Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

The other day I was leaving a store equipped with automated doors—the kind that open as you walk toward them, leaving you with no greater job but to keep walking. I was literally millimeters away from smashing my face into the glass when it occurred to me that the automatic doors were not, in fact, working. I put my hand out just in time to open the door that had betrayed me, shaking my head at my complete and total lack of awareness.

This reminded me of the time, nearly 20 years ago, that I went skydiving. It was a “static line” skydive, which has you tethered in such a way that your parachute automatically opens. This way, you don’t have to worry about remembering to open it before plummeting to the earth. Additionally, our helmets were equipped with radios so the nice men on the ground could give us instructions on how to steer ourselves to a safe and gentle landing. Now, before actually going up in the plane, we spent some number of hours training for all the “what if” scenarios, including how to land ourselves safely and gently to the ground without their guidance, in the unlikely event that our helmet radios malfunctioned.

After the training, we went up in the plane. I tell you, I have never known fear like the fear I felt when that plane door opened and it was my time to climb out of the plane and onto the wing. I mean, seriously. How was I not just going to get sucked out into the ether? But that is a story for another day.  This is the story for today:

My parachute opened as expected (thank you, universe). My helmet radio was working (thanks again, universe).   It was a gorgeous sunny day (oh universe. You're so good to me). So, I settled in to enjoy the slow journey back to earth. I breathed deep. I listened to a beautiful silence that I imagine can only be accomplished at such heights. I felt the warm breeze and soaked in the sun.

And then it occurred to me that the earth was not so far away anymore. And then it further occurred to me that I hadn’t heard the nice men on the ground talk in my helmet for awhile. I started to watch a particular cornfield get closer and closer and I thought, “wow, that cornfield sure is getting close,” and then I heard the nice men in my helmet say, “Prepare for a crash landing!” as I tumbled head over foot straight into said cornfield. Nice.

So, what happened?  Those nice men on the ground “lost me in the sun” and by the time they found me again it was too late to guide me safely and gently to the ground. All the while, of course, I had all the tools to land myself – I mean, they spent the whole day training us for just such a scenario - I just didn't use them. I expected them to do it for me.

Total. Lack. Of. Awareness.

Just like the other day and the automatic door. I do believe I know the proper procedures for opening a door; I just didn’t use them when I expected the door to open for me.

How often does this happen? A door smashing our face or a tumble into a cornfield might highlight such moments, but how often do we take a passive approach to our lives – expecting a thing to just happen for us?  I feel like I’m an active participant in my life, but moments like these make me reconsider. What other door am I about to smash into because I’m simply not paying attention?

At The Leadership Program we work with thousands of youth a year, and I’ve been thinking about them, too. I hope that with our training we are broadening not just their leadership abilities but their overall awareness – their ability to be active participants of their own lives.  Because, while there are certainly many things in life that we don’t have control over, there are many things we do – especially if we make a conscious choice to open our own door; steer our own parachute.

How can you be a fully active participant in your life? 

Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.