One of my coaches I work with does this thing where he says imagine pure white light beaming into you. And you open the little valves on your fingers and your toes, and all of your body gets filled with this light and this pure energy of love and relaxation and peace. And it’s just kind of replacing, you feel like you almost feel like the stress is leaving your body when you visualize that. So that has been, that has been a very helpful visualization or meditation for me as well.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Tarascio.
Nick Tarascio is the CEO of Ventura Air Services, a fast-growing aviation company focused on aircraft sales, maintenance and private air charter services, based at Republic Airport in Farmingdale, New York. Tarascio is also a licensed jet pilot and the author of “Own Your Own Plane: It Costs Less Than You Think.” He is an astute entrepreneur, utilizing his “pilot mindset” which incorporates rigorous training, situational awareness, and rapid problem solving. As a pilot and an industry leader, he has been fortunate to have worked with and served influential leaders in the fields of politics, medicine, entertainment, the arts, and philanthropy, and finds great satisfaction in introducing people to the possibilities of a flying lifestyle. Tarascio is also a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and performer, who has released three albums and continues to write new music.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Onmy first day back to school in third grade, my teacher asked me what I did over the summer. I said, I flew a plane. And she said, no, Nick, you flew in a plane. And I said, no; I insisted I flew the plane. We went back and forth so much that she called my mother and said that I was a pathological liar. And my mom told her, actually, Nick did fly the plane. That was the moment that I realized I had a different upbringing and that I didn’t grow up like most others did, because up to that point, I thought everyone had their planes in the same way they had their cars.
One of my earliest memories is getting into an airplane. I remember it was cold getting on the plane, it was warm when we landed, and the next day I was at Disney World. Very early on, I saw airplanes as a tool to get me to Disney or to help create what I loved. So I think that that really anchored a lot of my early experiences in aviation and where my love for flying came from. It was about creating these incredible experiences with people we care about.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
I come from a family of entrepreneurs, but I’d say that they are more like artisans or true artists of their path. My grandfather was a furniture maker and an interior decorator, and my dad started the aviation company and flight school when I was two. I saw how hard my parents were always working and how hard my grandfather worked. My grandfather was so good at what he did. He was one of the top three interior decorators in New York city at his peak, but retired with very little to show for it. There were a lot of unfortunate business dealings and people that took advantage. I saw that my dad, too, was struggling with the business. He was so good at flying and fixing airplanes and all the skills required to be successful in aviation, but at the end of the day, I still saw that something was off with the business fundamentals, something that caused him and my mom to have to work seven days a week.
I had a desire to take care of my parents and make sure that they didn’t retire in the same way that my grandfather retired, with very little to his name. I don’t think there was enough reward for the amount that he sacrificed and how hard he worked, and it always ate away at me. So I thought, maybe I could break the cycle and take a different approach and find a way to shift my family’s relationship to their aviation business. I had always rejected the idea of business and said “I don’t want to be a suit.” I was a musician and a computer engineer. So it was an unexpected path for me.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
When we merged with a company in 2003, we got a director of operations named Stretch. He always saw potential in me, encouraged me, and believed in the things that I would say, even amid skeptics. Because he came from this big corporate and military background, somehow his belief in me held more weight. He just had a way about him where he really made me feel validated for my ideas. I was a tenacious 20-something that thought I knew everything, and Stretch supported me and said go ahead, you’ve got this.
