What Skydiving Taught Me About Mentorship

June 1, 2017


CEO and Co-Founder of Veterati shares key lessons about mentorship, learned from skydiving experiences.

I had an epiphany about mentorship after throwing myself out of a plane (solo) at 13,000 feet on my 7th skydive in 3 days.

To learn how to skydive solo, you take the Accelerated Free Fall course. It’s 4-5 hours of coaching, plus 7 levels and takes about a week. You can pass it in 7 dives, but most people fail levels and have to do it again.

I didn’t want to fail so for 3 days, the only thing on my mind was “Arms bent, legs extended, chin up, arch, stay calm, stay relaxed, check altimeter” and so on repeat, going up in the planes and flying/parachuting down. It seems simple, but it’s not at all. Every nuanced change in elbow direction, legs angled just too much in, not enough arch in the lower back equates to instability in the air. Combine that with the adrenaline and sheer fear of diving off a plane…it takes a lot of mental and physical focus to pass each of the 7 levels, especially with just 1-2 minutes of practice in the air flying for each dive.

Learning to skydive was utterly humbling. This was what I loved most about it. In the world of skydiving, the things I'm good at don't matter. Tech, entrepreneurship, strategy, branding…my skydiving instructors didn't care about my expertise in any of these. What mattered was that I listened to every instruction they gave and practiced it over and over again so I didn’t kill myself jumping out of a plane. Knowing you’re a (bottom-percentile) amateur and still choosing to complete the task when you know you’re way better at other things is surprisingly freeing— it’s a complete concession of control.

Skydiving made me realize how easy it is to live in a comfortable world where you’ve spent years honing your skills to be the best at what you are. Being master of your arena is easy. Picking up parallel skills where you’re still the best-in-class is also easy. When you enter someone else’s arena, where you don’t have the skills, and you suck compared to others, and you seek their expertise with total humility— that’s where you see real growth. And that’s what I learned about mentorship from skydiving. My skydiving instructor had 8000 dives under his belt. His students were brain surgeons and billionaires alike. But when they entered his arena, it didn’t matter how smart or how rich they were. They were there to learn to skydive, and he was the very best teacher at it.

Utter, total humility is one of the most powerful tools a mentee can wield. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your accomplishments are. To attain new frontiers, break free of your comfort zone and what you know you’re great at. So next time you work with your coach/mentor/teacher, approach with total humility to absorb their mastery within their world. It’s the ultimate growth mindset.