How to Prepare for Take-Off (Even When You Don’t Feel Ready)

A few weeks ago, I arose before dawn to take in a spectacle – an annual hot-air balloon festival one town over. Among the activities was a balloon launch at sunrise.

I am not your typical hot air balloon “enthusiast.” Given my intense fear of heights, I cannot fathom stepping into a wicker basket and floating high above solid ground… you know, in a wicker basket.

Nope. Not for me.

But it seemed a cool sight to see and since I’m all about new experiences, I decided to go just for a look, not a ride. My husband and daughter and I set our alarm clocks for 5 am and packed a picnic blanket, some pastries and a thermos of coffee.

We arrived early, over-prepared, for what I had dubbed Balloons & Brunch but what should have been called “Leave the Blanket at Home, this Ain’t No Picnic.”

It became clear as the grounds filled up that everyone else was standing and milling about. And that lying on a blanket meant that not only could we not see, we were also likely to get stepped on.

Sometimes the best laid plans like a picnic blanket and pastries just need to be folded up and scarfed down. Which is what we did. Then we strolled around.

More than 15 balloons launched that morning. We wondered how they would all have room to inflate, given their close proximity. We wondered if the size of the balloons and of the crowd would impact the launch. We worried something would go awry or that a balloon would come unexpectedly crashing to the ground.

(Or maybe only I wondered that – nervous Nelly that I am – often catastrophizing situations that are unlikely to occur. I’m working on that…)

It turns out there was no need to wonder or worry at all. These hot air balloon experts were indeed that — experts.

To my eye, the space to inflate seemed insufficient, but one after the next the balloons came to life, side by side.

Each balloon crew knew precisely the steps they’d need for launch and followed them meticulously, undistracted by the on-lookers and the requests for rides and the many cellphones in their faces capturing the action.

One by one, the balloons launched into the brightening sky and we, along with hundreds of others, turned our awed gaze upwards.

And the launch wasn’t the only thing these teams had prepared for.

We discovered each balloon was followed by a “chase” vehicle on the ground that followed the balloon to a pre-determined safe landing where it would be deflated and packed up into the vehicle or transport truck, on to delight elsewhere.

The morning provided a splash of color and an unexpected lesson.

How are you preparing for launch?

What are the steps you need to take flight… or take off… or just take that next step in your career or life journey?

Are you ready to take flight?

As a lifelong storyteller, I see them everywhere and the symbolism to relate these stories to our own lives. It wasn’t hard to find it here as I watched the precision used to launch these giant balloons into the sky.

It involved experience and training and focus and fearlessness… all wrapped up into a moment.

Do you know what you need to do in order to fly?

How are you minimizing distractions that may keep you grounded?

I’ll take it even further…

Who’s on your team?

Who helps you inflate your balloon and who grounds you, staying in the chase vehicle, there to ensure a safe landing?

Who is in your Cast of Supporting Characters?

Have you charted your course? How will you adapt to unexpected headwinds?

What are the steps to get you to where you want to go and light a little color in your own sky?

Step One is determining  what you want. Why it’s important to you.

Step Two is figuring out how you’re going to get it. Small steps lead to big strides. It’s why we Start with a Single Step and then take another one.

Step Three is acknowledging what might get in your way. The more you can identify in advance the roadblocks – or Plot Twists – that can throw you off course, the better you can avoid them.

Step Four is releasing fear and throwing caution to the wind. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is preparing for what’s possible and carrying on despite that fear.

Step Five is believing in yourself and taking flight! We adjust as we go, knowing that we’ve done the preparation and have the skills and tools necessary to succeed.

If someone can put a balloon in the air by lighting a fire beneath it without setting that balloon on fire, you too can do something remarkable.

What was simply a sight to see is now a lesson. Perhaps you find meaning in it too.

It’s an annual event so anyone who would like to join me next year, I’m game to go again.

I’ll bring the coffee.

Valerie Gordon is the founder of Commander-in-She, a career and communications firm helping clients take command of their content and their careers. She offers corporate presentations, conference keynotes and group workshops along with individual coaching and strategizing. Get a glimpse of her workshops here.

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