I’ve always feared heights, but my skydiving experience changed that. I hope my story motivates you to face some of your greatest fears, to surpass yourself, and to control your mind.
My Childhood Fear of Heights
When I was a teenager, I got stuck in a tree. My friend forced me to climb and tree in his backyard for fun. I climbed the first branch, but I got stuck on the second one and I couldn’t climb down. I sat frozen in fear instead. My stomach churned every time I looked down, and my paralyzed body could not move. My friend thought it was hilarious.
That day, I realized I heights scared me and it was on my radar of things I needed to change. I told myself I would overcome it someday; I just didn’t know how. Years went by and nothing changed. My fear of heights went unseen.
Challenging my Fear
When my brother turned 30, his surprise gift was to go skydiving. It was always a dream of his, so Phil, one of our best friends, my brother and I went. Challenging myself has always been an important part of my life and I thought this would be a nice way to rebel against my childhood fears.
Many skydivers talk about the powerful emotions they felt before their first jump. On jump day, I felt nothing. I was excited, but barely. I mostly felt numb to the idea of jumping out of a plane. Since I didn’t want to be a pussy and back out, I didn’t say anything. Honestly, my fear of heights was nowhere near my consciousness; I was obviously avoiding it.
After being briefed on the jump, the three of us entered the plane. It rose over the clouds and on cue, my panic soared higher than the plane. The higher the plane went, the more I felt my anxiety rising.
The reality of what we were doing took me in full swing. Everyone looked at each other nervously. Laughter filled the plane and stung my ears. The guys were high-fiving and pumping themselves up, but I was a mix of dead silence and awkward smiles. For years, I bottled my fear of heights, but it was back, and I felt scared. I hated myself for it.
The door to the plane opened. The sound of the wind suffocated me. I was at the back of the plane, waiting for my turn. I had the pleasure to watch everyone before me have their turn, which did not help my anxiety. A girl walked forward to the open door. When I blinked, she disappeared. She got sucked out of the plane faster than you could imagine. My heartbeat filled my ears.
I crab-walked to the open door and stared at the blue sky and the clouds from 9000 feet in the air. My eyes widened, and I started gasping for air. My instructor yelled into my ear, but before I finished my thought, I was falling out of the plane.
The Moment Fear Disappeared
The free fall lasts only around 30 seconds when you jump at 9000 feet. I couldn’t breathe for the first 10 seconds. Once the fear passed, I was in bliss for the rest of the jump. On the video of my freefall, you can see where my mind switches from fear to ecstasy—it was amazing.
When Will Smith described his own parachute jump, he said that the anticipation kills. Anticipating the jump scares you every second you picture it, but it disappears once you jump out of the plane and you’re falling to potential death (weird how that works). A lot of what I realized here, is inspired by his talk. Until you live it, you can’t understand how right he is.
When I fell to the ground, very aware that I could die, I wasn’t scared. When I was in the plane and my mind assaulted me with expectations, assumptions, what ifs, and anxiety, that’s when I felt scared. Everything leading to the jump was aweful, but the actual jump was amazing.
Our lives are the same way. Too often we keep projecting ourselves into our what if futures and expect the worse. Fear cripples us that way. Our minds are good at projecting and imagining scenarios inaccurately. It misses the mark very often, and we need to fight against our minds when it does. We can project ourselves into the worst-case scenarios before we ever take an actionable step—it’s all just imagination.
Greatest Fear, Greatest Reward.
The best things in life are often on the other side of our greatest fears. You might want a job, but you convince yourself you can’t get it because you’re scared. A new sport might spark your interest, but you never build the courage to join a team because being terrible in front of others scares you. It might be a business idea you have, but the idea of quitting your 9 to 5 sounds too uncertain. Whatever it is, fear, when unchecked, will stop you from pursuing many things in your life. Uncontrolled fear dominates us. It is up to us to master our minds and control our deepest anxieties.
The simplicity of jumping out of a plane and facing my fear of heights expanded my mind and self-confidence. It also crafted a memory that will last me a lifetime.
I’m still scared of heights, but I learnt a lot from the experience. I learnt that my mind, and yours, might be anxious as all hell right before you push your limits or explore the unexplored; and that’s okay. When you strive to your goals, expect fear. Part of being human is living is a state of anxiety when venturing into unknown territory. It’s a perfect trap.
The trap makes it is easy for us to stay dormant so we can avoid the anxiety. We stay in the status quo and never challenge ourselves because the comfortable is safe—it’s nonconfrontational. It is much harder for us to confront our greatest fears and reach for the things we want. Life will coddle us and keep us in mediocrity unless we act on our fears and push ourselves to achieve greatness.
My parachute jump didn’t make me great overnight, but it was a teaching experience. I learned I could control my fear and do things that frightened me. That’s a powerful realization. Overcome fear enough times, and greatness will feel that much closer.
I am still facing many of my anxieties, and it’s not always easy, but most of my greatest memories and successes are from when I conquered my anxieties.