floating. We got into trouble time and time again, and our balloon ended up crashing into the Irish Sea. But I wouldn’t change a thing. As the saying goes: “Smooth seas never made a skilful sailor.” Life’s greatest life lessons are learned when we are challenged, fall down, and fail. No entrepreneur succeeds in business without experiencing some hardships along the way. I certainly had my fair share.
These adventures taught me some wonderfully insightful lessons that I have since applied to life and business. Namely, that we should: never fear fear, but instead stare it in the face and seek to overcome it; turn challenges into opportunities; and place our trust in others with the skills that we lack. Ballooning made me more optimistic than ever, boosted my resilience and most importantly helped me to see what matters most in life.
When you’re standing on top of a capsule, contemplating a huge drop into the angry and cold sea, your priorities become clear. Having faced almost certain death more than 70 times - that’s a story for later - my life has flashed before my eyes on a number of occasions. I can tell you that in that moment it’s not your money or status that you think of, it’s your family and friends and the little and simple moments that have brought you joy.
Each of my ballooning adventures not only made me more determined to succeed in business, they also made me realise just how lucky I am.