Pushing the envelope — of fear

65 years to the day after Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier, Felix Baumgartner has done it again — this time, without an airplane.

Photo illustration via UK Daily Mail

But for me, the amazing feat isn’t that Baumgartner used just his body to challenge the demon that lives beyond Mach 1; it’s that he challenged the demon that lives inside us all: fear.

During his test jumps, Baumgartner suffered panic attacks. According to an interview with USAToday:

“Unaccustomed to free-falling while confined by a helmet and cumbersome suit, Baumgartner started suffering panic attacks and pulled himself off the project. He overcame his fears with the help of a sports psychologist. ‘It was simple stuff,’ Baumgartner [said]. ‘I’d put on a helmet and tell [the sports psychologist], from one to 10, how panicked I felt. And in the end, no matter what the number was, he told me my pulse rate never changed. So it was all in my head.’ “

We may think we are limited by physics or time or geography. But in the end, what truly limits most of us is fear.

I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of Baumgartner. And I also suspect that, somewhere in California, Chuck Yeager is feeling very proud.


    • Thanks, Mark! And yes, for a few poor people it truly *is* an act of courage just to walk out the front door (or drive a car, or do any of the seemingly mundane things most of us take for granted). Reminds me of a quote I’ve long loved, that’s attributed to Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

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