Breaking out requires something different

My bare toes hung anxiously over the narrow platform 30 feet above the Earth. There was a net, but my knees were still shaking, my breath short as I tried not to look down. “Focus on the Santa Monica horizon,” I thought. “It’ll distract you from this lunacy.”

How did I get here, to this trapeze platform a world away from a chilly Pittsburgh morning?

The little company I’d helped refound in my 20s had doubled in size every 15 months for a decade. It wasn’t little any longer, and maintaining that pace meant staying limber, quick to adapt and agile.

Still, there was another peak to climb. Could we help millions of patients on their path to healing? Could we assemble a highly engaged team to create a billion-dollar company with heart? It would require PE investors, lots of acquisitions, recap and a productive board. It would require more than agility; it would require something acrobatic.

I guess that’s how I’d come to this this trapeze platform with my co-founder, Chris. I wanted an experience to illustrate the risks we’d have to take (even if I was afraid and still figuring it out myself). That’s because in every successful business, agility may help you get to the party, but to break out, we need to try something different.

We’d entered the chain link fence to the Trapeze school of Los Angeles (TSNYLA), filled out the waivers and sat through a short class. “Rule one,” the instructor said, “sounds simpler than it is. Don’t crack your head on the platform when dismounting. If you listen closely to our instruction and move when we tell you to, you won’t need to use the ambulance today.”

The objective: Jump from the platform, bar in hand and complete a full swing outward. On the return trip, complete a knee hang, dangle upside down for the next rotation, dismount and fly through the air into the instructors’ hands. Complete one final rotation while holding your partner’s hands, then perform the coolest dismount you can into the net below — twists, flips, etc. — for style points. In just three hours.

The first time I charged up the ladder, I imagined I could wrap this up in the next hour or so and enjoy fish tacos by the beach with a killer story. Then I noticed the wobble in the ladder and remembered the waiver. And I noticed the surprising lack of paramedics nearby. Why were tourists staring at us? This was going to take a lot more than agility. It was going to take repetitions of focus while facing a (public) fear of failure.

We learned the basics of hopping off the platform, and we experienced the force of swinging out over the net and then back. After several attempts of simply trying to muscle my legs up to hook my knees, I realized that it would be nearly impossible unless I timed it right. Brute force wasn’t an option here. Momentum would be key. So, I had to master the timing.

It took me a while to get the hang of the movements, but Chris was a natural. He was swinging with ease, flying through the air, starting to experiment with twists and flips. His success kept pushing me, helped get me up the ladder more quickly and take another swing. He pushed me to be better, like a good partner should.

I landed it on my final try, albeit with a little blood on my face from many wipeouts in the net.

It wasn’t pretty, but it felt magnificent. ●

Patrick Colletti is the Co-founder of Net Health

Patrick Colletti

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