In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Martha McSally. Martha is a compelling example of overcoming adversity and fear to achieve extraordinary feats. Losing her dad at the age of 12 and surviving sexual abuse and assault, she persevered to become the 1st woman in U.S. history to fly a fighter jet in combat and command a fighter squadron in combat. Martha deployed six times to the Middle East and Afghanistan, flying 325 combat hours in the A-10 attack plane, earning the Bronze Star and six air medals. Martha is also a former United States representative and a former United States Senator from Arizona. She’s the author of the book — Dare to Fly: Simple Lessons in Never Giving Up.
Finding the strength to continue is one of the major obstacles in life. It’s something that we often forget in the face of challenges, but it is crucial to our success. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow, and it is only by pushing through that we can discover our true potential. America’s first female combat jet pilot and Arizona Senator, Martha McSally, joins me in this episode to talk about how to clear the runway of your life: embrace fear, transform doubt, succeed when you are expected to fail, and soar to great heights.
Questions I ask Martha McSally:
- [1:59] Could you tell us why the Warthog plane is such a badass plane?
- [4:05] How do you instruct somebody how to fly a plane with one seat?
- [6:17] What drove you to join the Air Force?
- [8:27] This book has a lot of stories from your life, but you wouldn’t call it a memoir, would you?
- [11:03] One of the lessons in the book is – don’t walk by the problem. Could you talk a little bit about what that means?
- [13:44] Could you talk about your perspective on the wingman?
- [16:30] Any person who is the first to do anything more often than not experiences discrimination — could you talk about what you learned from your experience with gender-based discrimination and what do you want other people to learn from your story?
- [20:32] If somebody reads your book or hears you speak, what for you would be a home run for them to take away with?
- [21:30] You inspire audiences and your book inspires audiences. Where do you get your inspiration these days?
- [22:48] Where can people connect with you and get a copy of your book?
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John Jantsch (00:00): This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Marketing Against the Grain, hosted by Kip Bodner and Keion Flanigan is brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professionals. Look, if you wanna know what’s happening now in marketing, what’s ahead and how you can stay ahead of the game, this is the podcast for you, host and HubSpot’s, CMO and SVP of Marketing. Kip and Keion share their marketing expertise unfiltered in the details of truth and like nobody tells it. In fact, a recent episode, they titled Half Baked Marketing Ideas They Got Down In the Weeds, talked about some outside of the box campaigns with real businesses. Listen to marketing, its grain wherever you get your podcast.
(00:54): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Martha McSally. McSally is a compelling example of overcoming adversity and fear to achieve extraordinary feats losing her dad at the age 12. In surviving sexual abuse and assault, she persevered to become the first woman in US history to fly a fighter jet in combat and command a fighter squadron in combat. Martha deploys six times to the Middle East and Afghanistan flying 325 combat hours in the A 10 attack plane ironing the Bronze Star and six air medals. She’s also a former United States representative and a former United States Senator from Arizona. She’s also the author of a book, dare to Fly, simple Lessons in Never Giving Up. So Martha, welcome to the show.
Martha McSally (01:47): Thanks for having me on,
John Jantsch (01:48): John. So I, in preparation for this, I read an article in popular Mechanics that said, why the A 10 Thunderbolt is such a badass plane . So tell us why it is such a badass fund. Because that was the plane, in fact, I think affectionately referred to as the warthog is a plane that you flew.
Martha McSally (02:07): It is, it is such a badass plane. And I picked it, I had a choice of all the fighters F 15 and F 16, F 15 E, F 11, and a 10. And I picked it. I know your audio listeners won’t be able to see this, but here’s the A 10, it’s a single seat. It’s extremely survivable. It’s got look at all these weapon pylons on there. It was built around this gun and people can look it up on the internet, but this is a 30 millimeter bullet. There’s 1,174 rounds of this just for preference point. This is a smart water one liter bottle. So, um, it’s entire mission is close air support. And so it was actually built to go after Soviet tanks. Initially the intent was being like right there on the front line and the close air support mission is troops are in close combat with the bad guys.
