29 November 2009

What Do You Stand For?

Yesterday I attended a TED talk -- the first of its kind organized by the TED community (http://www.tedxsingapore.com/) in our island nation -- and learned about aerialist Ueli Gegenschatz, expert paraglider, skydiver and base-jumper extraordinaire. The audience was treated to video footage of his jaw-dropping flights in a wingsuit: a high-tech, flying-squirrel-inspired getup that enabled him to soar as close as humanly possible to our shared dream of human flight. (To view his 12-minute TED talk including a clip of his daredevil wingsuited jump, click on http://www.ted.com/talks/ueli_gegenschatz_extreme_wingsuit_jumping.html

In an accompanying clip of an interview with Ueli, he mentioned plans were in motion for his next record-setting endeavour. It was only when the clip ended that we were told Ueli is no longer with us. On 11th November, he had attempted a base jump off the Sunrise Tower in Zurich. A gust of wind hit him, casuign him to lose control of his jump. His parachute failed to deploy in time and he hit the ground almost at full speed, seriously injuring himself. He died in hospital two days later.

We made out worksheets into paper planes this morning; and on the count of three, 200 winged prayers launched across the SMU hall in celebration of the life of a man who dared to dream, stood for something, and pursued it with all the God-given talent he had been blessed with.

Now, some might question the wisdom of this extreme sport and say he brought his end upon himself, pushing his luck too far in pursuit of, what -- an adrenaline rush? Fame? (Certainly not fortune.) A few might quote Einstein: "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."

I think, however, that Ueli lived by the discipline of operating within boundaries he felt he could control. At 11:45 of the TED clip, he was asked if there is anything he would not attempt, and his answer was spontaneous, "Yeah, some people have crazy ideas ...!" Ueli had a finely honed sense of what he was put on this earth for -- and in his own way, he inspired countless others to find and pursue their purpose in life. As Abraham Lincoln said, "It's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years."

How many of us are honing our personal brands with such clarity, consistency and visibility?

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