The crazy thing, is the thing you need to do
[Transcribed and edited from video]
This is a crazy experiment.
I’m going to tell you a story that I have not really told very many times before and I don’t know how this was going to turn out. So sit tight.
In 1992, December 30th, 1992, I was sitting in Guelph General Hospital, holding my daughter, who would’ve been born hours previously. Sitting there holding her in the hospital, I had an epiphany.
My wife and I had been through an emotional roller coaster the previous several years. I was a frustrated engineer who had been laid off from one job (rightly so, because I hadn’t been performing very well and they were right to let me go. It was the kick in the pants that I needed) and I was doing another job, which I was not enjoying. And I sort of realized, I had simply not so much jumped from the frying pan to the fire, but I had jumped from a frying pan into another frying pan. At the very least.
And I was holding my second born, if I’m rigorously honest. Our first little girl, we lost. Had to bury her, and we were still grieving really. Although it was, it was a mixture of joy and grief cause we had lost one. And if you’ve ever had to bury your own child with your own hands, take it from me. (You don’t, if you’ve done it, you don’t have to take it from me.) You’re never the same again. And you begin to question what life is about. Why are you here? What keeps you going? I’ll tell that story about that first little girl another time, maybe. I won’t go into it right now. It’s, um, it’s not easy for me to talk about, but suffice to say, a year and a half later, we were blessed with another one. So here I was happily married, rejoicing over one daughter, grieving over the one we lost, frustrated in work and I’m holding this little girl thinking to myself:
If I’m going to do anything crazy, I better get on with it.
A few weeks before I’d been sitting, one Sunday evening in a house full of friends and talking with a chap named Blair Steinbach. And I’ve only recently gotten in touch with him again, I haven’t seen or heard from him for three decades. I think he was in the process of becoming a life coach.
I was expressing my frustrations with work and whatnot, and he looked at me and said,
Dude (these words stuck in my memory) Dude, cream rises to the top. If you’re not rising to the top, you’re not in the right environment.
And he had me pegged.
I went home, and as you can tell, I’ve never forgotten that conversation. I was holding, holding my baby girl thinking, If I’m going to do anything crazy like change career, I better get on with it fast.
I had been fascinated with flying machines . . . . I should back up maybe a little bit. I was doing a combination of environmental/chemical engineering at the time. Chemistry is the one science that I’ve never had a whole lot of use for. So how I found my way into it, I don’t understand, but never mind.
I had been fascinated with flying machines ever since I was three years old and my grandparents used to take me to the airport when I was three or four. They would come visiting and take us kids a way, I guess to spare my parents from the pain of having small kids around the house. So they’d take me off to the airport and I was actually transfixed by these flying machines. I always had been and I was desperately curious as to what made them tick. How do those things work? The sound of the engine spooling up on an aircraft were to most people, terrible. But to me, it was music and I wanted to know how they worked, how to make them, how to design them.
So I decided on December 30th night in 1992 that I was going to have to grab the bull by the horns and do something crazy. Much as I’m doing something crazy talking to you right now. I started to apply to jobs even though I’d only just started another job. I started to apply to some to aerospace companies and got absolutely nowhere. Nobody was the slightest bit interested in me.
My resume didn’t have a whole lot on it, so I can’t really blame them that much and I realized that I was going to have to do something even crazier than I’d been thinking. I was going to have to go back to school. I’d been out of school already for five years and I was going to have to go back and do some more training.
Long story short, I started applying to schools in Canada, which is where we were living. Got absolutely nowhere. Nobody was the slightest bit interested to either take me on as a student or as an employee. So I decided that I would try one other university that was in the UK.
I’m British by birth. Yeah. The accent is not very convincing. But I am actually a Londoner by birth, and I applied to this one place, Cranfield university. And in the back of my head, as I did so, I had this . . . . .
It’s really funny. Sometimes your mind can tell you things, and you realize that though there’s nothing logical behind them, there’s truth in them. And all, as I was going through this application process and the thought running through the back of my head was, This is so crazy, it might just work.
Well, it did. I got in.
