The Edge of Disbelief

How skydiving taught me not to live vicariously

Fear breeds disability of the worst kind. Fear of failure is understandable but fear of trying is debilitating. As a consequence, many live their lives vicariously. Afraid that trying anything will definitely lead to failure, shame or injury. While that may be true, what is life without risk?

That said there is a difference between naked risk and calculated risk. However, just like predicting the impact of the 2008 financial crisis was almost impossible, there is always a small chance that things can go horribly wrong.

The USPA (‘United States Parachute Association’) has recorded statistics that highlight the increasing safety of skydiving as a sport:

In other words, the chance of dying in a skydiving accident is very small but the fear of the sport is very high.

Personally, I found skydiving a liberating experience.

As I was suiting up for the dive, I really thought I was insane but the real danger refused to register in my mind.

The hangar was filled with flags of different countries. Professional and amateur skydivers were suiting up. Amidst euphoric conversations, discussions of accidents could also be heard.

Fear crept into my mind only when I saw the junk of a plane I was about to jump out of worn out of years of use. The door was held shut by a strong rope.

We were two friends who decided to skydive that day. The pilot asked us – which one of you wants to jump first. I volunteered to go first partly because I wanted to face my fear first and partly because I was too excited.

Once you commit to jumping first and enter the plane, there is no turning back because if you don’t jump, the other person in the plane also cannot make the jump and the plane will have to land because of you chickening out. Of course, each of us was going to be strapped with an expert skydiver – it was a tandem skydive.

We jumped into the plane – the five of us. The pilot, two tandem jumpers, my friend and I. The plane took off and started its ascent. Every 1000 feet that the plane climbed, my heart and resolve to jump sank lower and lower until we reached 10,500 feet – the altitude to make the jump. I almost wanted to scream and back out but my tandem partner started strapping himself to me and it made me feel safer.

As I was about to jump out of the plane, my entire life flashed past me. My face turned red with fear but with a single push, I was jettisoned out of the door and into the sky.

The jump lasted a full 7 minutes although the parachute comes up after 30 seconds of free fall. I have never been more alive in my life than in those 30 seconds. Pictured above is my tandem jumper Steve. The real talent in skydiving is not jumping. Anyone with courage can jump but the skill lies in operating the parachute. Also, landing takes skill. Legs need to be parallel to the ground while landing else you can break them.

Skydiving, besides providing me with a certificate of achievement from the US Parachute Association that proudly hangs on my wall, provided me with a mindset that nothing is impossible and it is possible to create the adventure that is displayed in movies or other artistic influences found within society.

Banzai skydiving is an extreme form of skydiving wherein the parachute is thrown out first and the skydiver rushes to catch it in a free fall to wear it and land.

However, BASE jumping which stands for Building, Antenna, Span and Earth is another challenge, I must admit, is growing on my mind. ‘Sunshine Superman’ is an excellent portrayal of Carl Boenish, the father of the BASE jumping movement who pushed the edge of disbelief further and further.

Every CEO, actor or politician knows of times when things don’t follow a script and they have had to improvise. Fear, in a lot of ways, is positive for a great performance. There are many variations of it but the emotion is still the same. I have read about agoraphobia where people cannot step out into the outside world and face the sun. From fear of public speaking, fear of humiliation, fear of asking for favors to fear of the dark. Not surprisingly, fear of spiders (arachnophobia), snakes (opidophibia) and heights (acrophobia) tops the list of fears. (source:fearof.net)

However, there is also a phobophobia (fear of fear) – the worst kind.

Push the edge of disbelief further and further until you believe anything is possible if you put your mind to it. I am not asking you to skydive or base jump but to re-engage your fears and keep pushing until you overcome your fear of fear. If i can skydive, there is no doubt in my mind that there is no need to live vicariously. Live your own adventure and don’t let fear play spoilsport. Dont stand on the shoulders of giants – be one!!

Writer @ The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba

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