This is The Story… of a boy with an unusual upbringing who grew into a man who would try anything…
And now… onto The Story
Ricky had one more night with his family before he left.
He couldn’t sleep, so he sat up in bed and looked over at his wife.
In the next two weeks, he was going to try something no one else had done before. If he made any mistake, he could die.
Ricky lived by several mottos. Whenever he was facing a tough decision, he could usually lean on one of his mottos to help him decide. One of those infamous mottos was that he would try anything once. Now he was facing the consequences… he was trying something crazy that would be an adventure. But in order to be a true adventure, there has to be some amount of risk.
He reflected on everything his co-pilot Per had told him. He assured Ricky that the trip was completely safe. There was nothing to worry about. As the two men trained for the mission, they had grown closer, and now the months of preparation would be put to the test.
As Ricky fell asleep, he prayed his co-pilot was right.
The next morning, Ricky stood in front of the airship that would carry them across the Atlantic… in under two days.
Nearby, his wife and daughter put on brave faces for him, but his son burst into tears. The little boy hugged Ricky like it was the last time they’d ever see each other.
He said goodbye to his wife, children, his parents, and a crowd of well-wishers. Finally, he nodded to his co-pilot. It was time to go.
Ricky and Per boarded the airship, fired the burners, counted down from ten, and rocketed into the air.
Soon Ricky’s family and friends were nothing more than tiny specks on the ground below. By 5 pm, they were flying steadily at 30,000 feet. As the sun started to dip lower in the sky, so did their ship.
Per jumped up to check the controls. He nodded to Ricky… no problems. After that, he fired the burners on the airship.
The two men enjoyed the noise of the burner and the thrill of the trip. They were right on course and would arrive on the other side of the Atlantic in 35 hours.
Suddenly, Per looked worried.
“What’s the matter?” Ricky asked.
“There’s a storm ahead,” Per replied. Ricky glanced out their small viewing window at the dark skies and lighting in front of him. They weren’t prepared for this.
“We’ll have to drop below the clouds,” Per said. “It’s going to be a quick drop. You might want to hold on.” Per cut the engines, and within seconds they started falling.
Like the drop from a roller coaster, Ricky felt his stomach drop. Meanwhile, they were racing into the storm-front. A single bolt of lighting or gust from a strong Atlantic storm could destroy their fragile airship.
Darkness fell. In the pitch black, the men felt themselves falling faster and faster.
A look at the altimeter showed they had lost 25,000 feet. Ricky’s ears were popping, he could feel his heart rate quicken, and his fingers were numb.
He closed his eyes and did the math.
They had less than a minute until they hit the ground.
Before they could brace themselves, the base of their airship crashed into something and threw them off their feet. The winds from the storm picked up, and all of a sudden freezing water poured into their cockpit.
This wasn’t the first time that Ricky had felt panic. Forty years before, he was only four years old when he and his mother were driving home. When his mother grew silent and the car slowed, Ricky didn’t know what was going on. She opened his door, helped him outside, and informed him that he was 2 miles away from home and needed to find his way alone. She drove away and left Ricky standing alone. All those times in the car she had told him to pay attention to where they were at… She meant business.
Confused and heartbroken, Ricky got lost and walked for hours before he finally found his way home. The challenge was uncomfortable, yet it created a strong bond between him and his mother, a kind that only comes from tough love.
It was a good thing they loved each other because his mother’s challenges continued. When he was eleven, his mother woke him early one morning and stated: “You are cycling to Bourne today.” Bourne was 50 miles away!
He told her no way.
His mother shot him back a look that said you’ll bike there… or else.
She made him a few sandwiches and stuffed them into a bag with an apple. “What about water?” he asked her. She told him he’d find water along the way and sent him off into the early morning.
He peddled for hours. The day came and went, and night fell. He began to question if he was heading in the right direction.
After a few deep breaths, he reflected on the directions to Bourne. He was 80% sure he’d gone the right way, so he kept pedaling. He breathed a sigh of relief when he finally recognized one of the roads. It led to a relative’s house. He peddled like mad up the road… sure enough, he had remembered correctly. His relatives were home and he had a place to stay for the night.
The next day, he arrived home exhausted, but bristling with pride. He expected a big welcome home celebration from his mother.
Instead, she wasn’t the least bit surprised. Then she ordered him to go the neighbor’s house to help chop wood.
When the family went on vacation, Ricky made a bet with his aunt. She’d made fun of him because he couldn’t swim yet. He bet her that by the end of their vacation, he would swim.
His aunt laughed and accepted. Being laughed at made Ricky determined to prove her wrong. He spent the week floating in the ocean but never finished the bet. Procrastination soon set in, and it wasn’t long before it was the last day of vacation. Before Ricky could get into the pool, his Dad ordered them into the car. His aunt teased him about losing the bet as they got in to leave.
On the ride home, Ricky grabbed a map. They would pass a river while his aunt and uncle were still following them. After convincing his father that he wanted to make good on his bet, they pulled over along the river. Ricky rushed in, almost drown, but managed a few circles. On shore, he coughed up water and his aunt gave him the money they bet.
Ricky learned that he didn’t always have to finish things early. He could do them just in time.
Soon he craved adventure and challenge, and had the will to win. Unfortunately, these abilities aren’t measured and rarely are encouraged in traditional education.
In the classroom, Ricky struggled trying to learn how to read. At that time, anyone who had trouble reading was written off as ‘stupid’. Once teachers placed that label on him, his classmates began doing the same. The torment was unbearable. Sports were the only way that Ricky could compensate, but when he hurt his knee, all bets were off. His classmates and teachers ganged up on him. Not only was he stupid, but he also couldn’t play sports. He was forced to transfer from one school to another.
