Lessons From Felix

“It’s kind of an awkward view because you’ve never seen a black sky. And at that moment, you realise you’ve accomplished something really big.” Felix Baumgartner

On October 14th, Felix Baumgartner, a 43 year old Austrian broke the sound barrier and the free-fall record by jumping from a balloon more than 39 kilometers in the sky.

The previous record was set by Joseph Kittinger in 1960, and many people died since, trying to beat that record.

Until now.

What a remarkable story.

It’s as big, if not bigger than the Neil Armstrong moment, or the 4 minute mile.

This is one of those achievements that causes an entire species to think of itself differently.


When we hear about this achievement we think of Baumgartner’s courage.

He must be really fearless, we think.

But let us examine the jump, and the psychology of it, a bit a more closely.

Baumgartner’s fearlessness is not his willingness to jump out of a moving plane. His fearlessness is of much deeper and more significant that that.

Many people jump off high buildings, or bridges when they are suicidal. But we would not call that courageous. (Neither would I call that cowardly, but more on that in a later post.)

Baumgartner is courageous because he committed himself to breaking the world record. He had the audacity to stand out of the herd, to chase a goal that had already killed so many.

He made it his mission and he had the courage to take his mission seriously.

His courage long preceded the jump. This was no foolhardy mission, fuelled by adrenaline and testosterone.


Felix planned meticulously. He assembled a team of engineers, physicists, doctors, scientists, more than 300 and planned the jump for over 5 years.

In the course of his preparation, he developed a deep friendship with Kittinger, drawing inspiration and courage from the man.


What I find most remarkable about the jump, is Baumgartner’s struggle with claustrophobia. Claustrophobia – the fear of closed spaces. Imagine how he felt in the tight pressure suit.

A person who feel claustrophobia will feel anxiety, fear, and terror in a situation like what Baumgartner put himself through.

Now imagine Felix’s will and determination to get to his goal.

He is courageous, precisely because he felt so much fear.

This is what we must admire – a man who transcends fear, not a man who doesn’t feel it at all.

A man who knows no fear at all is not courageous. He is abnormal.

As I said in my previous post, fear is a vital part of normalcy. It is not usual nor is it normal to be rid completely of fear. A person who is incapable of fear will not think about possible setbacks, and therefore would not plan adequately..

Baumgartner felt afraid, but he was so committed to his task, so intent on the mission, and so immersed in the steps of the jump that there was no question of going ahead – fear or no fear.

And that is the basis for courage: When you are committed to a mission, when you are passionate about a cause, that is somehow larger than yourself, you will transcend limiting fears.


So much more can be written about this jump, but for now let’s look at some life lessons from Felix Baumgartner:

1) Do what you love

2) Always seek to improve and be the best in it. Keep pushing yourself.

3) Compete only with yourself. Keep pushing yourself to do more and better

4) Prepare

5) Make friends and learn from them

6) Transcend fear by focusing on the goal, the purpose, and constantly improving your skills

7) Pursue your mission and purpose relentlessly

October 16, 2012 | 10:47 am | By Dr Shyam Bhat
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