Bertrand Piccard: “The worst is not to fail. The worst is to not try”

When we face a crisis, the first moment of course is a destabilization of our previous references, habits and certitudes. At first, we go through fear and anxiety. If we try to desperately recover what we had before and go back to our previous state, we suffer a lot. However, if we strive at gaining […]

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When we face a crisis, the first moment of course is a destabilization of our previous references, habits and certitudes. At first, we go through fear and anxiety. If we try to desperately recover what we had before and go back to our previous state, we suffer a lot. However, if we strive at gaining new tools, understandings, skills, competencies, we can become stronger after the crisis than we were before. This is why a crisis should be seen as a possibility of evolution.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bertrand Piccard, Chairman and Founder of Solar Impulse Foundation

Bertrand Piccard is an explorer, a pilot, a pioneer and an advocate for financially profitable environmental protection. A medical doctor with a specialty in psychiatry, Bertrand Piccard understands that people don’t easily change their habits, and that solutions have to take into account a reluctance to reach beyond the status quo. The Solar Impulse Foundation is a not-for-profit organization based in Lausanne, Switzerland, with a US office in Arlington, VA.

Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Being the grandson of the first man who explored the stratosphere, Auguste Piccard, and the son of the first man to reach the deepest point in the ocean, Jacques Piccard, I always wanted to become an explorer. However, my mother was mainly interested in philosophy, psychology and spirituality, so I also wanted to better understand human behavior and the meaning of Life on Earth. This is why I became an explorer of both the outer world, as an aviator, an aeronaut, flying around the world non-stop in a balloon and later on in a solar-powered airplane, as well as an explorer of the inner world, becoming a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, specializing in hypnosis.

The main goal I have pursued through my adventures and my professional life has always been, therefore, to improve quality of Life on Earth. This is why I founded the Solar Impulse Foundation, which aims to select 1000 solutions that can protect the environment in a financially profitable way, in order to attract the interest of economic and political leaders, rather than only environmentalists.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

When I was a teenager, I was very influenced by Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. This book is a metaphor of spiritual evolution through the flying skills of a seagull. I discovered this fable when I was learning to fly a hang glider while at the same time trying to understand what my mother was trying to teach me about Oriental Philosophy. This book was a perfect match with my two passions.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

When we face a crisis, the first moment of course is a destabilization of our previous references, habits and certitudes. At first, we go through fear and anxiety. If we try to desperately recover what we had before and go back to our previous state, we suffer a lot. However, if we strive at gaining new tools, understandings, skills, competencies, we can become stronger after the crisis than we were before. This is why a crisis should be seen as a possibility of evolution.

As an example, when my team was building the second Solar Impulse airplane, we had a serious setback: a part of the wing broke during a test, which cost us a lot of money and took a year to repair. During this time, we could have complained about the situation and suffered. But we did exactly the opposite. We took this time as an opportunity to undertake a new mission. We carried the first Solar Impulse prototype to California and flew across the United States. Not only was it a very successful mission, but it also allowed us to convince Google to become a sponsor, and it better prepared the team to succeed in the round-the-world flight with Solar Impulse 2.

When you are, as a reader of this article, in a crisis, try to find all the opportunities that the crisis forces you to discover.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Actually, I have more than five, I have 10!

