Eleven years ago today, I threw myself out of a perfectly good airplane.
To prove I could face my fears and (hopefully) not die.
To literally “take the leap” and trust that the “net” would appear (fine, parachute…whatever).
I am profoundly terrified of heights.
The logical solution, then, was to go sky diving. Much like how I hated running so I decided to train for a marathon. (Why are you googling “mental health professionals Denver”?? Stop it, I’m fine.)
If you know anything about sky diving, you know you’re partnered with a “Jumpmaster” – basically the well-trained individual designed to ensure you don’t hurt their Yelp ratings by ending up an inconvenient pile of broken bones. For the record, everyone else that day got the young, hot if-I-have-to-die-today-it’s-not-the-worst-way-to-go Jumpmasters strapped to them. Not me.
My Jumpmaster was, err, well-seasoned in life, not very steady in his gait, and his hands shook. Listen, I’m not knocking him. I’m just saying: by way of instilling confidence in an acrophobic, I didn’t need more evidence that I am the Universe’s favorite form of entertainment.
He also nonchalantly stopped at the open door of the plane, and turned to have a quick conversation with one of the other Jumpmasters.
…while I was dangling helplessly outside the plane, seriously re-evaluating the wisdom of my life choices…
Then I was falling. Free-fall…wind in my face (creating some REALLY epic chipmunk faces…see photo. Yes that’s actually me).
Well, that’s not so bad, I thought. It’s kind of fun actually….no, this is really AMAZING.
Free-falling for what seemed like forever, then reaching back to grab the golf ball handle of the rip cord….and not finding it. Shit. Forgetting for a minute that I was securely strapped to a Jumpmaster who was there to prevent me from (hopefully) ending up in 50 pieces on the ground, my heart hammered in my chest and I know I stopped breathing.
Suddenly, I was lifted up out of my panic. The parachute opened. And I was floating serenely above the Front Range. All was well. I had faced my fear. I had lived. I can’t say I love heights now, but I’m not as afraid…and it was so worth it.
I had forgotten about that entire experience until it popped up in my social media today (Thanks, Zuckerberg…this almost makes up for the poorly timed memory you threw at me a few days ago…you owe me a box of Kleenex for that one, JERK). And it hit me how COMPLETELY relevant it is, not only to this blog but to my own personal growth and exploration.
Because fear is a mother fucker.
Fear paralyzes us. Fear keeps us small. Fear is the single biggest block to fulfillment in any area of our lives.
Fear, fear, fear.
Fear of failure.
Fear of rejection.
Fear of loss.
Fear of not being enough.
And then there’s fear of intimacy, which is the cherry on top because it’s basically one giant fear speedball. Fear of showing your true heart and being rejected. Which means you’re not good enough. Which means you’re not worthy of love. Which equals loss. Which equals pain.
It’s a wonder any of us ever open up to anyone with all that fear raging around like a well-rested toddler on Red Bull.
But what is fear, really?
Above all else, it’s “False Evidence Appearing Real”.
(I’ll give you a second to write that one down, it’s pretty good, right?)
Yet it DOES appear real, so VERY real. And there’s actually a very simple explanation for it: Evolutionary Psychology (I don’t have time to write a thesis on this, okay, so just trust me, the research has been done by people much smarter and more verbose than I am).
We are million year old programming operating in a modern world, and our brains have yet to catch up….at least not until we help them.
Left to its own devices, our brains still struggle to discern the difference between a genuine threat to our physical existence and a perceived threat to our complex emotional world. The fear we feel around opening our hearts to another human triggers the SAME survival mechanism within us that used to protect us (or not) from being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. It also triggers the fear of being rejected and abandoned which, in prehistoric times, might actually MEAN being eaten by a saber-toothed tiger and that’s just so darned inconvenient. In the age of Amazon and same-day delivery of anything you could possibly imagine (and some things you never thought to imagine), opening your heart won’t get you exiled or lead to death by starvation or being speared by a mastodon. I promise, you’ll make it.
Here’s my truth about sky diving:
Throwing myself out of an airplane was scary as hell. But it wasn’t that hard. Not really. Pushing through that fear was, in some ways, the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
Want to know what was more terrifying than that?
The day my own coach brought my attention to MY emotional unavailability. (I hear you asking where this is going, just hang on). The day she proved to me how I’D been unconsciously blocking the very connection I was craving in my relationship. (I know my face would have made Gary Coleman proud.)
“What you talkin’ ‘bout, I’m the most emotionally available person on the planet…In fact, I could probably stand to be less emotionally available…”
…except no. She was totally right. I’d spent a long time (an embarrassing number of YEARS, in fact) with an invisible hand clapped over my mouth, going to my head, my logic, and years of protective layers rather than my feelings and my heart. Paralyzed by fear. No, actually, mine was abject terror…not just plain ol’ fear. What can I say, I’m an over-achiever. Fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of not being enough, fear of not being worthy, fear of not being loved. Fear party, who brought the guac?!? Mmm, guac.
And for a person who considers herself to be pretty freaking self-aware, I didn’t even know it was hiding there, that sneaky fear bastard. It was the same day it sunk in that I had no choice BUT to find a way through my fear, no matter how much I wanted to throw up at the thought of it, unless I wanted to live a life on the surface, performing but not connecting. And I don’t. I had been longing for a deep connection and yet blocking the very thing I wanted the most, because my fear was so strong. So I had to leap. Learn to speak from my heart, not my defense mechanisms or wounding or old patterns of protection, to push through the fear, to be brave, to stumble, to fall, to get up, to try again.
Yeah. HEAVY stuff. Not easy. Still working on it every day. Baby giraffe learning to walk. This kid.
In some ways, I’d throw myself out of an airplane every day for a year if it meant a fast track through it.
Taking off the masks we’ve been wearing for years and dropping the performances we put on because we feel we’re “supposed to” act a certain way, or “have” to be “perfect” to be accepted or loved is scarier than any height.
It’s scary shit, man. But I’ve started to open up, as hard as it’s been. And I haven’t died from it. It’s just been uncomfortable. And it’ll keep getting easier, until the unfamiliar becomes familiar.
“Real vulnerability. TRUE authenticity? Not bypassing my own heart anymore? Hey, Jen…give me spiders, snakes, public speaking and heights any day, ok? And maybe some whiskey ‘cause this shit got real, fast…we were talking about sky diving, what the hell.”
I know. But this is the work. This is the work for all of us. It’s why I’m committed to saying the hard things publicly, to starting these conversations, to being vulnerable and sharing my own experiences and learnings as your own personal (and, c’mon, adorable) lab rat in this human life. Right out here, for everyone to see. And learn. And share. And maybe judge. And maybe criticize. Well, good. Because judging and criticizing means it struck a nerve. So who are you really judging and what are you really afraid of? (Yeah, kinda stings, huh. We love you anyway, JudgeyWudgey, we’re all human and growing).
Become aware of where you’re staying closed off out of fear.
And guess what? Everyone else feels the same way. They’re just as scared as you are. We all want to be loved, and all wonder if we’re worthy of love. If we’re enough. If we’ll ever BE enough.
But you are. And I am. The hardest work is to see it, to feel it, and to know it.
You ARE enough. You ARE worthy of love…most importantly, your own.
Push yourself out of the plane. It’s worth the free fall. You won’t die. I promise.
Sparkle on, friends.