Long before the Wright brothers changed the world, the hot air balloon made it possible for humans to become airborne. Birthed in 1793, hot air balloons are primarily a tourist attraction today.
But are they also a parable for modern life?
The hot air balloon consists of two main components. The ‘envelope’ is the nylon bag that captures heated air, which allows the balloon to take flight. The ‘wicker basket’ is the carrier that holds liquid nitrogen, which creates the heated air that feeds the envelope. The wicker basket also carries people.
The ‘envelope’ is what gives the balloon its distinctive personality. It is the peacock’s feathers and the dancer’s sequins. It is a bold color that can be spotted from miles away. It needs to constantly be pumped with hot air to keep it afloat. But once afloat, it can scale formidable heights. It can rule the afternoon sky.
Some people are like the envelope. They are bombastic and vibrant and they fill the room. Their fundamental purpose is to be visible. The adulation they receive is what fuels them to take flight. And once they hit the right gust, they soar on its back to great heights. But take the hot air away and they deflate. They become a misshapen sheet of nylon that cannot hold itself up.
The ‘wicker basket’ always rides underneath the envelope. Although nondescript in appearance, it needs to be built with precision to allow it to support people’s weight. Its structure is solid and its foundation sturdy. It is built for function, not fashion. It has a very important responsibility — keeps its passengers safe, directs the envelope, and carry the fuel for the journey.
Some people are like the wicker basket. They may not stand out in a room but they are always in the background keeping you safe. They don’t crave the limelight but their sage advice lets others skyrocket. And even on the ground floor, they stay true to who they are, unwavering in their identity, staunchly comfortable in their being.
So who are you — The ‘envelope’ or the ‘wicker basket’?
A successful flight requires both.
Your co-worker with his silver tongue, designer shoes, and ability to sweet-talk the staidest executive is the envelope. Without him championing your project, it may not get the attention and resources it deserves.
Your co-worker who uncomplainingly leads from behind while taking on the extra work no one else wants to do is the wicker basket. Without her silent competence, there may not be a project to speak of.
Although the envelope and the wicker basket are quite different, they work in harmony together. They complement each other’s strengths to create a whole larger than the sum of its parts.
So don’t try to decide whether you are the envelope or the wicker basket. Learn to be both. Identify which way you lean, then focus on the other side to achieve balance. And continue to soar to new elevations.