She could’ve given up.
Many told her she should.
After all, she was a woman and women didn’t do that.
In this post, we examine audacious courage and resiliency, even when life isn’t fair. The challenge everyone of us will face at some point is being qualified but still rejected. We played according to the rules but the deck was stacked against us. It isn’t fair. So what do we do to reach our audacious success?
Those that follow me have seen my resent pivot from Murfield International, Inc. to my collaboration with real estate broker Patrick Lynch. Together we work to help leaders in business, real estate, and sales achieve their TOTAL Career Growth. TOTAL stands for Taking Others To Audacious Levels. To reach astounding levels we help them to think bigger, reach higher, and be willing to do what others think is impossible. We utilize online and in-person coaching, training, and speaking, and podcasts to help our clients.
Geradlyn “Jerri” Cobb saw an incredible opportunity and wasted no time pursuing it. After all, this opportunity appeared to be designed for her. Her father was a pilot and had encouraged her to follow in his footsteps. At just age 17, she had and earned her Private Pilot’s license and just a year later, at age 18, she earned her Commercial Pilot’s license. She had the talent and the drive to become one of the first astronauts.
But despite her qualifications, she was denied because of her gender. “Women didn’t do that” the male dominated organization claimed.
It wasn’t her first rejection.
She had paid her dues, flying a 1936 biplane at age 16, barnstorming the Great Plains in her J-3 Cub. As she was poised to make her entry into commercial and military service, World War II ended and the openings were taken by returning military pilots.
She didn’t whine and complain but simply took the less glamourous jobs patrolling pipelines and crop dusting. In the meantime, she expanded her knowledge and skills, earning several important ratings in Multi-Engine, Instrument, Flight Instructor, Ground Instructor, and Airline Transport license. By the time she was 21, she was delivering military fighters and four engine bombers worldwide for the Air Force. Surely this would eventually play to her favor
It did. In 1959 and 1960 she gained attention by setting 3 aviation records for nonstop long-distance flight, world light-plane speed record, and world altitude record for lightweight aircraft. She even became the first woman to fly in the Paris Air Show. For those feats, she was awarded the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement by her fellow airmen.
It doesn’t sound like life was unfair at that point. She was successful and recognized by her peers. So where was the systemic discriminaiton?
By the time she was 28, she was a pilot and manager for Aero Design and Engineering Company, one of the few women executives in aviation.
By that same time, she had already logged 7000 hours of flying time.
Then she received an even bigger opportunity. American Airlines finally realized a glaring error, they had no women pilots. Recognizing the marketing advantage, they hired Cobb to appeal to women passengers. Oddly enough, they hired her even though she had never flown a turboprop plane before. She exceeded their expectations.
The Next Step
With her success, she couldn’t be denied. Or at least, it didn’t appear she could be denied. As NASA began in 1961, she was appointed as a consultant. With that opportunity came the biggest opportunity of her life. She began testing to become one of the first seven astronauts.
She completed all three stages of the physical and psychological evaluation. In other words, she didn’t fail. There was only one problem, she had never flown a jet fighter. She had flown 64 different propeller aircraft so she was capable of learning quickly.
Never the less, she was not selected. She was included in a group of 25 women who underwent the same tests the Mercury 7 astronauts did. She placed in the top 2% of both men and women. So why wasn’t she selected?
Listen to Our Podcast with 2 time Space Station Astronaut Nicole Stott
She was familiar with politics as her grandfather served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although hopeful, she must have seen the long odds as she testified before a Congressional hearing. She was attempting to convince a congress, filled with men, to convince NASA which was also dominated by men, to overturn their decision.
In the end, despite her credentials, the system worked against her. She hadn’t flown a fighter jet like the seven astronauts chosen for Mercury. Of course, she hadn’t. The military didn’t allow women to fly fighter jets. That is how systemic injustice works. Those in power use establish criteria that exclude certain groups. Then they claim that individual doesn’t meet the criteria. It’s a Catch 22.
Meanwhile, the United States’ sworn enemy, the USSR, sent Valentina Tereshkova, a woman, into space just a few months later. That gave them the perfect opportunity to criticize the U.S. for their inequity and hypocrisy.
Cobb’s Audacious Response
There would be no Hollywood ending to this story.
No, Jerri Cobb would never fly in space. Even when John Glen, who testified against her in that Congressional hearing, was set to fly again at age 77, and NOW, the National Organization for Women (NOW) lobbying for her, she was again denied.
So how did she respond?
