How to avoid “The Knievel”

Evel at Wimbley

That’s Evel Knievel in 1975 when he tried jumping his motorcycle over 13 buses at Wembley Stadium in London. He missed the landing and had a horrible crash. As he tumbled, the Harley Davidson he used followed him like a stalker.


When Knievel, still alive, finally stopped somersaulting, the motorcycle landed on top of him. Wow! But it could have been worse.

As he was being put into the ambulance, he demanded instead to be taken to the top of the landing ramp so he could speak to the crowd. There were 90,000 people there.

Frank Gifford, ABC commentator and friend of Knievel’s, was among those who helped him off the stretcher and took him up the ramp. Gifford, below, is on the right. The jump was scheduled to be shown on ABC Sports the following weekend.

Evel at Wimbley 8

Knievel had just crashed his motorcycle traveling between 80 and 90 MPH. His pelvis was broken, he had a bone sticking out of his hand and blood coming from his mouth. He was a mess. Gifford handed him the mic and Evel spoke to the crowd:

“Ladies and gentlemen of this wonderful country, I have to tell you that you are the last people in the world who will see me jump. Because I will never, ever, ever jump again. I’m through.”

And there it is. That is what I call “The Knievel.”

Evel at Wimbley 13

When I lost a job that I loved, I immediately started tumbling. Making decisions that I thought would be helpful to ease the pain, or to get started on my new life.

With some spontaneity and not much forward thinking, I decided to buy recording equipment to get started in voiceover work. I told my family I was leaving my Toastmasters public speaking club, called my insurance agent to change our policies and made other moves to position myself better through unemployment.

I was doing what I had for years told others to avoid doing, “The Knievel.” Decision making while in shock.

When we’re hurt, in pain and agony, broken bones or a broken heart, we start making decisions we think will correct our course. Sometimes those decisions are ones we regret.

I didn’t really want to quit Toastmasters, I enjoy public speaking and it gives me confidence. I didn’t need to change insurance policies and I’m pretty good at voice work but it’s not a passion. Fortunately, I slowed down enough to talk to my wife about all of this and didn’t follow through.

And Knievel never intended to retire.

It’s when we’re hurt or broken, in shock or beaten down by life, whether it’s your career or personal, that we need to try to avoid “The Knievel.” Here are some tips how:

  • Get advice. Immediately. Get to the person in your life who is level-headed and calm. Talk out what’s happening to your friend or family member who you believe is “the voice of reason.” For me, it’s my wife Wendy. She talked me down from most of those decisions and I was able to right the ship pretty quickly.
  • “Sit with it.” This is another Wendy-ism. I’m pretty sure it’s a Buddhist thing. It means take some time. Think about the problem in order to get clarity on it. She and I own three acres and at the back of the property is a rock. I like to take our two dogs (Rosie and Rudy) out there and “sit with it.” I sit on the rock and talk to the dogs, I take in fresh air, I pray and think. The more I do it, the more easily I can think through problems. You can “sit with it” while you go for a walk or have coffee, I choose to sit on a rock. Knievel didn’t have the time to “sit with” the disaster he was in the midst of. But if it had been something he’d practiced (“sitting with it” before making a decision) he may have been able to overcome the shock. Maybe. Probably not. So practice it. Sit still. Sit with it awhile. Remind yourself during the good times that when life gets stressful – slow down.
  • Be prepared to respond. It’s okay to talk about worst-case scenarios. My car has a spare tire in case of a flat. Our home has a generator we can plug in case we lose power. We have an emergency fund in case, well, I should lose my job. I like to be prepared. But sometimes the most shocking things happen and we react. When the doctor gives you a new medication, and you have a “reaction,” that’s bad. But when you “respond” to the treatment, that’s much better. Be prepared to respond. Think about scenarios that “could” happen and practice “responding.” It’s important that we work on our poise under pressure. You don’t want to regret decisions made in the middle of a stressful situation. Go ahead and be angry, frustrated, hurt, confused and sad…just resist making decisions in those moments.

You see, a few days after Knievel survived the crash, and essentially announced his retirement, he contacted ABC Sports and told them not to air the speech he had made from the ramp.

He had not intended to say those things and regretted his decision when he was in shock. He told the network he would sue if they aired it. The speech played anyway and became a part of Knievel’s legend. Because just five months later at King’s Island amusement park in Ohio, he successfully jumped 14 Greyhound buses.

Now that you and I have a name for it, we can watch out for those difficult moments and avoid further heartbreak by resisting “The Knievel.”



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