On risk and the realization that changed my life.
“Well, I’ll just throw up on myself.”
That is the thought running through my head while sitting in the airplane I will soon be jumping out of. I committed to this skydiving trip months ago, wanting to celebrate my friend’s birthday in style.
Now, with the moment of truth approaching — and no restrooms on board — I’m preparing for everything.
My stomach is relatively calm, which is totally unlike me. (I’m the guy who threw up before every Little League baseball game.)
What makes this serenity even more surprising is the fact that the plane’s door is directly in front of me, and it has been open since just after takeoff. And as the first one in line to jump, I have a clear view of the reality awaiting me.
The air is turning colder, the world below is getting smaller, and it won’t be long until we reach the drop zone.
“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”
The first wave of nervousness shot through me months earlier when I saw the subject line “Skydiving” in my inbox. I’d always thought about skydiving the same way a teenager thinks about asking out a math class crush: terrifying, but something I had to do… someday.
Still, the fear, self-doubt and outright terror lurked.
Would I have the nerve to go through with it? Was it possible to suffer a midair heart attack? Could I free fall through my own vomit?
But then I remembered to breathe, which gave me a second to assess the big picture of my life. It wasn’t pretty.
At the time, my day-to-day existence was an exercise in monotony. I had a job with no future, an outlook with no hope and a string of first dates who had no intention of calling me back.
My life was this way for myriad reasons, but at the root of my stagnancy was an aversion to risk. I could not make myself take a chance. Shackled to my safe space, I refused to engage in anything unless I could first play it through to its conclusion in my mind’s eye. Uncertainty was for suckers.
I didn’t want to be this way, though. I didn’t want to be crippled by the anxiety of the unknown. I wanted to be bold, daring and OK with falling flat on my face.
I’d heard Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying,” and I’d read Tuesdays With Morrie, memorizing its “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live” wisdom.
And finally, I realized nothing would put me eye to eye with death — and life (fingers crossed!) — quite like skydiving.
“So this is what it’s like to fly.”
That’s how I found myself crammed into this two-propeller plane, putting my life in the hands of Instructor Ivan, despite having met him only 20 minutes ago. I would have been more confident with someone who had a Top Gun-y name, like Eagle or Swoop, but considering he’s strapped to my back, I figure Ivan is as invested in our safe landing as anyone.
Making our ascent, I force a few jokes with my friends and rethink my decision to bat leadoff. Once the skyline is small enough to fit in a snow globe, I figure we’re close to our jump altitude — until I look at my altimeter and see we’re only a third of the way there.
Turns out 14,000 feet is higher than I thought.
At this moment, I accept that my jumpsuit might double as a nausea bag. I try to focus on my breathing, waiting for panic to take hold, for the inevitable freak-out that had wrecked me so many times before.
Then the buzzer sounds.
Before I can think, I’m crouched at the door, peering over my gray New Balances at the checkered landscape nearly 3 miles below. I close my eyes.
This is happening.
Rock forward… Rock back… GO!
As my body gives in to gravity — despite my stomach defying it — the Did I just jump out of an airplane? shock wave washes over me. Seconds later, while plummeting toward Earth at 120 mph, I open my eyes to a feeling I’d long been searching for: freedom.
Despite what’s depicted in the original Point Break, you cannot carry on conversations at terminal velocity; the wind is too deafening. But I don’t care. I spin 720 degrees to the left. I let out a primal scream. I flash the “Hook ’Em Horns” signal to the horizon.
So this is what it’s like to fly.
At 6,000 feet, I barely notice the tug of the parachute. The following few minutes of floating are as nerve-wracking as any; the stillness allows my mind to grasp that I am suspended in space.
But as we glide back onto solid ground, my entire body is electric.
“That parachute is either going to open — or it isn’t.”
Unlike asking your crush on a second date, I have no desire to go skydiving again. Consider it crossed off my bucket list.
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t carried forward the teachings of those seven death-defying minutes. I have.
Since that day, I’ve changed careers, gotten married and moved across the country three times. And I couldn’t have done any of that without tapping into the same strength and clarity it took me to tumble out of that airplane.
For too long I sabotaged my momentum by fearing results instead of focusing on process. This kept me sedentary and stuck, unable to move. The less I tried, the more I couldn’t fail.
And even when I did try, I didn’t think about what I could do right; I only thought about what might go wrong, convinced that if I worried and obsessed and awful-ized enough, I could pre-emptively protect myself from defeat. I could not. In fact, I all but guaranteed it.
Although it’s a tough pill for the obsessive in me to swallow, the reality is that we only have so much control over an outcome. No matter how hard we try, and no matter how much we prepare, that parachute is either going to open or — it isn’t.
When faced with a risk, be it abandoning a working aircraft or attempting a new endeavor, it’s on us to set the stage — to show up, to commit and to trust that whatever happens is what’s supposed to happen.
Once we’ve done that, there’s only one thing left to do: Jump.
Action is Power
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This article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Originally published at medium.com