And just as we were about to sell up . . .. I’ve been very, very fortunate in life. I’ve married a marvelous woman who backed me to the hilt. She said, Go, okay, chase your dream. Let’s go.
Started the process of selling up and . . . . . my wife gets pregnant again. Bang. Oh, last thing we needed.
Well, we ended up going anyway.
There is nothing . . . . how do I put this?
The worst feeling I think I’ve ever had in my life was kissing my wife goodbye and my four year old girl, at Pearson airport, Toronto Terminal 3, getting on a plane, sitting in the back row of the British Airway 747, going off to the UK. I wouldn’t see them for six weeks. I would miss the delivery of my second girl.
That’s still bugs me. If I have a regret, that’s it. I deliberately planned to miss the delivery of my girl.
Be that as it may, it all paid off in the end. We moved to the UK, I went there six weeks ahead. I met my wife and by then two daughters at Heathrow airport about six weeks later. And I did the crazy thing and I spent a year learning how to design aircraft.
At the end of that, the only place I could find work, I still couldn’t find work anywhere except for one place. Then that was then British Aerospace. It was known as British Aerospace Airbus, now it’s just plain Airbus and that’s where I spent the next 10 years.
And I, for the first time in my life, was doing work that I instinctively understood. Like, I got it. And I got very good at what I did.
And that was the first crazy thing that I think I’ve ever done.
Did it pay off? Yeah. It did. I got to help design the wing of the biggest airliner currently in flight. The A380, it was. It was both fascinating and the job from hell. Closest I’ve ever come to burnout.
But when the plane finally flew, the first flight . . . I wasn’t actually at the side of the runway for the first flight, but I was able to see it live and that when I saw that thing fly for the first time, knowing what I had done for it, it was like:
Yes. I did that.
That plane is a better plane because of me. That made a difference.
That’s where the first crazy thing that I ever tried, that’s when I realized it had been worth it.
Did it pay off?
As soon as it flew, I realized that the dream I had long had . . . .
I used to watch these videos or these programs about aircraft flying, the Lockheed Blackbird, the Avro Arrow, you know, how old these old guys who seem to have a sixth sense about how to design an aircraft would seem to work miracles. And the chief engineer was second only to God as far as I could see. And then that was, you know, what I wanted to do was to be something like that that. That was the ultimate dream. I got reasonably close to doing that. I was never a chief engineer, but by the time I watched that A380 fly for the first time, knowing that I had made a big difference in that plane, all of a sudden. I realize two things.
One, I’d done what I wanted. The crazy thing I’d done had paid off.
And the second thing was the dream of being a glorified chief engineer. Suddenly it wasn’t all that amazing anymore, because I had met and worked with an amazing bunch of people and I learned that people are as important . . . . that they’re more important than aircraft. And ever since, my dream of being the famous chief engineer who puts a new airplane into the air wasn’t quite all it was cracked up to be, but life was somehow better because I nevertheless had done something crazy, sold up, gone to another country, worked there and put another aircraft in the air . . . . that had paid off, and that made all the difference in the world.
And that’s why I’m recording this now, effectively to tell you that the crazy thing, the thing that’s too crazy too to contemplate . . . . that is probably the thing you need to do.
The crazier it is, the better it is. I have an uncle (had an uncle, he passed away a year ago), who was a very, very successful architect and developer. He told me once that whenever he was putting together designs for a new project that was being proposed, he would typically put three designs together. One that was extremely conservative, another one that was probably about as conservative but different.
Then than he would do a third, which was completely off the wall. He simply let his imagination go wild. And he said, inevitably, the one design of the three that the client would go for, was the one where he let his imagination go wild. And he said, you know, when he decided he wasn’t going to hold anything back . . . . that is what I did.
I did the crazy thing and I’ve, well, done several crazy things since actually. I’ll tell those in different videos, but just would like to suggest that that is what you need to do.
It was the first time I asked a question of myself: Am I capable of something more than I have ever given myself credit for?
And I found that the answer was YES.
And the whole process of questioning, asking questions of myself and of the people around me, and of the world around me . . . that’s what makes me tick, and that’s what should make you tick.
‘Nuff said for now. Stay tuned.