What I learned from jumping out of an airplane

Back when I was finishing up my coursework for my doctorate, my friend Jason and I decided we wanted to go skydiving. While this might have seemed like a more outlandish idea at any other time in my life, I was nearing the end of a three-year immersion in doctoral madness, with no clear idea at that point of what I would be doing in the near future, and a feeling of burnout that was so real I couldn’t tell you what I actually did that last semester. I had passed my comprehensive exams the semester before, the study guide for which was know everything (seriously – that was the advice I got), and I was basically to the point that I didn’t want anything to do with music. Was I suicidal? Not at all. Was I over everything enough to be ok with jumping out of an airplane? Absolutely.

And thus the planning began. Another friend of Jason’s wanted to go as well, and although I invited others, no one else thought this was a great idea. So the three of us picked a day to head up to Pennsylvania to a reputable skydiving company. When the day came, we piled into the car, excited about the upcoming event and admirable of one another for not backing out.

I can say that this was a highly memorable event. I learned quite a few things that day, many of which apply to life in general. I will share some of them with you here:

1. If you don’t think someone will be supportive of your ideas, hold off on sharing them.
When I decided I was going to do this, I didn’t tell anyone who I thought would freak out or would try to tell me all the horrible things that could happen. I had done my research so I knew the risks involved. For example, I knew my mom would worry and live in fear from the time I told her until it was over. So I didn’t tell her until afterward (she was still unimpressed, but for a much shorter period of time because it had already happened). Sometimes you have to work with an idea or try something out before you discuss it with others. This can be difficult, because as humans we typically want some sort of support or validation for our decisions before we move forward. Seeking advice or counsel is one thing; seeking validation is another.

2. While there is safety in numbers, many times it comes down to you.
Jason and my new friend Brice (affectionately known as my Skypartner to this day) were in the plane with me, and that was definitely comforting. But when it came time to jump, I was the only one who could make that decision. And there’s always a choice.

3. It’s ok to rely on those who know more than you do.
Not only is this ok, it’s a really smart thing to do. I may have had to make the decision to jump, but I was strapped to a professional skydiver. You can’t jump by yourself unless you’ve been through at least eight hours of training, and while I was excited about this, there was no way I was going to make my jump debut without a pro. And so I happily attached myself to Jumpmaster Dan, which gave me the opportunity to jump with a greater feeling of security.

4. Almost everything takes practice and responsibility.
Even though I was going to be attached to Jumpmaster Dan, we still had to spend over two hours preparing. We had to understand how to read the altimeter. We had to understand how to operate the backup parachute and how to maneuver. We had to check the safety of the gear. We had to practice landing protocol. And we had to practice what happens right before the jump: each of us had to do several mock runs of sitting with our arms crossed in front of our jumpmasters with their arms around us, rocking forward and counting One, Two, and on Three we were to fall forward and do a flip out of the plane before opening our bodies up into a big X shape. It was to be practiced until each person felt comfortable.

5. When it’s go time, second guessing is not appropriate.
Once it was my turn, Jumpmaster Dan gave me exactly zero seconds to think about what was going to happen. The door was already open, I’d just watched my buddy Jason jump into the sky, and when Dan said it was time we moved to the edge of the doorway, rocked three times just like we practiced, and out we went. In most cases, second guessing during go time is a recipe for disaster and can really cause problems. Work out your concerns ahead of time. If you’ve planned and done your research and practice, go with courage and trust. (Of course if your instincts tell you to bail for a reason other than fear, honoring yourself is important too.)

6. Even the scariest of things can be awesome.
I would absolutely do this again in a heartbeat. Skydiving was one of the most exhilarating things I have even done, and I wished it could have lasted longer. Letting yourself be limited by fear is a bummer. Do the work ahead of time to weigh the risks and the rewards in any situation, and if you’ve done so and you have decided it’s worth it, then go for it!

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