Strapped into Jeff’s crotch and pulled closer with every tug of the harness, I was beginning to question my entire belief system. But that is what happens when you let the girls in your study abroad program pressure you into skydiving.
It was the fall of 2005 and I was studying abroad in Florence and trying to see as much of Europe as I could on my weekends.
Oktoberfest in Munich?
Skydiving in the Swiss Alps?
Chec— Wait, what?
Yes. The girls from college that I was abroad with had signed up to skydive in Switzerland and had bought me a train ticket without asking. What is an able bodied college guy supposed to do except to pretend you’re not terrified of heights and follow along?
Plus, I intensely believe in the power of saying yes and doing those things in life that seem scary because you haven’t done them before. It is in these moments when you are scared and uncomfortable that you surprise yourself, mostly in a good way. Skydiving definitely fit the bill. It scared the hell out of me and made me pants-wetting uncomfortable.
And so that is how I found myself on a clear day in Interlaken, 13,000 feet in the air, and strapped tightly to my skydiving instructor Jeff’s crotch.
Jeff slides the door open and because we are closest to the now cavernous opening in the side of the plane… we’re first to jump.
Sliding his legs (which include my legs since we’re essentially sharing a torso at this point) over the edge of the plane, he prepares to jump. But before releasing, Jeff must look up, down, left, and right to ensure there are no obstacles in our way.
For the next 7 seconds, my entire body is suspended 13,000 feet above the town of Interlaken waiting for Jeff to release his grip.
I’d like to say I overcame my fear and relished in that initial drop. I’d like to say I let out a life-affirming scream as a I reveled in the sheer insanity of what I was doing. I’d like to…
…Except I blacked out. That, or overdosed on adrenaline. Besides the initial five foot drop out of the plane, I have no memory until Jeff and I reached free fall speed.
Once you reach top speed though, there is no fear. The acceleration has finished, so your stomach is settled and the only way to land safely is continue falling and hope your parachute opens.
All I could do was look up and admire the alps as I fell between them and notice the town below me grow slowly larger.
In no time there was a tug at my shoulders as the chute opened and Jeff and I were gently drifting back down to earth. We cruised for a few minutes as Jeff steered us back to the landing area and we came to rest only a few feet from where the plane had taken off.
I had done it. I had taken the leap and done something WAY outside of my comfort zone.
I will always remember the plane ride up to 13,000 feet.
I will always remember that incredible fall (just not the first few seconds).
But what I will remember most is the awareness of how accomplished I felt at facing my fear and feeling so intensely alive after.
This memory is what I recall first whenever doubting our big plans to travel the world. Because it makes me a little afraid, a little uncertain… But I know it is something that we must do.
And this is my message to all of you:
Do not run from your fears. Run to them.
Embrace those things in life that scare you. Let yourself be surprised by new experiences.
Take a leap… whether out of a plane or just out of your comfort zone, just trust that you will end up Landing Standing!