Finally, a decent boys boarding school accepted him. The boarding school was a nightmare, and he suffered physical abuse at the hands of the older boys. He told his father about it when he was on break, and his father told him to never let it happen again. Ricky fought back and it never happened again.
The only thing about the school that Ricky liked was the Headmaster’s daughter. He managed to get her attention, and one night the two of them scheduled a romantic meet up after lights.
Later, when he was sneaking out, he heard a voice behind him.
It was the school’s Headmaster and he was beyond furious.
This was the last boarding school that would take him in. At only 13 years old he was facing expulsion. Ricky had his back against the wall and a Headmaster who might try to kill him.
The Headmaster called his father and told him to pick Ricky up the next day.
Before his father could start the drive, Ricky sprung into action.
He wrote a letter that made it sound like he was contemplating suicide, and headed for the nearby “lover’s leap”. Then he delivered the letter to a friend who would take it immediately to the Headmaster.
Shaking with laughter, excitement, and fear, Ricky took off towards the bluffs. He was going to have to put on the best acting performance of his life.
He arrived at lovers leap, and soon, the first wave of teachers and students arrived to try to stop him.
Ricky’s performance didn’t disappoint. He talked his way out of it. The Headmaster agreed he could stay, but gave Ricky a severe beating.
Now the socially acceptable paths of good grades, sports, and teachers who could mentor Ricky were gone.
Ricky thought carefully.
He needed to learn how to take care of himself in the real world. From then on, he started to use his skill at talking to make money.
He started to dream up elaborate business ideas. Then he enlisted the help of his childhood friend, Nik, and together they planted over 200 Christmas Tree seeds in a field nearby. The plan was to come back in a few years and sell the mature Christmas Trees for a massive profit. They checked in a few months later to find all their seedlings had been eaten by rabbits.
Feeling robbed and discouraged, Ricky began to develop other business ideas… These ideas wouldn’t be at the mercy of mother nature.
He decided that the magazine he wanted to create was already real. After school, he would get on the payphone and pretend to call home. Only he wasn’t calling home. He was dialing for dollars. Ricky called up every big business he could and asked if they wanted to advertise in his magazine. Nevermind that it didn’t exist yet, he left that detail out.
Ricky talked his way around the problems and sold his first advertisements. When the orders came in, Ricky used the money to actually create Student magazine. It was only a few thousand dollars, but it gave him enough courage to drop out at only 16 years old. On his own, the pressure was on to make money. He continued to run Student and saved money by living in a commune. Next, he started a mail-order company. From there, he developed the habit of jumping into things and figuring it out as he went. He started a small record label, and in 1972 he had earned enough money to build his own recording studio in Oxfordshire.
Ricky still had a hard time reading, but his talking made up for it.
Thirty-five years later, talking wasn’t going to save him, because Ricky had no idea what to do. Their airship… a hot air balloon… had crashed.
If it had been the ground they both would be dead. But as water poured into the top opening of the cockpit, he realized what was happening. They hit the ocean and they were speeding along, bouncing off the surface.
His co-pilot pressed the release button to detach the cockpit from the balloon.
“If we don’t jump out of the balloon now, we’ll be dead,” yelled Per.
Ricky nodded, and they climbed up to the opening to jump.
Their equipment was wrecked, and they had no way to steer, if the balloon caught an updraft, they would fly back up and into the storm. The two men looked at the ocean speeding along underneath them and prepared to jump.
They both knew how cold the water was. If they jumped now, there was no telling if they’d be rescued before hypothermia set in.
Without warning the ocean receded. They were caught in an updraft.
Per shouted at Ricky to jump now. But Ricky shook his head, they were rising too quickly. He tried to stop Per, but it was too late. They were already at six stories when Per jumped.
Ricky watched Per disappear and felt sick. He hadn’t put on his life vest and would likely be knocked unconscious and drown.
As the balloon skyrocketed upwards, Ricky grabbed a pen and paper and scribbled a note to his wife and kids.
He was proud of them and loved them both. He stuffed it in his jacket and grabbed a parachute. He looked down. He was too high to jump, but too low to parachute. The balloon continued to rise and fall, and Ricky decided that if he got any chance to jump he would have to take it. Another downdraft came, and soon he was about six stories above the water. In front of him, he could see the shore and land approaching. It was now or never. Ricky closed his eyes and jumped.
Ricky had a habit of jumping at just the right time. Throughout his life, he would jump in and out of a myriad of different businesses. Some would make him millions, and others would go bust. But he always stayed afloat and kept jumping.
All that practice saved his family from having to open that letter.
Ricky, of course, is Richard Branson, and his little record label was Virgin Records.
The man that jumped into every business imaginable ended up jumping at the perfect time.
His life jacket helped save him, and a rescue helicopter picked him up. With his help, they were able to circle back and find Per. He had hit the icy water at just the right angle, and had been able to tread water long enough to stay alive. The year was 1987, and technically they had hit the Irish Sea, making the two men the first to make a Trans-Atlantic crossing in a hot air balloon.
Branson lives by several different maxims including that ‘he’s prepared to try anything once’. Another is that business opportunities are like buses, there is always another one coming. Lucky for Branson, there was one more opportunity to jump. Chances are, if he hadn’t, his children and wife would have had to read his goodbye letter, and we might not know his name.
If you find yourself falling or crashing on your journey don’t let panic overtake you.
If you find your hot air balloon or whatever mission you’re on falling, and you feel like bailing out, give it a little bit more time.
Take stock of your surroundings. Jumping into some things is good, but remember that you’re only one jump away from catastrophe. There is always another opportunity coming, and sometimes it pays to stay put. Sometimes it pays to jump. The only person that will know the right answer when the time comes is you.
That’s his story. What’s yours going to be?
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