She turned her attention to making a significant difference in South America. Cobb spent 30 years working as a missionary to indigenous tribes by transporting supplies, pioneering new air routes across the treacherous terrain of the Andes Mountains and Amazon rain forest. For that service, she has been honored by the Brazilian, Colombian, Ecuadorian, French, and Peruvian governments and even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1981.
She set another audacious goal, helping others.
The accomplishments and frustrations of individuals such as Jerri Cobb provide valuable lessons for those of us setting audacious goals. Below are five that can help you.
Lesson #1: Quit Whining, Injustice Happens Every Day
While I despise injustice, I know that life isn’t fair. Injustices happen every day. That doesn’t make it right but it does make injustice common. In our attempt to achieve audacious goals, we must be aware of and prepared for injustice. It appears that Jerri Cobb was talented enough to have flown jet fighters and been an astronaut. She was likely as talented as the Soviet Valentina Tereshkova who flew in 1963 and Sally ride in 1983. We will often face a world that is unfair. Don’t whine about it. Make every effort to succeed without whining it is unfair. Whining won’t help you succeed.
I’m sure she must have been bitterly disappointed with the NASA rejection. We see that in sports and business over and over. The injustice prevails. Or at least, the perception of injustice prevails. Look at the number of college football players that enter the transfer portal because they don’t think they are getting a fair opportunity to play. So they quit and move on. Some of those pivots are wise but others are shortsighted. One wonders, how many of these 19 and 20 year old’s are whining too much? Meanwhile how many other players are doubling down on their work ethic and attitude to earn a spot on their current team?
Lesson #2: Be Bold, Reconsider “Impossible”
Cobb didn’t back down from the audacious challenge to do what she wanted. Even though there were very few women pilots, she tackled the challenge. She made every effort to succeed. Imagine going against the greatest odds even after honing your skills. She was even willing to testifying in congress. Just because something has never been done before doesn’t mean it’s impossible. “Impossible” simply means it hasn’t been done because no one has tried, had the resources, or succeeded. Everything that has been accomplished was once considered as “impossible.” Just because others failed doesn’t mean you won’t. Be bold. Don’t shrink from audacious opportunities.
Lesson #3: Be Hungry, Develop an Unquenchable Appetite for Learning
Notice throughout Jerri Cobb’s story how she developed an appetite for learning that was never satisfied. She kept learning and growing, adding one more certification after another. Even when she was rejected by NASA, she turned her attention to South America. There she explored and mapped new routes that opened the door for other pilots. Be hungry to expand your knowledge.
Don’t miss our https://www.totalcareergrowth.com/4pivotalskills?wvideo=nigyan2rcg">https://embedwistia-a.akamaihd.net/deliveries/237a0146760b5a9ad29c2a2a3495b343.jpg?image_play_button_size=2x&image_crop_resized=960x540&image_play_button=1&image_play_button_color=ff0000e0" width="400" height="225" style="width: 400px; height: 225px;">https://www.totalcareergrowth.com/4pivotalskills?wvideo=nigyan2rcg">4 Pivotal Skills for Guaranteed Sales Successfree webinar.
Lesson #4: Be Resilient, Push Beyond the Initial Obstacles
Every audacious goal involves significant obstacles. If they didn’t, they would simply be ordinary goals. Notice that Cobb purposely kept pushing higher and higher, literally and figuratively. She didn’t accept NASA’s initial rejection. Even after the Mercury 7 were chosen, she kept working. How do you think she came to testify before congress? She was involved, asking the uncomfortable questions to more and more people. Be resilient. Don’t quit just because someone says, “No!”
Lesson #5: Pivot, Find the Next Opportunity
This is my favorite lesson that Cobb illustrates. As talented as she was, as unjust as the rejection seems, she still found a way to make a tremendous difference. Notice her quest for NASA involved only a few years. The bulk of her life was spent helping others in a very different part of the world. For her service, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. That’s pivotal and original thinking. That’s audacious!
The reason I like the last lesson so much is that it displays a great attitude. She could’ve sulked and been the poster image of those that “suffered injustice.” Instead, she made a difference in a world that welcomed her. It wasn’t out of defiance or seeking pity. She went to serve. Cobb pivoted from her audacious quest for space to an audacious quest of service. If she would’ve been successful at NASA, she would’ve been the first U.S. woman astronaut and a household name. Instead, few are familiar with her. Yet, imagine all those lives she changed in the Southern Hemisphere. ]
There is a room for each of us to be audacious. We just need to find our place to stand. As the ancient mathematician Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand and I can move the earth.”
DO THE IMPOSSIBLE
Loren Murfield, PhD
I work with leaders and entrepreneurs in small business, sales and Real Estate to think bigger and reach higher to find their breakthrough success. Contact me to begin thinking bigger.