I am extremely afraid of heights. That's why standing on the edge of an airplane Saturday, all I could think of was "What am I doing?" But before I had time to process that all the way through, I saw the belly side of the plane I had just been in. Like a flash before my eyes, it was there and gone, the next thing I saw was the horizon of Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak as I free-fell back toward the runway.
I don't think I'll ever get over how amazing free-fall feels, no matter how many times I will jump between now and the day I am certified. Before you go, your mind and body expects you to feel a bit like you do on a roller coaster. After all, falling at approximately 194kph will undoubtably make you woozy, right? But that's where free-fall changes everything. You feel almost indifferent from the moment you fall from the door. Your heart stops - briefly - and then starts pounding again. You can't feel it and the horizon is so vast you can barely see it but you're falling from the sky, and you know it. You feel the rush, you look around the skyline, you see your world in a whole new light.
The wind bites you. Your skin feels like it's being pulled upward from your bones as the fall occurs. You know the ground is coming closer but for some odd reason it just doesn't look that way. Just as you feel a slight tinge of nervousness, the parachute is opening - and there it is. Not fear, not regret but happiness. You're left suspending in the sky, looking down at the world when you realise just how quiet it is up here. I let out a laugh, partway nervous and partway ecstatic.
There I was, dangling above the runway we left mere minutes ago, and my fear of heights was gone.
"Everything up to the stepping out, there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day. The best things in life are on the other side of terror. On the other side of your maximum fear are all of the best things in life." - Will Smith
The above quote is from this video of Will Smith talking about his experience. The friend I went with watched it a dozen times, she said. I watched it once and then tuned out for a few days, though I did come back mentally to the video as we watched the runway disappear beneath the plane. I didn't realise it at the time of the jump, but it was absolutely true.
For better or worse, a lot of things in life influence us. It's easy to lose sight of how short and precious life is when we get so caught up in the hustle of expected adult life. Six years ago, I never thought this would be me. I also never thought I would be getting into photography and testing any new waters, but life has changed. The experience of jumping only made it change a little faster. The second my feet hit the ground (or more accurately, my butt), all I could think is when I could get back up there. Luckily for me, I was handed a discount sheet if we went again in the next sixty days and a sign up sheet for classes. Done and done!
We've got a brief moment on this earth. Make it count...
The best takeaway from experiences like this is what feeling alive really means. It's not enough to just wake up and do the same job, the same activities, and the same routine day in and day out. We should take risks and let go of control sometimes. Not everyone needs to or should jump out of a plane, but all of us should allow ourselves the chance to overcome our fears and live fulfilled lives. Jumping is amazing, it feels like your body and mind completely detach for a brief few moments and everything else gets so small.
Those few minutes in the sky leave you feeling a high that lasts days. Most importantly, fear and uncertainty doesn't feel so important anymore. The people you love matter more than you realised and most of life just feels good, even the things beyond your control feel less damaging. You size up your problems a little and, for myself anyway, you get a good dose of perspective.
I regret not living more fulfilled sooner in life. If I could give younger me any advice at all, it would be to stop worrying and enjoy the ride. It's a fun world with amazing people - but none of it will come to you and none of it is in the confines of your home and office. You have to explore and be willing to get a little or very uncomfortable.
The best things in life truly do exist just on the other side of what you fear the most. The hardest part is finding it in yourself to reach over and grab them, because who really wants to leave safety? But once you do it, you come away feeling that safety wasn't really about being secure - it was restriction. You - and maybe some naysayers and negative people in your life - stopped you from realising a full potential and exposing yourself to the happiness you've wanted.
Facing this reality and telling yourself "Deep breath, now jump" can be one of the most liberating experiences in your life. I am now amply more grateful for the people in my life and the great things I've been given. I'll continue to live my newfound motto of always forward, no matter what. This is not the end of my quest to free and love my life. It's not even the beginning, but it was an amazing and breathtaking chapter in the grand scheme of it all.
I met wonderful people that day and realised how much I loved and cared for one of my friends, who was crazy enough to follow me for this trip. I learned of a whole new culture beyond my comfort zone. Everyone we met that day genuinely loved what they were doing and had a fantastic energy that just seeped into you. They were here to share their passions and they wanted you to love it, too. Once you meet people like this, you instantly want to be around them more and more. So one wonderful yet horrifying experience has now prompted me to sign up for classes and will cause me to push this chapter further. I am glad I did it and if you're thinking about it all I can say is:
"Deep breath, now jump"!