Friday, November 3, 2017

Face your fears and try something new

Author: Alan Kirshner 
              Finance Professional/Credit & Collections/Financial Analysis/SAP

For as long as I can remember I have always had a fear of heights.  If I was walking on a high mountain trail, I would always stay to the inside and not look over the edge.  It’s not an issue of being up high, because I am fine with being on a jet plane or being on the observation deck at the Freedom Tower.  The problem lies in being up high and on the edge of something where I could fall off and tumble to my death.

I suspect that I must have had a trauma early in life where something bad almost happened to me with a fall.  As much as I have had this fear for a long time, I do not let it paralyze me.  I will hike in the mountains and usually go very quickly if I am near the edge and feel I am in danger of falling off.  I have pushed myself to do things like take a mule trip into the Grand Canyon.  It seems like every time my anticipation is worse than the actual event.

With this theme of pushing my limit with heights, I set a goal of sky diving.  I’ve been working my way up to it by taking smaller steps.  I started out by jumping off the side of a boat.  After accomplishing that, I decided to set a goal of going Parasailing.  I accomplished that one with the support and hand holding from my son.

I started thinking about the skydiving a number of years ago but felt like it was going to be well into the future.  I was thinking it would be after my two sons graduated from college.  Lately I started to look into it and decided why wait, because you never know what the future will bring.  I also went to an inspirational networking meeting and the speaker asked the question, “when is the last time you did something for the first time?”  I found that was the push to get me to sign up for skydiving.  I also felt it would be a great accomplishment to finish the summer.  It was complicated, because the place I was planning to use, gets shut down every time Donald Trump comes to his golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey because of flight restrictions.  It was recently closed for 17 days.
Well on a Friday I booked the skydiving for the following Tuesday at 11:00AM.  I kept affirming the thought, “I am confident and relaxed successfully skydiving.”  I said it while hiking, biking and running over the next few days.

On Monday night, I got a call confirming my skydiving appointment for Tuesday. That night, I did my affirmations one more time and tried to relax.  The weather forecast called for some fog and potential for rain.

I woke up on Tuesday morning and it was very cloudy.  Since I did not receive a call canceling skydiving, I headed over to the airport.   When I got there, I was shown a short video, explaining how dangerous skydiving is, and how you are assuming all the risk including death when you do it.  The next step was to go on an IPad and sign 2 different waiver forms which repeatedly mention you can be seriously hurt or killed and you will not sue the skydiving company, instructor, or equipment maker.  Their computer system ‘crashed’ several times and I needed to start the waiver from scratch each time.  The forms also said you needed to specify that you do not take any medication regularly and don’t have any issues such as heart disease.  I answered that I do take a medicine.  I also found out that due to the cloudiness they had not started the jumping that morning and consequently there was a 2 hour delay.  I started hoping they wouldn’t let me jump for medical reasons.  I finally completed all the forms and found out I would be on the 4th plane going up.  I resigned myself to the wait, and started talking to people to learn more about the experience.  I also texted my wife to tell her about the delay.  No sooner did I complete the text, when they told me I had been pushed up to the next flight and I needed to get harnessed and ready to jump.

The panic started to set in and they put the harness around me.  I met the instructor named Matt who I was going to jump connected to me and asked him to go easy on me since it was my first jump.  I also shared with him that I have a big fear of heights and he told me he did also and this wouldn’t be a problem.  I purchased a video/photo package of the experience and Matt started to take pictures of me on the ground and near the plane.  We boarded the plane and as luck would have it, I was sitting on a seat right next to the exit door.  I dreaded this because one of the people I spoke to on the ground said on the flight up when it gets hot the sky diving instructors like to open the door and leave it open for a while to bring cold air into the cabin.  She said this was the scariest part for her.  Sure enough that happened and I could not bear to look out the open door but choose to look into the airplane instead.  I was very relieved when the instructors cooled off and closed the door again.

Matt gave me instructions about getting out of the plane which included dangling my feet over the side.  He also said I needed to arch my head and back and bend my knees and keep them together once we leave the plane.  I found out that Matt has been jumping for 10 years and had done over 2000 jumps.

Matt and I were number 3 in the cue to jump out and the time had come for people to exit the plane.  I watched the first 2 sets of people go and realized I was up next.  I dangled my feet out the plane and Matt launched us out of the airplane.  The free fall was amazing, as it was just like being in a wind tunnel with air flying all around you.  Eventually I felt the big tug as the parachute deployed.  Matt told me that I made it and he was in control from there.  I looked around and got extremely nervous because we were still 8000 feet above mother earth.  Matt could tell I was very tense and he tried to relax me.  He also loosened some of the ropes on the harness to make us more comfortable, though that made me even more nervous.  Although it was beautiful scenery, I just couldn’t wait to get down. He handed me a yellow string and when I pulled it down with my right hand, we moved to the right.  I did the same thing with the string in my left hand and we moved to the left.  Soon he took over the steering for landing and instructed me that we would be landing on our bottoms and to make sure to keep my legs out horizontally and hold them there because this was the dangerous part where we could really get hurt.  Silly me, I thought all the previous parts of the jump were the dangerous ones. I did exactly as Matt instructed and we landed on the left side of our bodies instead of our bottoms. We hit the ground a little harder than I expected, my ears became completely clogged, but no injuries.   I was so relieved to be back on the ground.

I found out from Matt that we did the free fall for 30 seconds and the plane went up to 10,000 feet.  Wow what an exhilarating and scary experience for me.  Thinking about it now, I have not completely conquered my fear of falling, but I am proud I was able to push myself beyond my fear.  I also feel more confident to try new things in the future.  Looking down from a mountain does not seem nearly as high or scary any more.