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Who Is Your Parachute?

Who is your parachute?

When all about you is sh*t , who can you rely on to hold you up when you bend, carry you when you stumble, tell you when you are wrong, step into your life, as others step out, to provide calm advice and help when the world seems against you.

I was feeling very down and thinking about someone very close to me who was suffering and I happened on this story which gave me a lift. I hope it does for you too.

Charles Plumb was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile.  Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands.  He was captured and spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison.  He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience!

One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, ‘You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!

‘How in the world did you know that?’, asked Plumb.

‘I packed your parachute, the man replied.  Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude.  The man pumped his hand and said, ‘I guess it worked!‘  Plumb assured him, ‘It sure did. If your chute hadn’t worked, I wouldn’t be here today.’

Plumb couldn’t sleep that night, thinking about that man.  Plumb says, ‘I kept wondering what he had looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat; a bib in the back; and bell-bottom trousers.  I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said ‘Good morning, how are you?’ or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.’

Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent at a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn’t know.

Now, Plumb asks his audience, ‘Who’s packing your parachute?’

Everyone has someone who provides what they need to make it through the day.  He also points out that he needed many kinds of parachutes when his plane was shot down over enemy territory – he needed his physical parachute, his mental parachute, his emotional parachute, and his spiritual parachute.  He called on all these supports before reaching safety.

(author unknown)

“Who is your parachute when all about you is sh*t , the one you can you rely on to hold you up when you bend, carry you when you stumble, tell you when you are wrong, step into your life, as others step out, to provide calm advice and help when the world seems against you”.

Few things have such a huge impact on happiness and the enjoyment, depth and plain fun of life as the true friendships we have. It could be the friendships with our partners, family members, co-workers and the people we have known for a few years now or since we were kids.

Who is your parachute is about creating sources of social, emotional, moral and economic support but such friendships don’t come for free.  Run up to a stranger and beg them for help many times you will likely get short shrift; but ask a real friends for a shoulder to cry on and it will be given willingly.

Real friends are those who walk in when others walk out on you

“How many slams in an old screen door? Depends how loud you shut it. How many slices in a bread? Depends how thin you cut it. How much good inside a day? Depends how good you live ’em. How much love inside a friend? Depends how much you give ’em.”
– Shel Silverstein

Friendships are typically people who we have with shared common interests. A recent study estimated that it takes around 90 hours of direct person-to-person engagement to create a friendship and around 200 to create a close friendship. When I ask people who they associate with most closely with it is usually people who share language, geographical origins (not always race), educational experiences, hobbies and interests, musical tastes, cultural views on (e.g. politics, morals, and religious) and sense of humour.

The more of these attributes we share in common with someone, the more we are likely to like them. The closer the match, the stronger the friendship – and this is as true of family relationships as conventional friendships.

In my research, I found that 45%of our total social effort is allocated to just five intimate friends and family, 55 % to the 15 most important – in other words, the ones that we will really rely on when the chips are down. I remember some innovation work I did at Gortex on the best size of an organisation in a building, where everyone would know everyone else and we found the optimum number was 150. I have seen some recent research which says the number of friends we can have – which includes family, by the way – averages about 150. This is a limit set by the size of the human brain. On average, we have – including family – 5 intimate friends, 15 best friends, 50 good friends, 150 “just friends”, with each layer being inclusive of the one within it.

It’s can be scary building friendships but we all need parachutes at time. The reasons we often hold back are:

  • We’re afraid of being rejected, so we don’t put ourselves out there.
  • We’re worried that someone might be secretly toxic, so we hold back.
  • We’re worried about being taken advantage of, so we pull away.

To build and maintain great friendships involves a couple of golden rules:

  1. The first step is to develop a healthy mental image of people in our heads. While you’re worried about the impression you make on others, 99% of the time they are worried about the impression they will make on others
  2. Be open-minded. Don’t judge. Give the friendship a chance to blossom.
  3. Any connection between you and the other party can only begin when your heart is open. This means to be trusting, have faith, and believe in the goodness of others.
  4. Get to know the person as an individual. Show warmth, love, and respect toward everyone you meet. Do things because you want to, and not because you must.
  5. Don’t change yourself to make new friends. That’s the worst thing you can do.
  6. A friendship is a supportive union between two people. Be there for your friends where you can.
  7. Continual effort is required to maintain the friendship. Willingness to make the effort is what differentiates great friends from fly by night friends.

A friend is someone who understands your past, believes in your future, and accepts you just the way you are.


THE MENTAL FILTER – 5 questions to ask yourself

  1. Are you someone who gives energy to others or someone who is all take?
  2. Do you listen more than you talk?
  3. Are you willing to give more than you receive?
  4. Are you anyone’s parachute? Do you step in to help?
  5. Do you recognise who your true friends are?

I can take you to success. I coach ordinary people every day to do extra-ordinary things. I coach extra-ordinary people to do extra-ordinary things. The difference is those who have a dream, and are prepared to follow said dream, are extraordinary, and just need a structure and support system to kick off that journey, which will finish with them sliding in fast sideways to the grave, totally worn out from the relentless living of their dreams, screaming out loudly “Wow holy sh*t, what a ride!”

If that is you – start today! If you are looking for coaching on change for yourself or your organisation, or would like more information on the work we do on Personal, Professional, or Organisational Change, please contact us on

About Dr Maurice Duffy

Irish. Author, Professor, Coach and Business strategist. The person Australian Captain Steve Smith credited with helping him back from his cricket ban. Coach to two Ashes wins. Coach to CEOs, Politicians and some of the best know international sports starts including Olympians. BBC ‘Thought for the Week’. Coached business leaders and organizations in 80 countries. Works with charities to do with Mental Health. Lives in North East England with his wife and 11-year-old son.