Another leader I looked to was Summit Series founder, Elliott Bisnow. I remember looking at what he was building, and thinking it was really impressive. I was in my late 20s when I first got introduced to him, and I didn’t understand how this kid was building this amazing community of people. Elliott was the person who showed me what the pivot from manager to leadership looked like. From him, I learned about what it meant to be at the front of the pack, modeling behavior and inspiring people to follow me instead of just muscling everyone to do what I wanted to do.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
I’ve made so many mistakes. Years ago, I wanted to launch an eCommerce store for my avionics shop. I had this grand idea to build a website, sell products, design a logo and build a fancy backend. We hired a marketing company who built this whole thing for us and we put all the products up online. I spent probably like ten or fifteen thousand dollars setting up the site. And then I spoke with someone who had been very successful in the space. I told him what I had done, and he said, “what are you doing that for? It’s nice that you built all this stuff, but you have no idea like how to actually market, regenerate or give people a reason to pick you over anybody else. You’re not differentiating yourself at all.” He told me I wasted my money and my time, and he was right. It wasn’t at all what he was telling me I should do to be successful. I didn’t even ask what he thought until I finished the site, because I wasn’t seeking guidance — I was seeking validation. But the site was just an utter failure. I don’t think we ever sold a single thing off of the eCommerce site.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
Go find the most influential people in the world at the thing that you ultimately want to do, and then call them, email them, show up where they are and say, congratulations, I now work for you for the next 30 days for free and I’ll do anything you want. And if you don’t assign me anything, I’ll just sit in your lobby and I’ll do nothing, but you might as well put me to work; you have nothing to lose. It’s not going to cost you a dime. And if at the end of it, you see that I’ve created any value. I’d love to work with you in some way, shape or form.
I think people at the leadership level really admire tenacity. They admire someone who’s willing to put themselves on the line and say, I’ll do anything to learn what you know, because I think you’re the person who is the one I should be modeling after. To this day, I still wish I could do more of that. I’ve tried to connect with people like that, but it’s just not the same as a hungry 19-year-old. I think there’s a desire to take care of people like that. We want to help the younger person be successful.
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?
The E-Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber really hit the nerve for me on understanding how to work on your business, not in your business. I saw my parents and my grandfather as people that worked in their own business, and they were slaves to their own business. They didn’t build a system that allowed other people to thrive and for them to be at the helm. Reading the stories in that book and listening to Michael speak live was the moment when I realized it wasn’t about me mastering all the necessary skills, it was about me assembling a strong team, creating a vision and starting to work on the business. That book gave me permission to do that.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
There’s a quote by Mario Andretti, “If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” I think there’s something to be said for that, especially as it relates to building something meaningful. I think I’ve played it safe at times in my life, and safety is an illusion. I think a lot of us try to build a bubble of safety, but the reality is that no matter what we do, the clock is running out. Pandemics come, people die, things get really hard. So in reality, going slow is really risky. Whereas going fast, finding that edge where you just feel like you’re at the edge of crashing the whole thing, that’s where the magic happens.
I recently went downhill mountain biking for the first time. I was doing some bunny hops on the runs and ended up pushing so hard and jumping so out of control that I ended up flipping over the handlebars and laid myself out on the ground. I was so embarrassed for myself. I thought, “Why did you push so hard?” But then I was thinking a lot about how it’s important to fall from time to time. If we never fall, we never know where our limit is. I know where my limit was that day — it had put me right on the dirt. I think an important life lesson is don’t be afraid to fail, don’t be afraid to fall, don’t be afraid to push just past your limit so that there’s some repercussions to it, but don’t kill yourself in the process.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I have a bunch of exciting projects in the works. I play a lot of music in some of the New York city parks, specifically Madison Square Park. It’s not anything formal, just assembling a bunch of random musicians and helping people hear live music. That’s something that is missing for a lot of people in New York City right now. Sharing live music and songs that people can sing along to creates a real sense of connection. It also just reduces stress and anxiety, and pulls us into the present. The contribution of music is one that I’m really proud about. The group I play with doesn’t take money for it; we just do it because we love it.
There are two other things that have been really resonating with me that I’ve been working on. I took a stand up comedy class earlier this year, and I really love the idea of playing around with comedy as a medium to face important conversation. We’re in such a polarized world right now; you’re red, you’re blue, you’re rich, you’re poor. It’s everyone versus everyone else. Comedy is one of the few art forms and mediums left where, if we all can laugh at ourselves, we actually might be able to say something more meaningful, hear a more important message, and not be so closed to the potential of being wrong or sounding stupid or embarrassing ourselves.
