“Sometimes you have to be up really high to see how small you are. I’m going over.”

In air sports, there are two words we hate to hear: ‘fear’ and ‘failure’. Felix Baumgartner just taught us some lessons about both of these words — but maybe not the lessons you’d think.

Fear

“Fear has become a friend of mine,” Baumgartner has said. “It’s what prevents me from stepping too far over the line.”

In other words, fear is what separates a committed enthusiast from an idiot. The Latin word for fear is ‘timor’ — which can also be translated as ‘awe’ and is closely related to ‘respect’.

Air sports can be truly awe inspiring. Fear is what keeps us on the right side of the edge between smart and stupid, so we can actually live to experience that awe.

So, ‘fear’ might have four letters, but it shouldn’t be a dirty word to anyone involved in air sports — regardless of whether they’re participating in a skydiving world record attempt or skimming the tree tops in an ultralight.

Failure

Obviously, Baumgartner didn’t fail, so why even think about it? Simple. Because he and his crew set a great example that we would all be wise to follow.

They exercised discipline in green-lighting the mission only when conditions were right for their equipment. They respected Mother Nature. They respected Murphy’s Law. They showed us that preventing failure takes preparation, attention to detail, and the wisdom and humility to know when to say ‘no’.

The possibility of a failure demands that we recognize and respect the risks inherent in our activity, that we prepare our gear and our aircraft conscientiously, and that we recognize that true success can come only when we confront and address the potential for failure in advance of each jump or launch.

Bottom Line

We’ll probably always hate hearing the words ‘fear’ and ‘failure’, but that’s OK as long as they make us remember ‘awe’, ‘respect’, and ‘preparation’.