I watched the documentary Man On Wire, the 2009 Oscar winner about Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk between the World Trade Center buildings in 1974.
I took a lot away from the film, but the most notable thing to me was how much preparation went into planning it. It took six years from the time Petit got the original idea in his head to the time he actually attempted it. Included in that time were at least four visits to New York City.
His team was comprised of an inner circle of friends from France who’d been working with him for years including his girlfriend at the time and his childhood friend; coupled with people they picked up in the US before they tried the feat.
You get the idea by watching it that so many things would, could and did go wrong that any false move in one other direction could’ve caused the whole thing to go bust. Yet, not only did they figure it out, they managed to pull the whole thing off.
So much of the conversation these days — especially amongst the social web — is centered around pursuing your dreams and believing in yourself. That might be one component of it, but another component is staring down failure in the face and challenging it. Petit and his crew knew that the best case scenario in their escapade of a lifetime was being arrested.
Given the alternative was the loss of a friend and the failure of a feat that would never be attempted again, they were all complicit in something that ended up being much, much bigger than themselves. There is no way Petit could’ve performed this task had he not confronted failure, because it was a very real possibility. (One he admits a lot in the film, incidentally.)
“The merest attempt at estimating, the slightest unconscious recording is shrugged off as an absurd association with some never-to-be-realized dream…as an exercise in futility…
I manage to whisper my first thought: “I know it’s impossible. But I know I’ll do it.”
At that instant, the towers become “my towers.”
Once on the street, a new thought: Impossible, yes, so let’s get to work.”