I’m also exploring creating a podcast that focuses on how we move through fear. That topic specifically resonates with me because I had three really overpowering fears as a child or as a teenager, the first being incredible social anxiety due to bullying. I was just afraid of people. I always felt people were unsafe. The second was incredible stage fright. I had a desire to be on stage, but I’d almost get sick to my stomach at the thought of having to go on stage and be seen in front of people. And the third was a physical fear of falling and dropping, like the zero gravity feeling you get when going down a roller coaster. I was always afraid of those things.
The funny thing is, I became a stunt pilot, so I’ve experienced lots of negative Gs. I perform on stage now, with my band and with standup comedy as well. And I’m a networking maniac. I’d like to believe I’m somewhat of a connector for other people and I’m in many different networks, and I value connecting with people so much, probably because it was so hard for me as a child. I really believe that our greatness is through fear, and if we could step through fear, we can find our magic. I want to interview leaders and influential people on moments of fear in their life and how they move through it, because there’s this misnomer or this false belief that people don’t feel fear. The thing that I find interesting is how do we not become paralyzed by our fear, and move through it? I think the idea of giving people the tools to move through fear would be a really great contribution, especially now. I’m really excited about trying to tackle that.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
Prepare for the worst: Growing up flying, we spent a lot of time learning about compartmentalization and understanding like the different modes of the mind. There are times our feelings don’t serve us, where it’s all about trusting the process. Like anything, if you’re talking about high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure, it really is creating a checklist for those moments. In aviation, there’s a thought exercise called chair flying. You sit in your chair, close your eyes and visualize the cockpit of the plane and all the instruments in front of you, and you just start moving the buttons and switches around. You think about various scenarios and think “what am I touching? What am I moving? What do I see? What do I feel?” From the safety of a chair, you get to work through what that might look like. Think of a really terrible high stakes situation — a negotiation, things going wrong, running out of cash — and then write out what you’d need to do. I think it’s important to create your own emergency checklist, so that when things go wrong and you’re in fight or flight mode, emotion doesn’t block your higher cognitive thinking. When in fight or flight mode, you may lose access to some of your greatest creativity and best problem solving. Create your checklist when in a safe headspace, and then trust yourself that, when certain scenarios happen, you can go to your process and just execute, one foot after the other. It really is just a step by step process. Do the research and development, the testing, the pressure testing. Do it all in your head, do it with your team, work through scenarios. Imagine things, imagine the worst case scenario.
Breathe: The easiest thing in the world is taking deep breaths and counting breaths, like Box Breathing. When we feel stressed, our breathing can become very short breaths and we actually don’t have as much oxygenation. Our cognitive thought is lowered if we’re not getting as much oxygen, and the accelerated breathing puts us into fight or flight. Sometimes the body just thinks it’s in fight or flight because of the way we’re breathing. I had a Green Beret tell me that if you’re breathing into your chest, sometimes that feels triggering, and the better way to manage stress is to breathe into your belly really slowly. Don’t underestimate the power of being conscious about your breath.
Be vulnerable and open: Have the confidence to be vulnerable and share that you’re afraid. There’s something really calming about letting go of the wheel, admitting that you’re afraid and having the people around you see you in those moments support you in that. We try so hard to hide what we feel and what we think from others, but people can feel inauthenticity. Your body language may be off or your facial expressions don’t match, or what you’re saying is just something out of integrity. If we’re already going to be that transparent anyway, we might as well just tell the truth and say, I’m terrified right now. I’m stressed. I don’t know what to do. By having those kinds of conversations and that kind of confidence to be able to speak that way, that will suddenly find that the people around us are actually champions for us and advocates for us and support systems for us. We just have to make the invitation in the first place and we have to trust others. We can’t just be an island; that’s a terrible way to live, a terrible way to run a business, and an even worse way to try to get our way out of stress is to hide behind closed doors and project this confidence to everyone else that everything’s perfect aside.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
Body language: This goes back to a lot of body stuff. The body is such a powerful medium for mindset. The way we move our body, we move through the world, physically actually affects our thoughts and what we create. Sometimes it’s just postural; Jordan Peterson speaks about the importance of good posture. And I recently heard from a CIO who said that she uses the Superman pose when she’s about to speak or when there’s something important that she needs to do. There’s something about that pose that makes you feel grounded, strong and capable. How we stand and how we show in the world is really a powerful way to get our head in the right space. I’ve actually tried it and it does help me get into this higher headspace of knowing I’m powerful and can handle this.
