I’m afraid of heights. I’ve never really shied away from acknowledging that fear. While in the Army, I recall the nerves that gripped me as I stepped onto the skid of a UH-1H Huey helicopter for my first rappel to the group fifty feet below. Helo-casting from a CH-47 Chinook into the black night and eventually the tepid current of the Shagris River was exhilarating, but nerve-wracking. And creeping toward the Twin Otter’s open door on my first civilian skydive was a terrifying experience.
But in each instance, I overcame the fear of heights and accomplished what I had set out to do. I trusted the knots in my rappel harness. I believed there was a river down there in the darkness. And I put my faith in my two AFF instructors who would ensure I remained stable during my first freefall from 14,000 feet.
Trust me, I’m no Superman. I’m not impervious to fears, nor am I merely insane. I’d argue I’m little different in this regard from most others I know. We all have fears, be that of spiders, sharks, the dark, or yes, in my case, of heights (sharks also terrify me, I’ll also admit).
Mark Twain once stated, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
At a gather at my house this weekend, I found myself in a conversation about courage with one of my guests. Too often I hear people state their resistance to some action because they believe themselves to lack the intestinal fortitude to go through with something. Sometimes it’s the idea of jumping from a plane. Other times the fear is the unknown in leaving one job for another. Sometimes, they are afraid to end a miserable relationship because of the stigma they have attached to that action.
The problem with allowing fear to rule one’s decisions is not in simply having a fear, but in allowing that fear to overwhelm the consequences of taking action. What I mean is this…
Fear is one of the most powerful negative emotions people can experience. So powerful, in fact, that it too often eclipses one’s ability to fully understand or appreciate the value of taking a particular action. That value may be financial, spiritual, emotional, or an entirely different kind of value, but it typically is less “intense” a value (even if a greater value) that the feelings associated with fear. And so, feelings of fear can easily overwhelm more positive outcome associations. The result when this happens is a bodily refusal to face and overcome the fear, opting instead to avoid the feeling altogether.
And while fear exists because of a perception of risk, too often individuals, in avoiding facing their fears, are unable to clearly see the benefits right in front of them.
We can all benefit from facing our fears, overcoming the negative emotions of an upcoming experience or change. As I crept toward the roaring sky just beyond the skin of the aircraft, I acknowledged the fear. And I jumped.
You know, even after more than a hundred skydives, I’m still afraid of heights. I likely always will be. But in controlling this fear, I’ve gained both the wonderful gift of human flight and a greater self-confidence. And that’s been more than I could have expected or desired.