We’re all afraid of something even if we’re too afraid to admit it, which by proxy means we are afraid. I can admit that my list of fears includes both the rational and the somewhat irrational. I’m scared of centipedes, flying, liars, driving in the snow, and people who don’t swear – not necessarily in that order.
By far my biggest fear, however, is heights. A common one for many, a fear of heights can vary in terms of severity and rationality. Acrophobia is at the extreme end of the spectrum where sufferers are prone to panic attacks and severe anxiety whereas a fear of falling is at the other end of the spectrum which describes those with a natural degree of fear but one that doesn’t impede doing things from up above. I probably fall somewhere in the middle; I can climb mountains, and I frequently fly, but I would rather eat broken glass than look over the railing of a fifth-floor balcony or even climb a tall ladder.
During my travels, I’ve done many things I never thought I would and have tested my strengths both physically and mentally beyond measure, but understandably the one area of adventure that I generally don’t wade into involves anything to do with heights. I won’t bungee jump, zipline or visit anything where I need to look over an edge, wall or balcony.
Recently, I had two friends tell me about their plans to go skydiving and how they wanted me to join them. Flattered that they didn’t want to die without me, I initially thought it would take being dragged and drugged for me to take part.
But then I went home and thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it some more. And I finally agreed to do it. I’m still unsure what the tipping point was ….the teasing, probing or borderline nagging from my friends, the bucket list check I never thought I’d get to make, a death wish, or something more. In the ‘something more’ box, I thought about the odds of being flattened like a pancake and then thought about the odds of making it down alive as well as the odds that it could do wonders for me on a personal level.
Whether it’s the regular perils of life or a touch of age, the last few years have shown me just how important it is to live life to the fullest. And after some very recent events, I’ve been on a path to care about myself more, make better choices about my life and those who I surround myself with. For some, jumping out of an airplane with a few crazy friends might not fall under the ‘better choices’ category, but the more I thought about it, the less it had to do with the jump. It was the leap.
So off I went to face my biggest fear. Dizzy on the drive, preoccupied in line, clinging to my friends, making videotaped goodbyes and laughing through the nerves when all I wanted to do was vomit and run away – that was me.
But up I went. And as I walked to the open door of the plane, with my jumping partner strapped to my back, mouth dry, knees shaking, I looked down 15,000 feet and knew that I couldn’t turn back.
So I leapt.
During the freefall, I made sure to keep my eyes open and look at the world below regardless of how frightening it was. I thought in that moment that although the world isn’t always easy or kind or fair, it was all beautiful in one way or another, and I was so fortunate to see it from that vantage point. And then it dawned on me in mid-plummet – that’s what I was seeking and that’s what I was gaining through this experience – a new perspective.
After what seemed like an eternity, the parachute opened, and I was suddenly jerked back to reality. Then came the slow ride down, the effortless landing, and the realization that my friends and I had made it, which left me with a sense of pride and accomplishment but more importantly, greater perspective on my own capabilities and limits.
Your fear doesn’t have to be so extreme in order to face it, nor does facing it make it go away. Maybe you are scared to leave the confines of a safe yet stagnant career to follow your passion and risk everything. Maybe you are hesitant to trust or wear your heart on your sleeve to someone who doesn’t feel the same. Maybe you’re trepidatious to speak your mind and stand up for what you believe in even if that means standing alone as a result.
And even if you are able to take the leap and confront your fears, the results might not be what you had hoped for. However, you tried. And the pride in that just may foster a sense of purpose and provide some measure of lucidity on what you’re capable of and what matters in life. Just because you tried. I’ll never tell anyone how to face his or her fears and challenges, but for me jumping out of that plane and confronting mine provided me with some much needed clarity about myself at a time when I needed it.
Too often we make decisions based on our anticipation of what others think or how others will react. Maybe it comes with age, but I don’t care much for what people think anymore. I make decisions based on my heart and my integrity, which at its core is merely a combination of taking leaps, facing challenges, and being true to myself at all times. And this time around that decision just so happened to be jumping out of an airplane.
So, would I do it again? Nope. Am I still afraid of heights? Yup.
But I did it. In spite of the fear.