Meditation and sleep: Benjamin Franklin had a practice of meditating on a problem he was trying to solve before bed, allowing his mind to ruminate and process through the night, and journaling about it upon waking up. I’ve used that before where I placed a thought in my mind, wake up and then see what comes to me. Trust that the answers are in there.
Collaboration: I’m a big advocate for not being an island. I find that my best ideas come out of collaboration with another person. It’s like explaining a business idea or trying to practice a pitch, or even doing stand up comedy — it doesn’t work unless you try it in front of people. And that’s why that’s what comedians do every night. They try a little iteration and the audience tells them what’s funny. It’s the same thing with trying to get access to your highest thinking. Sometimes it’s just talking to a friend about it and saying, Hey, I’m thinking about this thing. Let’s talk about it. What comes up for you? Challenge me, ask questions, try to dig, try to probe. Hearing from others gives me access to the problem at hand to give me more context, more color, more access to really solve it from the perspectives of others. So I spend a lot of time having lunches and dinners, just talking to people about my challenges and ideas of what I want to build and kind of seeing how pressure tests or what comes up for them.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
Sometimes what I’ll do is if you ever close your eyes and you start to see colors and patterns, I really just focus on staring at those colors and patterns. I find that to be really calming, and just gives me more access to clearing the mind. I think the body and the mind are so connected. So I think if I’m feeling a lot of stress in my body, it’s not going to give me access to what I need to get to. So I do believe in sitting and doing a body scan; I find that I hadn’t realized how much tension I was holding in my forehead on my jaw and my neck. I find, while doing the body scan, I’m feeling more than I realized I’m feeling, and I need to alleviate that stress, check in and see what’s there. Maybe there’s a great message of why I feel that way if I really just ruminate on it for a second or meditate on it.
Additionally, one of my coaches I work with does this thing where he says imagine pure white light beaming into you. And you open the little valves on your fingers and your toes, and all of your body gets filled with this light and this pure energy of love and relaxation and peace. And it’s just kind of replacing, you feel like you almost feel like the stress is leaving your body when you visualize that. So that has been, that has been a very helpful visualization or meditation for me as well.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
I find that classical music or repetitive music or listening to the same song over and over again gets me into a rhythm. Obviously there’s a beat, but there’s a certain rhythm and in the same way, a lot of us can dance for hours and become super present to that consistent beat going, I think that music can help us get into a rhythm and into presence, and give us a sense of constant motion that is really rewarding.
Similar to music, walking is a great way to get access to focus through distractions. The nature of sitting at a desk and processing things sometimes can sometimes feel very static and stagnant. So just moving the body seems to unlock creativity and a different way of thinking.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
One of the things I heard really early on was that successful people write everything down. And that really resonated with me. I really do believe writing everything down, having a system of tracking things, task management and calendaring. My calendar is sacred. Life gets so chaotic and stressful. Business gets really stressful. When it gets high stakes, it is impossible for me to think that I’m going to remember what I should be doing at my most stressful days. I just trust that when my calendar says to do the next thing, I should just do it. I’ve set up a path for success that will keep me on track even when I get stressed.
Now, if I need to pivot, if I want to come up with a new strategy, I’m more than capable of doing that. I can move things around in the calendar, but it’s more when I’m at my worst, when I’m at my lowest access to higher thinking, then I just go back to my trusted plan to move forward, which is interesting. In aviation, we have a communications procedure when we’re flying on a flight path, a flight plan. If you lose your communications, you just follow the last flight plan, whatever was given to you. You can’t change, you can’t talk to anybody, you can’t amend anything. So you just do the plan you’ve already written down from when you started your flight or when the controllers amended it along the way. And I like that. I think that that’s really critical is when everything goes wrong, just trust the plan until you have access to be able to make a better plan.
