Steps to preparing yourself for a big jump.
You’re thinking of making a life change, but something’s holding you back. In this post, I equate that fear with my fear of bungee jumping. There were a lot of excuses, but in the end, I just jumped. The lesson? Don’t wait until you’re “ready,” because you may not ever get there. That’s why they call it a JUMP, not a step!
Part 1: The Story
It felt as though I were watching through someone else’s eyes as the distance between the ground and my feet grew and the tan, tiled roofs of Cusco spread out before me. I was in a steel-caged cherry picker bound to slowly ascend 122 meters only to plummet without it. This was my first bungee jumping experience, and while it’s easy to say you’d love to try it, it’s a whole other story when you’re actually about to jump to your potential death. The harness attached to my ankles, hips and neck was heavy and slightly suffocating, but I was glad for its existence. It made me feel supported. My guide Raul chattered away in Spanish behind me, giving me instructions that I only half listened to and asking small talk questions that I responded to like an automaton.
I gazed calmly at the portion of the Peruvian Andes in my field of vision, infinite and brown. Tall Eucalyptus trees surrounded the adventure park I had decided on coming to only an hour or two before. I could see my Irish friend Laura, whom I met while volunteering at a hostel in Ecuador, standing a safe distance away, snapping pictures with my iPhone, awaiting her turn at this adrenaline rush. I focused on my feet, which were planted to the base of the cherry picker, and my hands, frozen and clamped to metal bars on either side of me. If I let myself think about all that could go wrong, or even picture myself jumping, I might have backed out. So instead I denied my purpose for this ascension and breathed long and deep, nodding my head at Raul but otherwise standing still as a statue. Then the cage came to a sudden halt, and panic filled every muscle in my body. Logic was no match for my body’s survival instincts, and when Raul opened the steel door in front of me and instructed me to step out until my toes were over the edge, I couldn’t make my legs move. My whole body felt heavy and my hiking boots were glued to the floor.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
“OK, so you need to walk to the edge now.”
“OK,” I said, and stayed where I was.
He told me that the longer I waited, the more scared I would be.
“Just jump!” he said. “Let yourself go.”
I almost threw up in my mouth. His hand gently nudged my back forward, but I remained rigid.
“Do you want to go back down?” he said.
I considered it. How bad would it be, really, if I just admitted I was too afraid and went the safe way down? Nobody would hold it against me or call me a coward. Nobody but myself. I thought back to how I ended up in Peru, trying to force myself to be fearless, both mentally and physically.
Just a few months earlier, I was shacked up with an ex-boyfriend whom I loved very much. We were partners, planning out a comfortable and snug future together. The more we planned, the more I felt panic similar to my current vertigo. Seeing my future laid out before me meant that there was less room for new possibilities, for experiences that were my own. I was 22 and the man I loved had no desire to travel, yet somehow our lives and desires were supposed to be bound together forever. It was suffocating, but I was just as scared of giving up a good thing for the unknown as I was of committing to this ordinary future. In the end, I couldn’t see myself as just a half of a whole. I wanted to be whole, independent of anyone else. When I confessed to him that I had more living to do on my own before I settled down with him, I knew that I had to see that claim through. If I didn’t, I would never forgive myself or him for missing out on the life I truly wanted to live.
I moved out of our apartment and bought a one way ticket to Ecuador where I started my four month solo backpacking trip through South America. Did I want to cancel the flight and run home to my man? Of course I did. I was scared of a life without him, scared of having only myself to rely on. None of my friends or family would have blamed me or thought it strange if I went back to him. Half of them didn’t understand why we broke up when we were so in love. But I knew I wouldn’t be happy with myself unless I took the risks that I had only dreamt about until then. Just like I knew that if I didn’t jump off my perch in the sky, I would never forgive myself.
Raul asked again if I wanted to go back down, but I didn’t come all the way up here to wuss out. I knew the risks of jumping. They had made me sign a waiver before they harnessed me. But to hell with them! There was only one way I was descending, and it wasn’t on the cherry picker. I took a step with my left foot, then dragged my right one to meet it, my hands still on the railings beside me. Raul looked over my shoulder and told me that I needed to move up a little more so my toes were over the edge. Again, that feeling that I would throw up in my mouth, only this time it was coupled with the feeling that I would crap my pants. At Raul’s behest, I took a deep breath and moved my toes over the edge.
“Good,” he said as he grabbed hold of my harness from behind. “Now, you need to release your grip on the rail.”
I did as I was told, feeling incredibly unstable, balanced as I was on the edge.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Breathe,” he said.
I took a deep breath, felt a gentle push, and jumped with it.
Part 2: The helpful steps
- The Buildup– You’re scared and you’re scaring yourself more by thinking about all the things that can go wrong. Maybe you’ve even researched what can go wrong. Eye injuries are most common when bungee jumping because of the pressure of the snap? Most common? I don’t want to do anything that will commonly injure me. So, you decide against it because it’s not worth the risk. Whenever I’ve contemplated bungee jumping, I’ve always said that I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have enough money, or I have a bad back and I was worried about what the snap of the bungee would do to it. Excuses, excuses.
- The Nagging– Despite your better judgment, there is still that nagging curiosity about what is on the other side of that wall you put up. All those other world-class travelers have gone bungee jumping. Your old high school friend went bungee jumping AND skydiving. You’re going to miss out if you don’t at least try it. Would I have ever forgiven myself for making it to the top of that cherry picker and then taking the long way down? Absolutely not.
- The Dreamer- You start to envision what would happen if the risk you were about to take goes well. You’re peeking over the wall and the grass is definitely greener. When I pictured how freeing it would be to soar through the air and get butterflies in my stomach, I got excited and couldn’t wait to feel the adrenaline. Plus, how cool would it be to be able to say you went bungee jumping?!
- The Objectivity- You allow yourself to be aware of the potentially bad outcome, but not to let it touch you. After all, part of what makes fear so strong is that we fear what we do not know. When you accept both good and bad potential consequences, at least you know what’s on the other side. So maybe my retinas will explode or I’ll be sore tomorrow. I’m tough enough to handle a few battle scars. Even if I did feel like I got hit by a truck the next day.
- The Bragging- Once you’ve decided that you’re going to take the plunge, you have to say it to yourself and say it to others so that it becomes real. After Laura and I signed up for our bungee jump, I posted a status on Facebook asking friends to wish me luck, I texted my mom and my best friend, and I repeated to myself “I am going bungee jumping,” like a mantra inside my head.
- The Jump- It’s time. You’ve made it this far and there is no going back. The only direction to move now is forward. So you jump. Once I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to back down, I took a step with my left foot to the very edge of the cherry picker, then dragged my right one to meet it. I immediately felt like throwing up and releasing my bowels, but instead I took a deep breath and peeled my hands off the safety of the railing. Then there was only one thing left to do. “Just jump!” My guide, Raul, told me. So I jumped, and I’ll never be sorry that I did.
- Yes- Now that you’ve pushed through one fear, you can allow yourself to experience all of the possibilities that open up to you when you start to say ‘yes’ instead of ‘no.’ I took my first big, scary leap when I left everything I knew and loved to travel around the world solo. I’ve tried to fill my travels with as much adventure as possible, and not just because things like bungee jumping or surfing lessons are cheaper in other countries. After I conquered my fear of free falling 122 meters, I realized that the only thing standing in between me and everything I’ve ever thought of trying was myself. So I said yes to learning how to kite surf, yes to hang gliding, yes to surfing and yes to all my future adventures.