(02:53): The risk of fracture side is high, often on the move, you know, very complex, confusing circumstances on the ground and they’re calling for air cover to help ’em. So it was built to be extremely heavy in firepower. Also a very survivable, I mean we can lose all our electrics, all our hydraulics, one engine and have literally holes in the plane and still be able to fly back to friendly territory. It’s a bit of a metaphor I think, of my life , but like really taking a hit and you know, just continuing to survive and it’s just an incredible, you know, just the mission. I mean we often would take off in Afghanistan. I was commanding my squadron over there. We were providing 24 hour coverage to the troops on the ground. We would often take off on a routine combat mission, which is like an oxymoron. We would have maps of the entire country of Afghanistan and you would have some American troops under fire got ambushed. They need help. So we would be given a radio frequency, a grid coordinate and a call sign and told, go help these guys now. And that’s, you know, we would just have to figure it out and help these guys survive to live, to fight another day and get home to their family. So it’s an incredible mission. I’m super honored to have flown it and commanded a squadron.
John Jantsch (04:05): Well I don’t wanna geek out on this too much, but I’m just envisioning like how do you instruct somebody how to fly a plane with one seat?
Martha McSally (04:12): It’s a great question. So when I went through training, there were also no simulators and there were no two seat models. So your first flight is solo. Now we were all pilots. So we had gone through a year of, you know, training that everybody goes through just to earn their pilot wings, which is just, you know, the essentials of being a pilot. And then we go through another introductory course to be a fighter pilot. Technically we’re attack pilots, but we’re kind of grouped into fighter pilots. And then you show up, I’m not kidding, they give you a, you know, a binder like, you know, multiple three, four inches thick, all the systems of the airplane, all the procedures, all the contingencies. You basically need to know how to build the plane and deal with anything. And then you take a lot of tests, academics, you then, you know, go through different procedures of dealing with engine fire on takeoff and you have to be able to, you know, say exactly what you’re going to do.
(05:06): But I mean, we’re the superpower, when we went through the training, there was no simulator. So we would sit in these little cockpits that were like mock cockpits, but the switches didn’t work, the plane wasn’t flying and you just had to show that you could, you know, turn the right engine off if the fires on the left engine. And then later on in my time flying the A 10, I was an instructor pilot. So you then are, I’m using my hands here, but you know, your audio listeners can’t see this. But then picture your taxiing out with your instructor pilot next to you and you know, then fly on their wing and what they call a chase position. So mm-hmm , when you become an instructor pilot, you flying your plane has to be kind of like people, you know, you think about when you drive to work and you almost, it’s almost autonomic like it’s just happening.
(05:48): You’re like, how did I get here? Cause you’ve done it so many times. You can’t be using a lot of conscious energy on you flying your plane as an instructor. You’ve just gotta do it. And then you’re monitoring what, what the student’s doing and providing feedback to them. But we used to joke, there’s a lot of gallows humor in the military cuz what we do is obviously extremely dangerous. We’d be like, look, if something goes wrong, you got the rest of your life to figure out how to, you know, which may be just an hour or so, you know, depending on the situation.
John Jantsch (06:16): Yeah. I’m curious what drove you to join the Air Force?
Martha McSally (06:20): Well, you know, I grew up a youngest of five kids in a upper middle class family. And, you know, super blessed to have stability and my dad came from tough circumstances and served in the Navy and used his GI bill get a good education. He was very driven to make a better life for us kids. And he very suddenly passed away when I was 12. And it just, it really rocked my world. Tough age anyway. And now my mom went back to, you know, single mom, five kids, went back to school and back to work. And so I was just trying to find my path. My dad, before he passed away had was in between heart attacks in the hospital and I got to visit with him. And among the things we talked about, he told me to make him proud. And then he, you know, he passed the next day and it just, it was a really difficult time.
(07:05): And so I was sort of driven to do something meaningful with my life. I wouldn’t have called it that at the time, but, you know, make your father proud, you know, after he died. And dealing with the grief though, and the, just the challenges with all that. But I was looking for an opportunity to get a good education, not saddle my mom with debt. You know, I was a little rebellious. I was trying to channel my energy into something positive and, you know, you pay back in service. I thought the challenge would be good for me. Again, I wouldn’t have used these words as a 17 year old, but I mean, anybody who’s got 17 year old kids, you know what I’m talking about. Like, I had no idea what I was doing. I just decided to go to the Air Force Academy. I wanted to be a doctor.
