Today is April 23 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you exercise rebellion?” Every now and then leveraging your mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality requires you to exercise rebellion. Going against the norm, fighting against a long-held belief, or challenging the status quo are three forms of rebellion most often exercised by those who have navigated the chaos.
True rebels, however, are often misunderstood. Such misunderstanding provides opportunities for society, friends, and even family members to judge rebels and their behavior as reckless, careless, and irresponsible. But if you wish to make possible what others said was impossible you are going to need to exercise rebellion as you navigate the chaos. Frenchman wire-walker Philippe Petit and Polish kayaker Aleksander Doba provide two examples of individuals who exercised rebellion and accomplished what no one else did.
On August 7, 1974, a week before this 25th birthday, Petit exercised rebellion and walked across a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Knowing with one false step he could plummet 1,350 feet to the ground, Philippe walked back and forth eight times, totaling appropriately 45 minutes. Petit worked on his wire walking skill for close to a decade before this Twin Towners attempt. For example, he gained fame for his unauthorized high wire walks between the towers of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1971 and of Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia in 1973.
Commenting on his ability to exercise rebellion as a strategy to navigate the chaos and translate one dream after another into reality, Petit said: "Life should be lived on the edge of life. You have to exercise rebellion: to refuse to tape yourself to rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge - and then you are going to live your life on a tightrope."
The 2008 film Man on Wire told Petit’s story and won the 2009 Academy Award for best documentary. The film chronicles Philippe Petit's 1974 high wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center. It is based on Petit's book, To Reach the Clouds, released in paperback with the title Man on Wire. The title of the film is taken from the police report that led to the arrest (and later release) of Petit, whose performance had lasted for almost one hour.
The film is crafted like a heist film, presenting rare footage of the preparations for the event and still photographs of the walk, alongside re-enactments (with Paul McGill as the young Petit) and present-day interviews with the participants, including Barry Greenhouse, an insurance executive who served as the inside man. Much like Petit, Doba exercised rebellion in his life to navigate the chaos.
At 71 years of age, Polish kayaker Aleksander Doba saw each day as a challenge and completed three solo-trans Atlantic kayak trips. He once kayaked the coast of Norway to the Arctic Circle. Along the way, he was thrown from his kayak in a storm. The rope tethering Doba to the kayak came undone. He passed out. He woke up on shore to the sound of screaming-his own. Doba does not regret this experience. As Elizabeth Weil of The New York Times wrote “What most of us experience as suffering he repurposes as contrarian self-determination, and that gives him an existential thrill.”
In 2010 and again in 2013 he kayaked across the Atlantic Ocean westward under his own power. The two voyages were the longest open-water kayak voyages ever made. He was named 2015 Adventurer of the Year by National Geographic. In 2017 he completed an eastward kayaking trip across the Atlantic. Doba has no interest in dying in his bed. As he said in a March 22, 2018, New York Times article by Elizabeth Weil, “If you are not willing to suffer, you can do nothing. You can sit and die but I do not want to be a little gray man.”
True to his word, Doba died at 74 years of age on February 22, 2021, while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano in Tanzania. According to eyewitness reports he felt well the entire journey but after reaching the top asked for a two-minute break before posing for a photo. He then sat down on a rock and "just fell asleep.” If you think about that for a moment it truly was a beautiful way for Doba to die. Since he ‘did not want to be a little gray man,’ he died doing what he loved and fell asleep after reaching the mountain top.
While the two individuals included in today’s reflection accomplished remarkable physical and mental accomplishments, rest assured your exercise in rebellion need not be too dramatic. As with each Navigate the Chaos post, the stories included merely serve as a reference point and serve as an example that exercising rebellion is yet one of the hundreds of strategies available should you decide to leverage your mind, body, and spirit to navigate the chaos.
How often do you exercise rebellion?
How often are you criticizing others who are exercising rebellion?
Is there someone in your life that could help you exercise rebellion or at least process the thought with you?
Have you ever helped anyone exercise rebellion?
How often do you ‘refuse your own success?’
How often do you ‘see every day, every year, and every idea as a true challenge?’