Monday, December 21, 2015

The Vices: Fear (or Too Much of It)

ASTRONAUT: Sen. John Glenn (first American to orbit Earth)
“Fear connotes something that interferes with what you’re doing. Is there apprehension? Of course. You’d be numb if you didn’t have that. People ask, ‘What do you think about when you’re afraid, when you’re just ready to launch?’ The standard answer in the astronaut corps is, ‘How do you think you’d feel if you knew you were on top of two million parts built by the lowest bidder on a government contract?’”

SURVIVALIST: Bear Grylls (television adventurer)
“The Christian faith is a real source of strength in my life. Every day I start on my knees with a prayer. Another is what my late dad used to say: ‘Get over your fears by living through them.’ And that’s something I’ve held on to. Whenever I find things difficult, I think about my dad and just do it.”

FIGHTER PILOT: Chuck Yeager (first to break the sound barrier)
“I really didn’t have apprehension because it doesn’t do a damn bit of good. It’s like religious people say: ‘When you get into trouble in an airplane, don’t you pray?’ No, God can’t help me. I’ve got to help myself. And that’s basically the way you look at it. You can get yourself into a position where it’s impossible to get out. Well, obviously you’re going to die then. If you die, you don’t know anything about it anyway.”

DAREDEVIL: Nik Wallenda (tightrope walker)
“I try not to allow it to get too much into my mind. I’m off to the edge of a building, look down 200 feet and go, ‘wow that’s dangerous, you better back up.’ I call that respect. But to be fearful is debilitating. It’s when you can’t go to the edge of a building. I say, ‘yes it’s dangerous, but look, you trained and prepared for this so you’ll be fine.’”

DIVER: James Cameron (film director who soloed a submersible to 35,000 feet down in Mariana Trench)
“It’s a question of how you manage risk. I engineer against it by a lot of rigorous testing. Beyond that, if something happens outside your ability – say, you implode – you don’t worry about it. There is nothing you can do. In The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s characters say, ‘Please God, don’t let me screw up.’ You are much more concerned about screwing up than dying. That is healthy and what allows you to succeed in high-risk endeavors.”

PARACHUTIST: Felix Baumgartner (jumped from a balloon at 128,000 feet)
“I think a certain amount of fear is healthy. It means you recognize the hazards, and as long as you can manage fear it keeps you sharp. During the Red Bull Stratos preparations when I began to feel claustrophobic wearing the suit, I worked with a psychologist to help me see the suit as a tool that would keep me alive, rather than focusing on how it limited my range of motion for skydiving.”

OUTDOOR PERFORMER: J. B. Mauney (PBR bull-riding world champion)
“Aw shoot, there are bulls I’d rather not have to get on because I don’t like the way they buck, but as far as being scared – no, I’m not. Most of them really don’t try to hurt you. Usually when you get hurt it’s an accident. If you land under them the wrong way, you get stomped on, but that’s part of riding bulls. You’ve got to be willing to pay the price to do what you love doing.”

MOUNTAINEER: Jim Whittaker (first American to summit Everest)
“People always say, ‘I’d be a climber, too, but I’m afraid of heights.’ I tell them, ‘Okay, go do it, you’d better be afraid of heights. That’s why I’m still alive!’ When I’m guiding and roped up with a client, I want him to be afraid otherwise he might walk off the edge of something and pull me with him. Nature built that into us to keep us alive. When I look out the window in a high building, I still get a queasy feeling. That’s a good thing!”

MOUNTAINEER: Reinhold Messner (first to climb the world’s 14 8,000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen)
“Fear is part of life. Each of us is afraid doing something difficult, something dangerous. I need only courage because I have lots of fear, especially beforehand. When going and doing, fear is disappearing. But when waiting and waiting, fear is growing.”

STAGE PERFORMER: Mikhail Baryshnikov (ballet icon)
“Well, after almost 60 years of performing, I am still afraid of not meeting the expectations of the audience. That’s a very real fear always, but weirdly I almost welcome it. You have to somehow find an internal calmness to take that first step – literally, when performing, and more abstractly when it comes to implementing an idea or vision.”

DAREDEVIL: Steve Trotter (twice plunged over Niagara Falls in a barrel)
“Pray. I’m a big believer in the Christian faith. I prefer to do my stunts on Sundays: ‘I know you have a lot to worry about during the week, Jesus, but can you just watch over me, keep me alive, that day?’ Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to go today.”

MOONWALKER: Buzz Aldrin (second man on the moon)
“There’s always an interest in safety and dealing with something that goes wrong. But for the high-visibility performer, the pilot, his reactions are so important. Not making a mistake is more important than fear of physical danger. A mind concerned about danger is a clouded mind.”

CEO: Elon Musk (founder of Space X and Tesla Motors)
“If I think something is important enough, I’ll make myself do it in spite of fear. But it can really sap the will. I hate fear, I wish I had it less. I almost died of malaria in 2001 so I’ve been in physical danger before. The funny thing is I’ve not been that nervous. Actually company death – not succeeding with the company – causes me more stress than physical danger.”

DIVER: Don Walsh (first to take a submersible down to 35,000 feet in Mariana Trench)
“Depth really is irrelevant unless you’re a scuba diver and have to worry about decompression. You can drown in a bathtub. In enclosed environments like submersibles, you have to be a person who doesn’t have claustrophobic feelings and understand what you’re doing. There is risk in all of it. What you work on is the skill-luck ratio and hope that skill is more than 50%.”

RACECAR DRIVER: Dan Wheldon (2-time Indianapolis 500 champ killed in a crash)
“Honestly, with everything that’s gone on in my life, I feel when your number’s up, it’s up. You can’t worry about that stuff. You’ve got to live like it’s your last day.”

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