My friend Amy has never wanted to go skydiving. Not once.
She’s not your typical risk-taking type. She’s more likely to be the one holding coats and purses at Six Flags than the one waiting in line for the Tower of Terror. But a few years ago several of her friends were going, and she was on this kick where she was trying to take more chances, and the tickets just happened to be on sale that day—
So she decided she was going to give it a try. My practical, pragmatic, feet-are-better-left-on-the-ground friend Amy was going to jump out of a plane.
What happened next is almost laughable (especially since I’m not who was jumping out of the plane).
The anxiety started to ramp up while she was still on the ground. You have to get all suited up—with a helmet and one of those little jumpsuits and who knows what else—and then you have to wait in line for your turn to go up in the plane.
So you just have all this time to think.
Think about what could possibly happen to you if the chute doesn’t open. Think about how terrifying its going to be. Think about what you should have said to your friends and family in case you don’t make it out alive.
Amy said her breath started to shorten, and she actually felt a little sick.
The instructors tried to calm her, but it wasn’t much use. Even watching groups of people come back to the base, safe and sound, didn’t do much to allay her concerns. Her heart was racing and she was watching the sky praying it would suddenly start to rain so she could go home and get into bed.
Once she was up in the plane, the feeling only got worse.
Adrenaline was pumping through her veins, and the plane was tiny and wavering back and forth, which made her feel even more sick to her stomach. She told us later she wondered what would happen if she barfed on the instructor on the way down, but even as she sat there panicking, she told herself: “Well, I’m up here. I guess there’s no turning back now.”
From the time the plane took off, to the time she jumped, was probably only 45 minutes. But it was the longest 45 minutes of her life.
It felt like hours. Days. Years.
But then the craziest things happened. Amy jumped.
And what happens in the story next shouldn’t surprise you, but it surprised me a little, knowing her. From the minute her feet left the airplane, all of the anxiety and terror she had once felt subsided. It was pure, unadulterated joy. This is Amy we’re talking about—my sensible, down-to-earth, “I’ll-hold-your-coats-while-you-go-on-the-ride” friend.
It was smooth-sailing the whole way down.
From my perspective, this story could be about anything.
It could be about Skydiving—or it could be about starting a business, having a baby, getting married, quitting your job, moving overseas, discovering your child has a learning disability, resolving a conflict, repairing a relationship, breaking up with a girlfriend/boyfriend—and still, the outcome would still be the same.
The ramp-up to each of these things is always so much more terrifying than the event itself.
In fact, maybe we aren’t scared of the event at all. Maybe we’re just scared of being scared of the event. And then, once we have a chance to face our fear like my friend Amy did, and we overcome it, we realize we are actually so much more brave than we ever knew.
There’s actually a term for this.
I discovered it while I was reading Malcom Gladwell’s David and Goliath, in which he discusses what one psychologist calls “affective forecasting.” Affective forecasting is our tendency to predict ahead of time how we are going to feel about a particular situation.
Unfortunately, according to Gladwell and his research, we do a terrible job of predicting our future feelings about things.
We tend to underestimate how much we will enjoy things, overestimate how difficult things will be, and when it comes to fear, we’re far more scared of feeling scared than we are of any given circumstance.
When, as it turns out, all we need to do to get to joy is exactly what Amy did—let our feet leave the floor, and jump.