I was strapped into the back right seat of a helicopter fuselage which was dangling from a giant crane over a deep-water pool.
My heart raced 172 beats per minute as I waited for the whole thing to be plunged into the water and flipped upside down. From there, I would try to escape.
The leader of the mission looked at me and the three other trainees.
“Ready?” he asked, pointing at each of us one by one and waiting for our replies.
The answers came back,
We looked at each other, trying to convey as much reassurance as we could muster, being scared ourselves.
The leader gave the “go” command.
The fuselage dropped and began to fill with water. As the level reached my chin, I took the biggest breath I could, and then I was underwater.
The helicopter jolted and rolled. I was boxed in, restrained, upside down, and the clock was ticking.
I ran through the egress procedure I’d just learned.
“Wait for aircraft to settle.
Calmly count to four.
Place right elbow on corner of window.
Push with might to force it out.
Grip windowsill continuously to keep bearings on exit path.
Use left hand to rotate harness buckle and cast away with force.
Roll onto back and swim through window opening.
Slow is fast.”
I found myself in this scenario similar to one I’ve had nightmares about because I was doing a leadership program at NASA in Houston, Texas. For several days, a group of us went through the same training that astronauts do. Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) was one of those exercises.
Given that this was a highly organized program run by elite facilitators, I was in no real danger. There were SCUBA divers supporting us from below the surface, personnel monitoring from above, and a trainer in the helicopter to help us if anything went wrong.
But even though I knew, intellectually, that I would be safe, I was still scared out of my mind. In fact, I almost sat out of the exercise.
After a sleepless night of debating, I decided to do it. And now I was submerged upside down in a three-point harness inside a helicopter.
I was out! When my head popped up into the cold, breezy air, I felt exhilarated. I looked around and saw my teammates’ helmets come up almost immediately afterward. We were all grinning while we swam together and high-fived.
Elation and confidence surged through me as I felt proud that I’d pushed my comfort zone (and lived).
That brief, adrenaline-packed experience made a big impression.
- I think about how being with others makes challenges easier and more rewarding.
- I reflect on how I sometimes feel alone, forgetting that help is actually really close by.
- I remember how thrilling it is to challenge myself to expand my comfort zone.
- And I think about the words the instructor repeated emphatically during the training, “Slow is Fast.”
So many times, I mistakenly feel like I have to hurry. I make decisions with a sense of urgency. I worry I am losing time if I am not moving forward.
But we learned in our HUET briefing that being calmer, slower, and more deliberate saves time in the end. It prevented us from getting tangled in our harnesses, from forgetting to grip the windows and therefore floating away from our exit points, and from wasting time and air with ineffective movements.
As you reflect on your own life, are there areas where patience and deliberate decision-making could lead to more efficient and meaningful outcomes?
Are there moments when you could slow down to move faster in the long run?
Thank you for joining me on this adventure of self-discovery, and I look forward to our continued exploration.