Find your phoenix
… when The bird of wonder dies, the maiden phoenix,~ William Shakespeare
Her ashes new create another heir
As great in admiration as herself;
When I visited Florida for the first time, it wasn’t to visit Disney or Universal, or any of the other large entertainment centres. We were visiting family and spent most of our time visiting the beach and other local attractions just north of the Tampa Bay area in a lovely place called Crystal River.
During that visit, we were able to fulfil a dream I’d had for many years: that of visiting the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex at Cape Canaveral. It was awesome to see the full-size replicas of the rockets I saw taking the early pioneers into space, and I remember a particularly remarkable and memorable feature was to visit a replica of the Control Room at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
It brought back vivid memories of the times I had sat watching the screen in the ‘60s, mesmerised to see various Apollo programs take successive crews of American Astronauts into space, and ultimately to land Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon on the Apollo 11 mission in July 1969, when I was just 10 years old.
“With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”~ Gene Kranz
In April of the following year, the Apollo 13 mission had a catastrophic equipment failure which meant that the lunar landing had to be aborted two days into the mission, necessitating a new plan to be conjured up by the mission controllers to bring the crew home alive. There is a memorable quote where the NASA Director says: “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.”, whereupon the Mission Commander, Gene Kranz, steps up to the moment and proudly states: “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”
There is a particular part during the film where there is a whole series of equipment failures being reported in quick succession when Gene Kranz said (and please forgive the grammar): “Let’s work the problem people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing can we review our status here. Let’s look at this thing from the from a standpoint of status. What do we got (sic) on the spacecraft that’s good.”
“Let’s work the problem people … What do we got on the spacecraft that’s good.”~ Gene Kranz
That’s the moment when the phoenix rose from the ashes of what might have been the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.
In ancient Greek mythology, a phoenix is a vibrantly colourful bird sometimes depicted with red legs and striking yellow or blue eyes. It is said to be a similar size to an eagle and is a familiar feature across Europe in those crests they used in heraldry. Apparently a phoenix is a legendary bird that dies every 500 years in a show of flames and then obtains new life by rising from the embers of its predecessor.
I began my career working for a large international manufacturing company, and I had settled in a career path that was taking me rapidly up the career ladder. I had seniority, I had the opportunity to travel and become fluent in a foreign language, and I got to meet all sorts of fascinating and talented people. Although I was really enjoying the work I noticed that it was taking me away from my engineering roots and I felt that I wanted to move back into the career path I had initially chosen.
My move to a new company seemed at first like a great step forward, however it turned out not to be so engaging and I soon felt that I had left a really promising career for an absolute disaster. I went to an employment agency for help, and then after pursuing what I thought was a fantastic opportunity and failing at the last hurdle to come second, I was left really quite despondent.
However, they then put me in touch with another firm for a job that seemed a much better fit. As it turned out, I was interviewed for that job and then offered a more senior position, and I stayed there happily for the next 12 years!
We could look at our current circumstances and see an absolute disaster, an “equipment failure” happening in the current pandemic. It wasn’t my fault this happened, everything I had planned for and trained for has just become unattainable, there are all sorts of life support systems failing, I can’t support my family and I don’t even know how I will ever get my life back on track.
Perhaps it seems like our intended mission has been aborted and that we are facing the worst disaster we’ve ever experienced. However, maybe, now is also the time for our finest hour, if we can find a way out of this season and rise, renewed, like a phoenix from the remains left from the embers of our predecessor.
I don’t care about what anything was DESIGNED to do, I care about what it CAN do … At this moment, I want you all to forget the flight plan. From this moment on, we are improvising a new mission: How do we get our people home?~ Gene Kranz
What could our new mission look like? Maybe, as we emerge from this pandemic, we need to rise, just like the phoenix did. Maybe that initially looks like trying to get a square peg into a round hole, however, if we can forget “what anything was DESIGNED to do”, and explore what “it CAN do”. Maybe it looks like something we’ve wanted to have a go at, yet we’ve not yet had the courage or opportunity to give it a go.
Maybe we can find that Phoenix.
About Roger Fairhead
Roger is a leadership specialist delivering Leadership for Business Achievement through Speaking, Training and Coaching to business leaders and entrepreneurs.
“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.
Leadership for Business also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.