Did you ever wonder if ONE day could really change your life? Many years ago something drew me to a little airport in Hazleton, Pennsylvania…
My confidence had never been that strong but something was compelling about the sheer adventure of skydiving. We went through hours of training with Don Kellner, the jumpmaster. I would soon learn that Don was the most experienced man alive, with more jumps than anyone on earth according to the Guinness book of world records — over 40,000 but who’s counting, right?
We learned how to handle total malfunctions and open our reserve, how to release a malfunctioning main canopy, how to handle line twists, roman candle malfunctions, tree landings, water landings, power line landings (think bug zapper — ouch!), etc. The moment of truth came and we were loaded like cargo into the tiny little Cessna plane with all the seats torn out except for the pilot’s.
Just what I need now – a Joker
Dave, the pilot, had a twisted sense of humor. Seeing my terror he looked me right in the eye and asked, “Are you sure you think this is a good idea?” and then laughed like mad when I didn’t even respond.
We took off in silence and knew we were committed as the wheels left the runway. Safety checks were done again and again and when we reached altitude Don threw the door of the plane open and hung outside to assure we were over the right spot.
Nancy went first, beginning the jump sequence that we had practiced so many times. Don signaled and the pilot throttled the engine back. Don shouted the first jump command, “GET READY!” Nancy threw her legs out the door, sitting on the edge. The wind was screaming by so loudly we could hardly hear. “GET OUT!” shouted Don. Nancy reached out and hung from the strut of the plane with both hands for a second…. “GO, GO, GO!” shouted Don and she let go and immediately dropped like a rock out of view.
“NEXT!” That was to be me. My heart pounded so loudly I could hear it even over the roar of the open door. What the @#$*$#% was I thinking??? “GET READY!” Whooaaaa, I didn’t even see if Nancy’s parachute opened, I thought as I swung my legs out the door, my butt teetering on the edge. All I could see was a few thousand feet between my boots and the ground. My heart was now pumping peanut butter through my veins. I wondered if there was any way I could just not…
“GET OUT!” Oh crap, most men would rather die than let anyone know they are scared, so it was my time to die. I reached out and hung from the strut of the plane and Dave the pilot shook his head back and forth as if to say “Don’t do it.” And he smiled. God, I hate that guy.
“GO, GO, GO…!” I let go and accepted my fate. The plane seemed to fly straight up and away from me as I fell.
Whoooosh! My canopy opens and I am stunned by the now near complete silence. I safety check the canopy and head for the landing zone. The unobstructed view is simply beyond words. I can see forever and am somehow part of it at the same time. I see Nancy’s canopy on the ground and wish this incredible ride will never end. After about three glorious minutes of bliss, the ground reaches to meet me and I hit and roll as I had practiced so many times.
I lay on my back in the grass and laugh hysterically like a little kid.
This was amazing, it was truly an adventure. It was the essence of life.
My ego would love you to believe that I am a brave man. The truth is my goal was not to get great at skydiving… it was just to not wet my pants for the first 50 or so jumps. Learning to freefall was, to be honest, terrifying for me but I HATED that it scared me.
I kept going to Hazleton. Sometimes I hitchhiked there as I only had enough money in college to make the jumps.
On my 54th jump I was able to relax and literally fly like a bird in free fall (OK, a VERY fast bird). The true exhilaration was in overcoming the fear. You can see the pure joy on my face at 120 MPH in freefall in this video of my 100th jump:
Defeat Fear and Change your Life
Skydiving is simply an “over the top” metaphor for facing and overcoming fear. I am the biggest chicken in the world and if I can do this, you can move forward against anything that you fear.
What is it for you? Public speaking? Getting a new job or starting a business and becoming an entrepreneur? Getting out of a bad relationship or starting a new one, reconnecting with a lost love..?
When you overcome one fear, you make a deposit in your confidence bank. It will now take something larger to make you feel uneasy. Sometimes for us the greatest joy and the largest victories in life are just on the other side of fear.
Overcome Fear Checklist
- Find someone who effortlessly can do the thing you fear. Learn from them and model their behavior. This is a tremendous shortcut.
- Take Action! GO, GO, GO! Thinking about that which we fear magnifies it. Taking action kills fear in its tracks.
- Remember courage is not the lack of fear but action in its presence. We all feel it, just move forward.
The hidden gift of overcoming a fear is that is inspires others to overcome theirs as well. The ecstatic blond in the picture above is my wonderful daughter Rachel on her 18th birthday first jump –- (you can see the terror in her eyes, right?)
Be brave, be bold my friend. Make your life an adventure.
Now . . . Go, Go, GO!
By the way, Dave the pilot is still a smartass and we are friends.