In his book, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, author James Clear talks a lot about the fact that if you really want to predict someone’s success or you want to predict the outcome of what’s going to happen in your life, just look at your behaviors and your habits. Your habits are the number one indicator of what’s going to happen. If you want to get fit and your habit is to go to the gym every day, you’re going to beat the person who is a dreamer and fantasizes and puts it off and procrastinates.
Another habit of mine is learning and reading. I watch YouTube, listen to audible, and fill my time with learning in general. Keep refining, keep learning, keep growing and then sharing those ideas with other people. I really liked that idea of if you really want to learn something, teach it. I’ll read a book and the act of explaining it to a friend starts to anchor for me some of the deeper learnings, and even helps me to connect some dots.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
Read Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear. Read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. There are a bunch of people that talk about habit modification. I like the idea of having a low bar. If we have a low bar, it’s hard for us to mess it up. If you think of the habit you want to create, just think of the lowest form of doing that and just commit to only that. So you want to write a book, write 10 words a day. Once you start writing, you’re going to keep going. If you want to start doing pushups, start with one a day; you’ll probably do five or ten when you’re already down on the floor doing it.
You’ll generally do more once you get started. It’s all about overcoming activation energy, which can be the challenge because if you have this big goal, it’s intimidating, it’s scary, and seems like a big, heavy thing to do. So just set, really simple goals. And then just commit to doing that simple, simple thing.
I also like the idea of if you miss a habit one day, commit to never missing in a second day, no matter what, whatever it takes, never miss it a second time in a row because that’s where it really starts to degrade and lose what we’re doing. So that’s that’s something I try to live by as much as I can.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
I love the state of Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is often defined as when the degree of challenge is met with your degree of skill. If there’s too much challenge, there’s frustration, and if there’s not enough challenge, there’s boredom. If you’re doing something and you’re bored, make it a little harder, to the point that it meets the skill level that you have. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, ease it up a bit, take it back a notch. Understand that boredom and frustration are indicators on your panel. It’s just a great indicator of saying, I noticed I’m stressed. I’m clearly pushing myself beyond my limit. So let me either ease up here or let me go and actually raise my limit and go learn more so I can actually rise to a higher level of challenge.
The behaviors that have actually allowed me to get into Flow are doing the things that I love. When I perform, I go into Flow. When I land an airplane, I go into Flow. When I listen to certain music, it takes me back to a place where I’m really present in Flow. It’s a little different for everyone, though. You need to stop and think, when does time disappear for me? Write down all the times in your life where time seems to stop. Maybe it’ll be a list of three to five things — then go do those things. And then you could even transition. Sometimes, when I’m in the middle of working on a project, I’ll just grab my guitar and play a song quickly, and it gets me so present, emotional, and connected with myself. I then go right back to my project. It’s management of your own state.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire movement, it would be identifying and moving through fear. I’m about to turn forty, and before I do, I’m going to make a list of like the ten things I’m most scared of doing, as well as like ten things I’d really love to do this year. And I’m going to write them down on paper, tear them all up and put them inside of an opaque bag. Every month, I want to grab one out and whatever it is, I have to do it. I really believe doing the things that scare us is an opportunity to really find our greatness. See the fear and move through it, be afraid and do it anyway.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
Rick Rubin is definitely one of the people on my list. He is a producer that is just nonstandard. I’ve heard that musicians will say that he’s in the back of the room and what looks like sleeping. But in reality, he’s meditating on the music. He just has such access to his body into a certain level of clarity where he can see around the corner in a way that most people can’t. I’d love to talk with him and just understand how he does that.
Beyond that, I’d really like to talk to Mark Cuban and Richard Branson. How they do as much as they do. I’ve heard them say things like it’s all about getting the right people and empowering really smart people. But I feel like I still have a gap for how they do what they do, at the scale that they do it. I would really love to understand that better.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Follow me on Instagram (@niktarascio) and Facebook (@niktarasciomusic). You can also check out my company’s website (ventura.aero). I will launch a podcast at some point. Follow me on social, and I’ll make announcements as I launch the podcast. And when I do, I would love for you to share it if you dig it.