Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who packed your parachute today?

Charlie Plumb was the guest speaker that closed out Quest Software’s 2008 sales kickoff event in Las Vegas today. While it is impossible for me to do justice to Charlie’s story, his words of wisdom or his teachings I’ve tried to write down a few of the things that resonated with me. When you have a moment, visit Charlie’s website at http://www.charlieplumb.com/ and watch the video clips of his talk.

On May 19, 1967 Captain Charlie Plumb took off from the USS Kitty Hawk in the Sea of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam and was shot down over enemy territory just five days before he was due to go home. He parachuted to the waist-deep safety of a rice paddy whereupon he was captured, stripped, tortured and paraded around the local villages before being thrown in communist prison camps where he spent the next 2,103 days as a Prisoner of War.

Charlie started his speech in a nearly pitch black ballroom at the Venetian Hotel with the sound of heavy footsteps slowly hitting the stage. Three steps, pause, turn around, three steps, pause, turn around, three steps – keep repeating. Charlie lived his next 6 years in an 8x8 foot box that took him three steps to cover in each direction. As much as Charlie hated his box and as much as he thought of escape and what he would do if he got out of it he said that the hardest thing for him to do was to start thinking outside of the 8x8 inch box that was inside his head. Weighing 115 pounds, having multiple open wounds, boils all over his body and no one to talk to Charlie had started to pity himself and say “Why me? What did I do to deserve this? I’ll never get out of here. I’m sure the other guys didn’t cry when they were tortured.” It was not his physical ailments which were going to kill him but rather his mental state – his self-limiting beliefs.

He learned all of this when his next door cellmate started communicating with him via a piece of wire that he stuck through a hole between their cells. Imagine your only communication is the coded scratching of a piece of wire on the floor. As Charlie said: “And you think e-mail can be hard to get your message across!”

Through his conversations with his next-door cellmate Charlie quickly realized that he had a choice to make: Whether he wanted to live or to die and if he wanted to live he had to start thinking outside of his 8x8 inch box. Charlie realized that he had to get outside of his comfort zone and start taking risks. Charlie chose to be a winner.

I closed my eyes while Captain Plumb was talking and I heard words and phrases that transported me directly to seminars that I have taken over the last few years: “Service, leadership, out-of-the-box, risk, fear” – And then I had one of those moments where I realized that there were no seminars for Charlie. He figured this out all on his own in order to live. I know that the next time I attend a seminar I will have a flashback to Charlie’s talk – to my seminar with Charlie as my facilitator.

There are no accidents. Today my life intersected with Charlie’s and my life is better for it. Charlie packed a parachute for me today. Thank you, Charlie Plumb.

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