Embrace your fear
On August 27th, 2010 my day started out just like any other, I showed up to work and attended the morning brief. After a few boring PowerPoint slides, the brief was over and walking back to my office I noticed a bunch of unfamiliar faces. There was a group of about 15 US Air Force pararescue specialists who were conducting parachute training at our air station. As I passed by, they were just finishing up their pre-jump brief, and I jokingly asked “you have any room for me?”. The guy in charge replied “sure, can you meet us downstairs in 5 minutes?”. This was a critical moment in my life, and I will go into detail later, but I nonchalantly said, “yeah I’ll see you there”.
Approximately 6 minutes later, I was dressed out with a weird looking helmet, goggles, a GoPro and strapped to another man’s chest sitting in the back of a C-23 Sherpa. Just mere moments after that we were spiraling up to altitude above Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. I got a quick crash course as we ascended, head all the way back, back arched and arms out until tapped three times, then cross my arms…got it. Soon, we were up at altitude and over the drop zone. The back gate of the plane opened, and I saw the most incredible view I have ever seen, a tropical paradise from above. I watched all the jumpers before me run out, doing flips and gracefully soaring out into the sky. We walked slowly up to the edge, I put my head back as I was instructed, and we stepped off the edge. It was much different than I expected. The feeling of falling only lasted for a brief moment and then it felt like we were flying there weightless. It was incredible, we were able to free fall for almost a minute, and it was the most exhilarating experience I have ever had. After the free fall, we deployed the parachute and just floated there taking in all the beautiful sights of the island. I had spent plenty of time flying over the same area, but this was different, it was not in a clumsy, noisy machine, with ten tons of gear between me and the outside world. It was just me floating there in the silent sky. I will never forget how serene and beautiful it was, it was one of the most amazing things I have ever done.
What I did not mention is that I am terrified of heights. I know what your thinking…”but you are a pilot?” and I have no real explanation except that flying does not scare me. Fear is funny like that.
What I left out of the story was the extreme fear that I felt. When I was asked if I wanted to meet them downstairs to go jump out of a plane I was horrified. I have nightmares about that kind of thing, but It was the ultimate test of me facing my fears, so I embraced it. During the climb, my heart was beating so fast it probably could have done permanent damage, but I did not let it affect me. When the door opened, I nearly panicked, but I charged out of the plane directly into my biggest fear. When I landed, the only thing better than the feeling of flying was the satisfaction of knowing I had fought and conquered my fear.
On September 30, 2010, a month after jumping out of that plane I was challenged again in a surf shop in San Juan. I was also terribly afraid to approach girls and ask them out. I think it was a fear of rejection that many people share. When I walked into that surf shop that day, there was a moment I would never forget. Standing there to greet me was a beautiful girl with an incredible smile who said something I did not understand in Spanish. That image is something I will never forget, and I still remember as vividly as if it happened this morning. This was the moment I met Natalie. It felt like the whole universe was telling me that I needed to talk to her. I was terrified, but I had to do it! I pretended to need sunglasses and spent about an hour trying on every pair in the shop. She was a captive audience, as she held the keys to the sunglasses case. After some conversation, I finally got her phone number by telling her that I knew someone with a vacation rental in Aguadilla, if she ever wanted to come and surf. This was true, but it was a cowardly man’s way of asking for her phone number. Since I had forced this poor girl to show me every pair of sunglasses ever made, I felt obligated to buy a pair, and I walked out of the store, defeated.
This could have been the worst mistake I ever made all because I had let fear get the best of me. I sat in my jeep feeling like a failure, trying to tell myself that I had done alright because I at least got her number. Then I thought I’ll just send her a quick text and see if she wants lunch, another cowardly move. After a few minutes of me staring at my phone for what seemed like hours, she texted me back and agreed to go. Looking back, I realize that moment where fear prevailed could have prevented so much happiness and drastically altered the course of my life. I would have let my soulmate slip right through my fingers and spent the rest of my life looking for the kind of love I feel now. I was extremely lucky.
I was also afraid of transitioning to veganism, and I was terrified of launching this website because I was worried about what other people would think, or that I might fail. I did it anyway, and the sense of accomplishment and compassion I feel is overwhelming.
Everyone experiences fear, and there is good reason for it. Fear has allowed us to survive as a species by alerting us to danger. Being afraid is acceptable, but we have to control our fears and act independently of them. Now I am determined never to let my fear affect my decisions in life. In fact, I find myself seeking out and embracing these fears because I know that is where I will learn and grow. There are moments in life that can change you forever, and some of these could be your greatest triumphs. It would be a tremendous shame to spend the rest of your time wondering what would have happened if you just had a little more courage. At this point, I look forward to being afraid because I see it as an opportunity to be courageous. No matter what you fear, big or small, run towards it, embrace it, and be brave.