So I spontaneously decided to jump out of a plane yesterday, from 15.000 feet or roughly 4500 meters. A 60-second free fall followed by sailing around the sky for about five minutes in the most stunning scenery that one could imagine: a clear blue sky above snowcapped mountains, shimmering lakes and rivers drifting through the barren landscape.
Was it because of not having had the time to let the excitement build up (I’d signed up just a few hours earlier), I don’t know, but I don’t think I really got what I was doing. As Queenstown was fully booked, they’d booked me into nearby Wanaka. I was nearly falling asleep on the bus on my way there, that’s how full of adrenaline I was (not).
Once we arrived at the hangar, we checked in and watched a quick introduction video. Our names were called in pairs of two or three according to some logic that I couldn’t make sense of, we got our overalls and they helped us gear up, after which it was time to board the plane that had just landed in front of us. I think there was eleven of us in total; five instructors, five first-timers and a photographer. Some were dropped off at 12.000 feet, but the rest of us continued to 15.000 feet.
They got us ready – gloves, hat, goggles, check! – and it was time to go. Tightly attached to the guy that I was going to jump with, I was the last one to get to the edge. Head back, legs curved under the edge; breathe in, breathe out…
It was the weirdest feeling, falling down from the sky. My ears were locked and I felt like my head was going to fall off, but other than that I just fell. And I’m free, free fallin’… It was amazing, yet unreal somehow. Just imagine being a bird – such freedom!
To my great surprise I wasn’t even scared, nor did I get an adrenaline rush afterwards. Not having paid for any of the photos or videos that one could pay for (ridiculously expensive, $169, and isn’t it the experience that counts? I reasoned), I found myself thinking ‘was this it?’ once I was back on the ground. 439 dollars down the drain in less than 20 minutes?! What was I thinking?
Not being scared, not even a little bit, made me think of fear. For some jumping out of a plane might be conquering one of their biggest fears, but for some reason it seemed to not be that big of a deal for me. Knowing that the guy who I was jumping with knew what he was doing, I just went along. I didn’t have to do anything, really – not throw myself out of the plane, not take a step out, nothing – just go along. I trusted him and so I didn’t have to worry about it. I just went along.
Fear, though. What is fear? It does its trick as far as snakes and spiders and other dangerous things are concerned, but jumping out of a plane – should I have been scared? My brother thought I was crazy for having done so, but no, I’m not crazy. Where was the adrenaline, though? All the energy, all the emotions?
For me it might not be fear of heights or jumping out of a plane (seemingly), but take fear of rejection or fear of failure; fear of not being good enough. Back in the days I used to take ’no’ for an answer very personally, especially if it was related to a job or something that I’d applied for, thinking to myself that ‘okay, that was it – I’m not good enough’. Succeeding in something could give me a massive ego boost, making me feel like I’m on top of the world, while ‘failing’ would stop me from as much as trying again.
I wouldn’t try anything new, nothing that I wasn’t going to be good at right from the start. It took me until last November when practicing cartwheels in Perth to realize that learning something new, something that I’m pretty sure that my 8-year-old niece can do with one hand and something that I, too, used to know how to do about 20 years ago, but no more, can actually be fun. Better late than never, though!
I recently watched a TED Talk related to all of this, one that I can highly recommend anyone to watch. Jia Jiang realized that he can change his perception of rejection by challenging himself to ask for what he wants in life – in this case the most ridiculous things like borrowing $100 from a complete stranger or working as a greeter at Starbucks – and actively seeking rejection every day for 100 days straight. Over the course of his challenge he learned to embrace rejection rather than run away from it, which turned out to be life-changing for him. Watch the video here – it’ll be 15 minutes well spent, I promise!
So I found myself thinking that whatever it is that we fear, whether it’s heights or rejection or even success, something that’s more common than we think, what if we’d just think of it as just another feeling? What if instead of giving fear the power to control us we’d see it as a growth opportunity and use it as fuel for action? Because at the end of the day it’s just a feeling, it’s just fear, and so very often what we fear the most turns out to be the most rewarding thing once we’ve overcome it.
Therefore, I have decided to do one thing every day that scares me, one thing that puts me outside my comfort zone. May it be peeing in the bush when on a hike by myself (someone might show up, hello!) or saying hello to a stranger even though I really don’t feel like chitchatting with anyone. Or why not jumping out of a plane, or hitchhiking, or telling someone that they look nice today just because I think they do, or doing something else that I’ve never done before – absolutely nothing for a full day, maybe? Gulp!
The point is to feel the fear, to feel the discomfort, and to do it anyways. To overcome it and act despite of it, or better yet because of it, because if it scares you then you might just be onto something big. If it makes your heart race, it’s probably worth doing.
We have nothing to lose but a world to win, so why the hell not?! After all, life does begin outside our comfort zone.
“Even if you go for it and it doesn’t work out, you still win. You had the guts to head straight into something that frightened you, and that type of bravery will take you places.”
–The Better Man Project