I am a 46-year old mother of three girls and I am terrified of heights. I tend to get queasy by the third step on a ladder.
I am also really adventurous and determined to be the best, most fearless version of me and skydiving has always been on my bucket list. Plus, we were on a family trip to New Zealand, one of the most beautiful and best places on Earth to do it.
This is how I found myself in a shaky 12-person plane, strapped to Zach, the skydiving pro, as we were about to hurl ourselves towards the earth from 15,000 feet reaching a terminal velocity of 120 m/h.
I have to confess that I seriously questioned my sanity as the plane door opened.
“I can’t believe I’m actually doing this! This is crazy! Why can’t I just leave well enough alone and be content in my already amazing life? What if it’s about to end right now?” were the thoughts that were racing through my head as we inched our way on our behinds towards the open door.
Here’s what I learned about life and fear from this experience:
1. Fear is all made up and has little to do with reality.
We hear these all the time: “Feel the fear and do it anyway”, “Don’t let fear stop you”, “It’s all in your head”.
I always believed these to be true but by jumping out of that plane, I got it, fully and truly, in my bones: FEAR IS ALL MADE UP!
And it has little to do with reality.
The crippling fear that I felt before jumping was my mind making up how terrifying it would feel to fall through the air. I wasn’t afraid of the parachute not opening. I was afraid of jumping and the sensation of not being supported by anyone or anything.
Had my mind made up that it would be one of the best, most empowering experiences of my life (which it was!), I would have been excited with anticipation beforehand (which I wasn’t).
2. We can’t really know what something will be like without experiencing it first.
Before jumping, I watched YouTube videos of other people skydiving and read firsthand accounts of others’ experiences. I made up that I would be terrified as my stomach dropped down to my toes and I hurled at a frighteningly fast speed towards the Earth.
The reality felt very different.
Jumping out of the plane headfirst, I actually didn’t even feel the pull of gravity. I felt like a graceful ballerina, free and floating through space. I had the sense that had this been a movie, there would have been angelic classical music playing in the background. It was that beautiful and graceful.
My body had never known such surrender and freedom before and it was sublime.
3. When we need it, we are so much stronger, braver and wiser than we think.
As we settled into 60 seconds of freefall, I still didn’t feel the pull of gravity or my stomach dropping. I felt like you do when you stick your head out of a car window as you are going super-fast on the freeway. Times 100. At 120 m/h, the wind resistance was so strong that I couldn’t catch my breath.
I felt panic rise up inside of me until I heard a wise inner voice reassuring me that I would be alright as long as I stayed calm. That I would get all the oxygen that I needed.
I closed my eyes and did some deep yogic breathing as I tried to fully take in the sensations of my body having this incredible experience. I started to feel like I could do this and I realized that I would survive.
4. Courage is generously rewarded in life.
As the chute opened, everything slowed down. We were gliding over stunning landscape as Zach pointed out the beautiful mountains and rivers below.
It had taken all of the courage I had to jump out of that plane and it was completely worth it. I felt overwhelmed and delirious with joy and relief as I screamed, “I’m flying! I’m really flying!”
I have always pushed myself to live life fully and courageously and to pursue my passions and purpose. There are risks involved – things may not work out, I may fail, people may judge me or laugh at me or say “Who does she think she is?”
And yet, the payoff has been huge! I can’t even imagine the life I would be living if I hadn’t had the courage to leave the safety of the hoity-toity job I hated and the relationships that sucked me dry and to ignore the ways society told me to behave, especially once I became a mother.
5. Facing your big fears frees you to live life with more joy and ease.
When my feet touched firm ground again that day, I felt invincible and capable of achieving absolutely anything.
“If I can jump out of a plane, I can do anything,” became my new motto.
I vowed to myself in that adrenaline-fueled moment to live my life with even more passion, authenticity, and freedom. I knew that I was not going to let the fear of criticism and judgement, looking foolish or what people may say stop me from doing anything I wanted to ever again.
Six months have passed since I jumped and some of my assuredness has begun to wane. Sometimes, I can feel the old fears knocking on the door, trying to get back in.
But I don’t let them.
When faced with making an uncomfortable phone call that can lead to a big professional break, or initiating a difficult conversation that can make or break a relationship, or even envisioning huge dreams that my logical mind can’t fathom achieving, I think back to jumping out of that perfectly good plane at 15,000 feet and I know that if I can do that, I can do anything!
So can you. All you have to do is decide that you can.
What would your life be like if you faced your big fears?