  1. The most important thing to hold on to over the long term is to avoid projecting yourself into the future, not to look forward that it will be over soon. Counting the remaining days becomes torture. On the contrary, it is necessary to concentrate on the present moment, to become aware of what you are doing, thinking and feeling, by perceiving that you exist in your whole body. In this way, you will move forward with the passing of time, without realizing it, and will be almost astonished when it is over. Twenty days in a capsule can pass very quickly, one or two months at home too.
  2. Learn how to find your “safe place”, an inner experience of comfort and security. This is one of the keys to self-hypnosis: to train you to plunge into a sensation that you build up in visual, auditory or sensory form, and which instantly brings you back into a protective cocoon. This is the most useful baggage I have taken with me on my expeditions.
  3. You must also realize that your confinement is a unique experience. History will remember it, and you are all, each at your own level, writing it.
  4. It becomes easier if you put your personal situation into a larger context. Millions of people are going through the same thing right now. You are not alone.
  5. You need to see the meaning of what you are doing. Confinement is useful; it protects you and protects others. This sense of meaning is paramount. Abused political prisoners have been all the more successful in healing from their trauma because they perceived their captivity as being connected to a cause in which they and their supporters believed deeply. On a more modest level, my goal of promoting renewable energy to protect the environment helped me cope with the cramped cockpit for several days of flight.
  6. What state of mind did you decide to adopt? It’s a choice that you have to make consciously: does life want to destroy you or on the contrary offer you a challenge to take up, a teaching to integrate? A crisis that we accept becomes an adventure, with a goal to reach; an adventure that we refuse becomes a crisis, with suffering in addition to having lost what we once loved.
  7. Suffering will increase to the extent that you fight to refuse an irreversible situation. Accepting reality will help you lower your stress level.
  8. Courage or confidence? Faced with a problem that is beyond you, courage will certainly allow you to overcome fear, but trust will take you even further. You will become aware of this when circumstances force you to leave your usual references and discover that you have somewhere inside you all the resources to move forward and succeed. If I took so much advantage of my solo flights over the oceans, it is also because I noticed that I was capable of it.
  9. Alone? If you are confined alone, relearn how to communicate with yourself. It’s something you’ve lost in the society of leisure and distraction in which you disperse. We live too much on the outside of ourselves rather than on the inside. Being alone becomes a revelation as soon as you start listening to your inner life again.
  10. Or with others? But if you are locked up with others, the fear of loneliness often gives way to disturbance by noise, proximity and the behavior of those around you. This is an opportunity to discover another way of communicating, not to exchange opinions which can become conflicting, but to express your feelings and emotions. Share your own experiences and take an interest in those of your neighbor, without criticism or reproach. Before taking off for our 20-day round-the-world balloon trip, Brian Jones and I practiced telling each other everything, even our bad breath. This kind of detail can become a long-term ordeal in an enclosed space. I remember telling Brian in the middle of the Pacific that I wasn’t very reassured. He thanked me for opening up like that because it allowed him to admit that he was scared to death!

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

Anxiety comes from our focus on a small part of reality that we call a problem. It is therefore very important to zoom out and see the bigger picture of life, therefore diluting it into a greater understanding.

The best way to do that is to dilute the problem into the experience of feeling alive in your body: feeling your lungs breathing, your heart beating, your brain thinking. Feeling that you are alive in the present moment and that the anxiety is only a small part of all these positive experiences.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“The worst is not to fail. The worst is to not try”.

When I wanted to fly around the world in a balloon, and later in a solar-powered airplane, a lot of people told me that it was impossible. Nevertheless, I tried. The worst failure I suffered was my first attempt of the balloon flight around the world with Breitling Orbiter. A day before the launch, I announced that I would be the first one to fly around the world nonstop in a balloon, that it would take three weeks in the jet streams to fly 45’000 kilometers (nearly 28,000 miles). But after six hours of flight, I crashed in the Mediterranean Sea because of a technical problem and lost my balloon.

From this moment on, I felt free to do whatever I wanted without caring about people’s laugh or criticism. I understood that the people who laugh when others fail are the people who don’t dare to do anything. This experience gave me the energy to try again and finally to succeed the first round-the-world balloon flight with Breitling Orbiter 3.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

With the Solar Impulse Foundation, I want to bring together all the innovators — in startups or big companies — who have a solution (clean technology, process, system, material, or product) that protects the environment in a profitable way. By doing this, I am speaking the language of the people I want to convince. My goal is to bring onboard this initiative the political, financial and industrial people who focus on creating jobs and making money, and at the same time bring the ecologists who focus on protecting the environment.

I believe the key for a better world is to reconcile ecology and economy rather than to oppose the ones who protect the environment and the ones who protect employment and economic growth.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

I share all of my articles and news on my personal social media accounts and my website:

Twitter @bertrandpiccard




You can also follow all of my advocacy work and the news of the Solar Impulse Foundation through our social media channels and the website:

Twitter @solarimpulse





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