News Ticker

BBH Feature: How to Get Off the Hamster Wheel (or Not All Busyness is Created Equal)

“It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement.” – Mable Newcomer, Educator

I Believe I Can Fly

larry walters flight in a lawn chair

Larry Walters was 13 years old when he first had the idea.

He went to a local Army-Navy surplus store and saw the weather balloons hanging from the ceiling.

And he thought to himself, “Wouldn’t it be cool to use those balloons to somehow fly one day?”

It was 20 years later, after obsessively thinking about the idea, that Larry decided to do it.

On one day in July 1982, while sitting in the backyard of his girlfriend’s house in San Pedro, California, Larry did the unimaginable.

He tied 42 helium-filled balloons to a Sears lawn chair, then secured himself into the lawn chair.

He took a BB gun, so he could shoot out the balloons when he was ready to land.

He also took along a six-pack of beer, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and a walkie-talkie to talk to his crew on the ground.

I don’t want to mislead you with the word “crew” and make you think this was a sophisticated outfit.

When I say that he had a walkie-talkie to talk to his “crew”, I mean that he had a walkie-talkie so he can talk to his girlfriend and a friend.

What was his friend there for?

Larry’s contraption was secured to his friends’s car by two nylon tethers.

Well, I should say that Larry THOUGHT it was secured. He was soon about to find out he was wrong about the “secure” part.

Larry’s plan was to fly 100 or so feet high into the air and sail across the desert to the Rocky Mountains.

But plans are made to be broken, right? You see, Larry’s calculations were a “little” off.

Larry’s crew purposely cut the one tether, but he wasn’t prepared when the second tether snapped and he began quickly ascending.

Remember his plan to fly 100 feet high?

The Lawn Chair and the Jetliner

Well, Larry found out quickly that his calculations were off. He began quickly rising at 1,000 feet per minute into the L.A. sky.

His ascent was so fast that his glasses fell off his face. Luckily he had another pair in his pocket.

His lawn chair kept rising and rising into the sky until he finally reached- you won’t believe this – 16,000 feet!

And Larry wasn’t just wrong about the altitude he’d reach. He was wrong about the direction too!

He ended up flying near the L.A. and Long Beach airports.

The funny thing is that it was a TWA pilot who first spotted Larry and radioed the tower and told them that he had just passed a guy in a lawn chair at 16,000!

Larry was so scared that he didn’t shoot down the balloons for two hours.

Finally he started shooting out a few balloons to begin his descent.

But in the process, Larry accidentally dropped his gun. Luckily for him he had already shot enough.

Larry Walters eventually landed in a Long Beach neighborhood.

But his flight almost ended tragically.

Larry ended up landing in some power lines, but miraculously he was uninjured.

After Larry was cited by the police, reporters asked him three questions:

“Were you scared?” “Yes.”
“Would you do it again?” “No.”
“Why did you do it?”  “Because you can’t just sit there.”

By the way, in case you think the Larry Walters story is made up, take a look at this video below.

But make sure that you keep reading, so you can discover the warning for all of us that’s contained in Larry’s story...

Don’t Just Sit There…

The story of Larry Walters is an interesting one.

On one hand, you want to cheer for the guy. He did something that most kids only dream of doing.

But on the other hand, you want to want to shake your head at the insanity of such a crazy, dangerous, and useless stunt.

I share his story, because I wonder if many of us are focused on accomplishing things that, in the long run, are just as useless.

Don’t get me wrong. They might be things that seems impressive and worth bragging about, but ultimately are a waste of time. We’re accomplishing about as much as a hamster running on a hamster wheel.

“It is an old ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.” – Rollo May, American existential psychologist and author

Sometimes, believe it or not, the truth is that it’s better to just sit there than to do something.

And these days, it seems like it’s easier than ever to be active, but not really accomplish anything.

Take a look at this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

how much time we use each day

Do you see that green slice of the pie?

That’s 8.9 hours on work related activities.

That seems impressive. Doesn’t it?

It does, until we consider these statistics…

What the Hamster Wheel Looks Like These Days

how much time do we waste at work

Infographic from



social media use for different age groups

Infographic from

We’re all busy. Busier than ever! But we need to ask some important questions:

  • Are we actually accomplishing the things that we really want to accomplish?
  • Are our lives headed in the direction we really want them to go?
  • Are our businesses performing at the level we really think they could and should?