(07:44): I didn’t wanna fly. I was motion sick. And I mean off I went totally clueless as to what I was really getting into. And when I got there, I found out I was in the ninth class with women at the Air Force Academy. And I found out that just because I was a woman, it was against the law at the time for women to be fighter pilots, . And I, again, I had no desire to fly, but when I heard that, it just pissed me off and I channeled my rebellious spirit and I was like, well, that’s exactly what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna be the person one fighter pilot. And everybody laughed at me, but I just kept this dream in my heart and you know, just kept living where I was planted and I was like, this is what I’m gonna do someday. And it took 10 years and I didn’t have anything to do with the change, but I was in the right place at the right time when the, when the doors opened.
John Jantsch (08:28): So this book has a lot of stories from your life, obviously. But you wouldn’t call it a memoir, would you?
Martha McSally (08:34): No. Uhuh look, I’m, I’m at halftime here, you know, . And so I don’t, it’s not an autobiography. I just feel like I’ve had some unique experiences and you know, the reader may never fly in a a 10 jet. That’s not the point. The point is, what lessons did I learn that apply to the reader, right? And, you know, I’m doing keynote speaking engagements as well. Like, these lessons apply to all of us as humans. How do we overcome our fear? I didn’t, I wasn’t born with the kind of courage to fly in combat. I had to make decisions along the way. The term I use is choose to do things af afraid. Courage is a choice in my view. And you then build your confidence and your capabilities and then you grow and expand and then you create a muscle memory for like an athlete of courage instead of a muscle memory of fear.
(09:22): So that’s just one example. You know, if nuggets I, you know, share from the unique journeys I’ve had, obviously people can, you see cool stories of flying in combat and different things in my journey, but it’s not about me. It’s about what does that mean for you, the reader? And how can you soar through turbulence and difficult times and persevere to achieve your dreams and never give up and find different creative ways in order to, you know, be whatever you wanna be in life. And so I share with humor a little self-deprecation going on there. Some of these little nuggets along the way on things like, you know, courage and perseverance and agility and overcoming adversity and things like that.
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(11:03): So you’ve broken the book, the chapters really are essential lessons you already talked about. Make someone proud. You know, that’s one of, one of the lessons here was probably my favorite and it kind of reminded me of my father, um, don’t walk by the problem. It feels like that has sort of a military in there. My dad was an army officer and he would always say, look, if you see something that needs fixing, fix it. If it doesn’t paint it . And it just felt very sort of military to me. So talk a little bit about don’t walk by the problem, how that’s,
Martha McSally (11:30): Uh, for sure that’s part of the, one of the values that I learned, you know, in my family. But then in the military where if you see something that’s wrong, what are you gonna do about it? Don’t be a bystander. There’s a lot of people just like, well that’s not my problem, but just don’t walk by that problem. You know, much to the frustration of people who have served with me and loved ones in my life. I can’t walk by a problem, you know, I can’t. And whether that is, you know, in the book I tell the story of my eight year battle with the Pentagon over this stupid policy they had that was totally denigrating to our women serving in Saudi Arabia. They had to, basically, they were treated like Saudi women, which is essentially property, you know, at the time. And, you know, couldn’t drive, sit in the backseat of the car where a burka essentially, you know, black Muslim gown and headscarf.
(12:16): And it, I just thought it was wrong. It didn’t apply to me, but I just felt this conviction that it needed to be fixed. And I was in a unique position as an officer, as a, you know, pioneering fighter pilot where I had the ear of people and I just felt like it was part of my responsibility to try and bring about this change. I never would’ve imagined it was an eight year battle. I tell the story, you know, in the book, but you know, in the end, put my career on the line, filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of Defense, Martha McSally versus Donald Rumsfeld. Not a great career move, but my oath of offices to the Constitution when I raised my right hand. It’s not to stupid, you know, policies of the people over me. And so I pull out of that this lesson of like, don’t walk by a problem.
(12:59): If you see something’s wrong, do something about it. Do your homework. By the way, those of us who are change Adrians and entrepreneurs, we often kind of wanna just rail against it, but we may not even know what we’re talking about. So you gotta really do a little research, do some fact finding. What if you’re a Colby person? You gotta have those fact finding skills and be creative about how you bring about the change. Find some wingman and allies and just don’t ever give up. And you one person, you can make a difference in your community, in the country and whatever it is you’re in your company, whatever it is you feel like might need to be fixed, just don’t walk by it. Don’t be a bystander.
