I was having drinks with friends a few months ago when one of them announced that she wanted to go skydiving for her upcoming birthday. My eyes grew wide as I announced I had always wanted to do that, too, but was far too terrified to ever go through with it.
“We have to do it for our 30th birthdays!” she said.
We'd had a few glasses of wine, and in lieu of any other plan for the big birthday, I agreed with unabashed enthusiasm and with absolutely no intention of ever actually doing it. Sure, I'd had a solid block of party years in my 20s. I'd done the kinds of things I will never tell my parents or my future children until we are all old enough to laugh about it. But skydiving was the most reckless thing I could imagine.
In retrospect this is probably exactly why it appealed to me, the over-achieving, people-pleasing therapist whose idea of a wild night now consists of a bottle of wine and not having read far enough into "A Dance with Dragons" to know what happens next on Game of Thrones. I had made up my mind: This was not going to happen.
Then one of my best friends caught wind of this plan and I knew that I was in trouble. She is the adventurous live-life-to-the-absolute-fullest, skydived-in-other-countries, traveled-the-world sort. She is my inspiration when I want to be better, bolder or braver than I am. She started sending me emails every few days about skydiving in our area. She offered to buy me the jump for my birthday and jump too as an extra incentive. Still, I hesitated. It was the whole plummeting-to-the-earth-consciously-and-risking-my-life bit that was cause for pause.
I discussed it with my husband. He prefers me alive --surely he would provide some reason or excuse that prevented it from happening. Not even close. In fact, he wanted to do it, too. Betrayal!
More emails. More happy hour conversations. Finally, knowing that I’m the type that needs all the information, she sent me a video from the skydiving website of a girl’s first jump from start to finish. My stomach knotted as she was put in her harness, walked to the plane, reached the right altitude and threw open the door. I clamped my hands over my mouth in white-knuckled anticipation of her jump, despite the fact that I was solidly on the ground and in my pajamas. There is no way I’m going to do this, I thought. Not me, not the girl prone to falling when the street is flat, the girl who feels scared more than she ever feels brave, the girl who only has adventures with the characters in books.
But then she jumped.
It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Watching her plummet through the air, her hair an inky splash against the wind, her eyes wide with fear and thrill. She landed looking exhilarated and peaceful. I was forced to examine the weird feeling that bubbled up in me throughout the short video. Fear? Sort of. Excitement? A little. Jealousy? Bingo. That was all it took.
We live in an era of highlight reels thanks to Facebook and other social media, so it is almost impossible not to feel envious of others on a daily basis. But ultimately, it’s all vacuous nonsense. It is a colossal waste of time and energy to compare your everyday reality with your newsfeed. I refuse to let jealousy rule me, so instead I let it motivate me. I sent the following text to my friends: “Let’s do it.”
Within a few days we were all booked for the day before my 30th birthday. Me, three of my friends, and my husband. My champions.
Though I came up with a variety of excuses to get out of it as it approached, the day still came, as days tend to do. I arrived jittery but finally felt ready once I saw the plane. It was the type of plane out of which you want an exit strategy: small, rickety and with one little engine that possibly couldn’t. I was far more willing to jump out of that thing than stay in it.
I made my friend jump first. Watching one of your best friends somersault out of a plane is simultaneously the coolest and worst thing imaginable. I decided then that I had to go before my husband because there is no way my brain would have been able to comprehend that.
Thankfully, there was no more time left to think. My friend jumped and then we made our way to the ledge. Every part of my body resisted the jump instinctually. Your legs are supposed to dangle over the edge but I kept mine directly under me in a squat without even realizing it. My tandem instructor had to force me out of that plane. I suppose that was inevitable. And so we jumped.
The free fall was exhilarating, terrifying and totally thrilling. I shrieked until our parachute opened. With my mouth so wide, I drank the wind as fast as we fell. I gulped in lungful after lungful of air and I could feel it awakening every cell in my body. It was the most alive I have ever felt. My two selves, the part of me that was terrified and the part of me that wanted to do it more than ever were no longer at war, but co-existing in the thrill of the moment. I was free. I was flying.
My instructor was silent once the parachute opened and as we sailed toward the ground. It was just me, the wind, the sun and the silence. It will forever remain one of my most supreme of happy places.
Once I landed, I recognized how completely silly all the excuses, fear and nail-biting had been. Why had I been so resistant? I want to feel like that as much as possible for the rest of my life! And I don’t have to jump out of a plane to do it, either. The best part was in the knowledge that despite my fear, I did it anyway. I was no longer jealous of a random girl in a video because I was that girl.
I suddenly realized that I’m not the scared, clumsy girl who is afraid of everything. I haven’t been for a long time. My narrative about myself was wrong. I am a woman who has lived all over the country, who was brave enough to get married young because I know he is the love of my life, who travels whenever possible and who lives as boldly as the friend she so admires. I have to do the things that scare me because I deserve a big, bold, beautiful life. We all do.
Whatever it is that you have always wanted to do, experience, learn, try, do it. Even if you’re scared. Do it because you’re scared. Do it for you. Do it for the story. Do it for the memory. Do it for the happy place. Whatever the reason, just do it. If you have been waiting for a sign, this is it. Find a way. If you can’t do it today, plan for tomorrow. You have friends who will support you, family who will forgive you (thanks mom!) and most importantly, you have you. Everything about my jump was urged, guided, and supported by those around me. I could never and would never have had this transcendent experience without each and every one of them. But I also could not have done it without the determination and strength that I possess.
Whatever is inside of you that is compelling you to apply for that job out of state, or walk the hobbit trail in New Zealand, or even to tell that person you love them, should be honored and listened to. That desire is far more valid than the fear and the “what ifs” ever could be. The fear is fleeting, the feeling is forever. Do it. Go. Jump. Leap. Even if you shriek as you jump, just go.
Know what it means to fly.