Editor’s note: This first-person story documents what Daily Universe reporter Jessica Olsen learned about conquering fear by skydiving.
I’ve never ridden a roller coaster or jumped off the high dive — but yeah, I jumped out of a plane. That’s usually the first thing I tell people after I went skydiving.
When they ask why I did it, I give them a simple but equally confusing response: “Because fear is boring.”
This answer requires a little explanation. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love,” writes an entire chapter called “Fear is Boring” in her book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.”
“Fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture,” Gilbert writes. “Fear was a song with only one note — one word, actually — and that word was ‘STOP!’”
Endless worry and fear was the song I sang for most of my life. I have won too many “Never Have I Ever” games because of all I haven’t done out of fear.
A week before jumping out of a plane, I ate lunch with my friend Parker and his mom. She told me about her own deathly fear of heights and roller coasters. She, like me, loathes the feeling of falling. But she, unlike me, now seeks out the stomach-dropping feeling of going on roller coasters and cliff-jumping.
“The secret is to lean into it, to act like you love it,” she told me.
Her words inspired me. I couldn’t name one time my host of fears acted as any sort of inspiration. In fact, there’s nothing particularly unique about being afraid of the unknown. But bravery, now that is something special.
I texted my friend Napua that day. I told her we were going skydiving and set a date for the next Saturday. That entire week I ignored the rising terror within and acted excited about the whole idea.
When we arrived at 10 a.m. on Saturday, little did we know we would sit on a porch swing and wait seven hours before climbing into the tiny, 20-year-old airplane. Jumping out of the plane is the quick part, but signing waivers, watching the training video, waiting your turn, putting on gear, entering and flying in the plane is quite the process. It gives a lot of time for the anticipation to build, and even drop.
By hour three, Napua — who had been terrified all week — turned to me and said nonchalantly, “I’m not scared anymore, I just want to get on this stupid plane so I can get food.”
Her attitude changed once they finally assigned us to the person responsible for our lives: our tandem jumper. The man I would be strapped to was Kirill. He had just come from Russia and barely understood a word I said. He didn’t give me any instruction but strapped me up.
The airplane was tiny. I can’t emphasize this enough: We barely fit. There was duct tape on the inside, presumably holding parts of the plane together. That wasn’t too comforting.
Napua’s instructor strapped her in at the beginning of the ride, and I waited for mine to do the same. When he didn’t, I looked at my friend’s tandem instructor with a panicked expression.
“They do things differently in Russia,” her instructor said. Then he laughed at his own joke and my terror-stricken face.
It felt like only seconds before the plane door opened and then — we jumped.
My one source of comfort: I had heard skydiving supposedly didn’t feel like falling; it feels like flying.
It feels like falling. I think the first thing I yelled out to the open air was, “They lied to me!”
But something amazing happened. I learned that falling actually feels like flying after a while, and the screams of terror turned to screams of delight (probably still mixed with terror).
At the risk of sounding cliché, the lyrics from my favorite song “Fly” by Maddie and Tae come to mind: “You can learn to fly on the way down.”
I learned the opposite of my fear was joy, a joy that came from going against my instinctive “stop” and choosing to do something my bare instincts tell me not to. The beautiful thing about being human is our ability to make decisions that go against our primitive nature.
Four weeks later, I went skydiving again. Things didn’t go as well. Instead of opening at 6,500 feet, we opened at 3,000. Our parachute was twisted and we opened sideways.
When my tandem instructor and I reached the bottom, the jumper who went with us said, “Dude, I didn’t think you would make it.” If my math is correct, we were 15 seconds from reaching the ground.
So there are risks. I can’t ignore that. I want to go again because they say after a person gets bucked off a horse, they need to get back on immediately so they don’t develop a fear of riding horses.
I didn’t want conquering my fear to be an event. I want it to be a lifestyle. But everyone should be aware of the risks in overcoming fear: It’s a nice idea that doesn’t always pan out.
I still get asked a lot — even after explaining my “fear is boring” spiel — why I did it. They tell me it’s reckless and meaningless. I tell them someday all of us are going to do something that absolutely terrifies us and it will be important.
I say on that day, I want to be ready. I want to say I’ve done something that scared me once, and I can do it again. Risks or no risks.