John Jantsch (13:36): So you mentioned wingman already. I was gonna say that the book is, has plenty of metaphors that I’ve taken from that are easy like takeoffs and you know, wingman and whatnot. So, so talk about a little bit about the wingman because you have a perspective in there. I mean, I think everybody thinks about I need a wingman. Yeah, but I think you have a perspective about the wingman actually being, you know, being a good wingman as well. Wingman. So I think that, I think a lot of people miss that aspect.
Martha McSally (14:02): Yes. Right. The wingman mentality is, even though we do fly the plane by ourselves, we never fly into combat solo. We always have someone on our wing, either one or even more. We could be flying in a four ship. And the whole mentality of a wingman, which is great in life, is we have what’s called mutual support for each other. We back each other up, we have each other’s backs. If I’m talking to the guy, I’m a controller on the ground, I’m looking at my map I may be getting shot at. So my wingman’s job is to keep his or her head on a swivel and to call out any threats. I actually give authority to my wingman to tell, you know, bulldog one break left flares missile launch north, and I will do what my wingman tells me to do. I don’t say again like, I don’t know, did you mean left or right?
(14:47): Cause by that time the missile hits you, right? So you don’t just gain that authority overnight, obviously you have to build that trust and have a, that trusted environment to literally put each, you know, put our lives in each other’s hands. But this is for life, you know, asking yourself, who are your wing men in life? And they can be mentors. For me, some of my wing men were women who flew planes in World War ii. They were amazing examples for me during my journey when I really didn’t have anyone who had similar experiences to me. And so they can be people who have gone before you and you don’t have to reinvent, you know, something. They can share their wisdom with you. They can be your peers, they can be again, in life. This can be your loved one, your spouse, you know, like your dog for crying out loud.
(15:32): There’s very wingman in your life, right? That are actually, you know, helping you to keep perspective, right? To keep things, keep yourself kind of centered. Again, making good decisions and not running yourself down. But then also as you mentioned, who are you a wingman to, right? Who’s relying on you or who could be relying on you, but maybe you’re not offering yourself to be available, you know, as a wingman to provide that kind of support in business, in life and community. You know, who needs you right now? Like you have a lot to offer. And who might it be? Is it someone in your neighborhood that maybe you haven’t even got to know who’s just got a diagnosis for something that you’ve actually been through already? Like maybe you can help them in that way. Is it a young entrepreneur, you know, who’s doing a startup and you’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way and so you take that time to bring up that next generation. It takes time for sure, but we need wingman and we need to be wingman. So I think it’s an important question to ask.
John Jantsch (16:30): You’re the first woman to do X as we’ve mentioned several times, I imagine any first woman, any first person to do X experiences a tremendous amount of gender based discrimination. You talk about it in the book Yeah. In some pretty ugly ways that you experienced it. So is it right to ask, what did you learn from that? What do you wanna share? What do you want other people to learn from your experience?
Martha McSally (16:54): Well, let me first say I am so grateful for the opportunities that I had to serve my country in uniform. I’m grateful for my experiences in the Air Force. I was just tremendous to be able to serve with amazing people. The vast majority of people I serve with were, were incredible people who are putting their lives on the line and are a part of teams doing incredible things to keep our country safe. There were some real challenges in breaking barriers. And honestly, it started at the top, you know, we had a chief of staff of the Air Force who at the time the law was being debated whether it should change who was testifying before Congress saying you’d rather pick a less qualified man over a more qualified woman. And so this is the leader. And so then, you know, Congress appealed the law and then the Secretary of Defense changed the policy, took like a couple more years, but he had to decide whether he was gonna resign or implement it.
(17:48): But when you, you start, leaders create the culture, right? Leaders create kind of the opportunity of what kind of values and behavior is going to be okay or not gonna be okay. So, you know, it started obviously with him given license to maybe people who, I honestly, I think there’s a lot of insecurity. Again, the vast majority of guys, they, especially the ones who had daughters by the way, you know, they were like, look, if you can fly the jet and you can shoot the gun. Like just, we need people to be able to do their job. This isn’t about whether you have ovaries or not, if, you know, if you’ve seen Top Gun, you know, obviously there’s exaggerations there, but it is a bit of a, you know, it’s a, it’s a justing environment, right? With just the, you know, the dynamics within a fighter squadron.
