A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do something I never wanted to do: Zip lining. Well, to say I never wanted to do it isn’t accurate. I have been intrigued by the idea for years but fear has always held me back from even considering it. It’s not that I’m afraid of heights. I love being in high places. But, I’ve made it a rule of thumb to stay away from activities that require a release of liability form. I mean, really, that’s just good sense, right?
So, when Matt started planning a trip to Seattle and Vancouver and said that he saw an ad for a zip lining tour company in Whistler, British Columbia my first reaction was, “no effing way.” He said a bunch of other stuff about zip lining that I didn’t hear because my brain was screaming, “No! Unwelcome! Do not want!” Then he said something that finally caused me to say, “If you schedule this, I don’t want to know about it until they are putting the harness on me.” I heard nothing more on the subject for weeks.
As our vacation drew closer, my anxiety kicked into high gear. I started wondering, “Did he schedule it?” I found sly ways to ask him but he wasn’t giving anything up. Then I did something dumb. I looked at the website for one of the tour companies in Whistler. 2400 foot lines? 30 stories high? All of the people in the pictures are wearing snow pants. I don’t have snow pants. Do I need to buy snow pants? I’ll look dumb without snow pants. Why am I obsessing about snow pants!?
I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally texted him at work a week before we were scheduled to leave, “Is there any reason I may need to buy snow pants before we leave?”
“No,” he replied. “They told me they have stuff to rent:)”
Well, there it was. Confirmation. I wanted to slap that smiley face right off my text screen. I did my best to not think about what was coming. Our vacation was nine days long and zip lining was on day six so we had plenty of things to distract us. But, day six came quickly and before we knew it, we were standing in the basement of a building in Whistler, waiting for our guides to meet us and take us to our doom. There was a family of seven that would be going on our tour and we chatted with them briefly. “How are they so calm?” I thought to myself.
The guides arrived and ushered us into a narrow room filled with lockers. They lined us up against a wall (like we are next in line for the firing squad.) On the floor in front of us was a line of harnesses. We were told to step into the harness and pull it up around our hips. The guides tightened the harnesses, gave us helmets and off we went to the ski lift. We chatted a bit and I mentioned that when I’m afraid to do something, I like to just do it and get it over with. The rest of the group jumped on this and volunteered me to go first down the first line. (Maybe they weren’t so calm after all.) I really do believe it’s best to just get scary things over with. As a very shy introvert, this coping mechanism has helped me navigate several awkward “ice-breakers” in training classes and meetings at work. Volunteer to go first and you can relax for 10 minutes as everyone else takes their turn. I immediately regretted this strategy the second I saw the first platform. The first zip line on our tour was the longest, highest and fastest we would be on. And it looked terrifying. It was also the only tandem line on that tour so if I was going first, Matt was going with me.
Tandem zip lines into oblivion.
I can’t rationally explain what happened next. Maybe it was knowing there would be no turning back, maybe it was the expertise of our guides who checked and tightened our harnesses and double checked the lines that were attached to us, maybe it was just pure adrenal overload. Whatever it was, as I stepped down the first stair of a staircase that ended in midair, a staircase that getting to the bottom of would mean being launched down a steel cable at 50 mph, I felt…calm. All the fear and anxiety left my body. I said to myself, “I can do this!” I looked over at Matt and we counted down, “3, 2, 1!” I stepped off and a rush of cold air hit me as I sailed down the line. The wind spun me around so I was facing backwards for most of the ride, but the view…oh the view was spectacular. Gorgeous mountains and snow covered trees and a stream down below.
Hanging by a thread.
At some point during the 30 or 40 seconds it took to get to the end of that first line, I thought, “I can’t believe I almost said no and missed this!” Then I started laughing hysterically. I laughed at how scared I had been and at how much fun I was having and at Matt who was flying way faster than I was down the line. I felt the sudden bump of the break (the tour guides did the breaking for us…bonus!) and as I scrambled up the little ramp to the landing platform, I was still laughing. As I look back on the whole adventure, I still chuckle from time to time. I became more and more confident and relaxed with each line I completed. By the time the tour was over, I was ready to go back to the top and do it all over again.
So, what was at the magic thing Matt said that pushed the right button in my brain? He knew I was planning to launch Emmet Street Creations five days after we got back from our vacation. And he knew how nervous I was about the launch. So, he said, “Jumping off a mountain is a lot like starting a business. Both take a long road, careful preparation and the ability to set aside your fear and just jump. If you can do one, you can do the other.” And, he was right. (Don’t tell him I said that.) Fear has always been a ruling factor in my life and it has stopped me from doing things that are really fun. But, I’m looking at fear differently now.
I think Will Smith said it best in the movie After Earth (yes, I saw it, don’t judge) when he said, “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”
And it’s true, we do tell ourselves stories that shape how we feel about events that haven’t even happened yet and that cause us unnecessary fear and anxiety. My thoughts sound like this:
“I’m not good enough.”
“I’m not smart I enough.”
“I’m not strong, thin or pretty enough.”
These thoughts have been my constant companions throughout my life but that day on the mountain, I changed my story and said, “I can!” I’m not saying I won’t ever feel afraid again. The next time I see a spider run cross the floor, I’m going to jump as high as I always have. But the next time I hear that voice in my head say, “I can’t,” I’m going to stop and change the story. And, maybe with some practice, I’ll be able to tell that voice to go jump off a mountain.