“I am so busy doing nothing… that the idea of doing anything – which as you know, always leads to something – cuts into the nothing and then forces me to have to drop everything.” – Jerry Seinfeld, Comedian and TV star

New York Times Bestselling author, Greg McKeown, said something powerful about this insane busyness in an article on called Why We Humblebrag About Being Busy. 

Listen to what he says…

“People are beginning to realize that when the ‘more bubble’ bursts — and it will — we will be left feeling that our precious time on earth has been wasted doing things that had no value at all. We will wake up to having given up those few things that really matter for the sake of the many trivial things that don’t. We will wake up to the fact that that overstuffed life was as empty as the real estate bubble’s detritus of foreclosed homes.”

Wow. This line says it all, “We will wake up to having given up those few things that really matter for the sake of the many trivial things that don’t.” 

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to give up the few precious things that really matter for the trivial.

So what can we do about this? Read on…

Two Steps to Help You Finally Jump Off the Hamster Wheel

It’s great to be busy, if we’re busy doing the things that matter. So what can we do to make sure that we’re busy with the few things that really matter, the few things that will really make a difference?

I think there are two simple, but important, steps we can take:

1. Track

I’ve heard for years that it’s as important to track your time as it is to track your money. But it wasn’t until the end of last year when I actually did this. I literally stopped every 15-30 minutes throughout my day and wrote down what I was doing.

I did this for four to five days. And it was really eye-opening! It revealed what I was ACTUALLY spending my time on and not just what I THOUGHT I was spending my time on.

I would encourage you to do this too.

The first step towards being busy with the things that matter is to know what you’re currently busy doing.

2. Assess

After we take an honest look at the activities that are actually filling our days, the we need to then access them.

Once we’ve tracked what we spend our time doing, we need to decide:

  • What are the things that am I doing that are important?
  • What are the things that am I doing that are not important?
  • What should I do more of?
  • What should I do less of?
  • What should I stop doing all together?
  • What should I start doing?

There’s one last assessment tool that I am going to begin using and I’d encourage you to try it too. It’s called the “101010 method.”

And I discovered it in an article on called Stop Overthinking It: 9 Ways to Make Decisions With Confidence. Here’s how they described it…

Ask yourself if you will be pleased with your decision 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years from now. This strategy makes you consider the short-term, medium-term and long-term consequences or, hopefully, benefits that come with your decision.”

I would say that this isn’t just a great way to evaluate decisions. It’s a great way to evaluate the things you’re busy with too.

When you think about whether you’re going to be pleased with your current usage of time in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years from now, you’ll really begin to uncover the things that are worth being busy with and the things that are not!

But no matter what steps you take, or what methods you use, make sure that you’re spending as much time as possible on the things that matter.

Stop being proud of being busy just for the sake of being busy.

Because no matter how long our lives actually are, when we come to the end of our lives, we’ll all be amazed at how short life really is.

And in that moment, we’ll wish with all that’s within us that we were more busy with the things that mattered.

Larry Walter’s Death

After Larry’s ambitious stunt, his life sort of stalled out.

Although he did some great things, like hiking the San Gabriel Mountains and doing some volunteer work for the United States Forest Service, his life seemed to spiral downward.

After dating his girlfriend for 15 years, he eventually broke up with her.

If that wasn’t bad enough, he had difficulty finding any meaningful work. (He could only find work on and off as a security guard.)

So sadly, on October 6, 1993, at just 44 years old, Larry Walters committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart in Angeles National Forest. (He left no suicide note.)

“It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Swiss-American Psychiatrist, Pioneer in near-death studies and author of On Death and Dying

If you want way to clearly think about how much time you have left in life, then take a look at this video below.

It uses 28,835 jelly beans to symbolize the average amount of days that most Americans will live….

Source: Larry Walters story from and additional information from Wikipedia

About Scott Aughtmon (1872 Articles)
I’m author of the book 51 Content Marketing Hacks. I am also a regular contributor to and I am the person behind the popular infographic 21 Types of Content We Crave. I’m a business strategist, consultant, content creation specialist, and speaker. I’ve been studying effective marketing and business methods (both online and offline) since 1999. ===> If you would like to see ways that we could work together, then please click here to learn more.