(18:30): So I went in eyes wide open. I knew what I was breaking through. I knew it was going to be lonely. I knew it was gonna be difficult there. I did experience along the way, you know, just hostility and harassment and assault that wasn’t associated with that. That was, you know, but there are ex, you know, lots of experiences, unfortunately, of women and men experiencing sexual assault in society and in the military. It shouldn’t be tolerated. I’m not alone in having those experiences. I share them, not so people will feel bad for me, but so that people will see these awful things can happen to you, but they don’t define you. And in fact, I think they propelled me and had me grow and I became stronger actually through this adversity. Not that I would wish it on anyone, but it propelled me to, you know, stand my ground on like that berka battle in Saudi Arabia.
(19:17): I think some of my awful experiences like, no, don’t tell me to put on a beca like not even me or any do that. So I, you know, I feel like I made a decision where adversity, I was gonna, I had to heal through difficult. I’m not trying to undermine, you know, going through trauma. I had my own journey there. But I always looked at it like, this is an opportunity for me to grow and to make me stronger and to propel me on a path, not just to survive in spite of it, but in fact because of it, you know, it equips me even more. So, you know, again, I share those lessons. A lot of people have been through some type of trauma or adversity, men and women who are listening. And I just wanna encourage you like, turn the flashlight on. Be honest about it.
(19:58): It’s, you’re potentially still like limping because of what you went through. Maybe you’re just running from it. I, when I, you know, give speeches, I talk about like reduce the drag on your plane, you know, we, it’s gonna, it takes energy out of you. If you are in a place of anger or unforgiveness towards something awful that happened to you, you gotta free yourself from that. That’s about you. It’s not about any perpetrator not to excuse behavior, but you know, your perpetrator’s not thinking about you. So why you, you know, wasting today thinking about them and letting them continue to hold you back. So I talk about these types of things in a way that I hope really equips people to find their own freedom.
John Jantsch (20:32): If somebody reads your book or hears you speak, what, what for you would be a home run for them to take away with?
Martha McSally (20:39): Well, for the home run would be that whatever is holding them back in life, whether it’s their fears, whether it’s they had a dream and they found some obstacles and it stopped them and they felt like giving up. Or they had people telling them you can’t do something that you know in your heart you wanna do, or you’ve been through adversity that is impacted you in a negative way that’s holding you back. That there’s some nugget in there from the experiences I share and practical takeaways that I share, that you would find a path of freedom that you would say you’d find new people to listen to. It could tell you that you can fulfill your dreams and be what you want in life. And that’s all aspects, that’s business. You know, career, that’s personal relationship or your dreams are. Don’t take no for an answer. Don’t let, don’t let any of those things hold you back. And you’re clear for takeoff, the sky is truly your limits.
John Jantsch (21:30): So you inspire audiences and your book inspires audiences. Where do you get your inspiration these days?
Martha McSally (21:36): Well, I’ve been inspired from so many people that have helped me along the way for sure. I try to continue to be around people that are doing amazing things in their own lives that continue to push me so that I can grow and learn. I never stop growing. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. And so I look for that, like spiritually, emotionally. I mean, I’m a voracious reader, you know, leaders are readers. So I’m constantly looking for what do I, you know, what else can I learn? What inspires me? And I’m sure you’ve seen this, John, you go down a rabbit hole where you didn’t, you know, you might read one book that then makes you look into a topic a little bit more. And so just being open for inspiration, divine inspiration and inspiration that comes through others and every single day, waking up with that approach of what’s gonna happen today, that’s gonna be amazing. Some difficult things may happen, but I’m gonna learn something from everything. And you know, I’m certainly not perfect in the execution of this by any stretch, but I really try to surround myself with people and listen to people who are inspiring me and pushing me and then I continue to grow for the next chapters.
John Jantsch (22:43): Well, I want to thank you for stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. You wanna invite people to connect with you. Obviously your book will be, is available anywhere you buy books, but uh, any anywhere else you wanna share?
Martha McSally (22:53): Yes, social media. I’m at Martha McSally. I was Dare to Fly Simple Lessons and Never Giving Up. My website is martha mcsally.com. If you wanna, you know, book me to come be a keynote speaker. Be honored to be your wigman for you and your team and look forward to hearing from everybody. Thanks for the opportunity to share a little bit today, John.
John Jantsch (23:11): Well, thanks again, Martha for stopping by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast and hopefully we’ll run into you again soon. No one of these days out there on the road.
Martha McSally (23:17): Absolutely. Take care.
John Jantsch (23:19): Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It’s called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it @ marketingassessment.co.. Check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That’s just marketing assessment.co. I’d love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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