Growing up, I was painfully shy. I had a very hard time relating to my peers and I was highly fearful of situations that I could not control. My mode of operations was to be as helpful to adults as humanly possible. It literally was a way that I could feel useful and be in control of my surroundings.
The best way I could be helpful and in control at age 10 was to take care of little kids. Without realizing what I was doing, I started my first business. I had a little red wagon and I would pull it around the neighborhood ringing the bells of the families with toddlers. I would ask them if they needed me to take care of their children for $1 per hour so they could get things done around their house or run errands. My business quickly bloomed and it wasn’t unusual for me to have five or six kids at any time throughout the day. And, I also became the evening “go to” babysitter.
Once I was able to get a workers permit, I got a job, but always had some sort of little business going. I especially loved summers because unlike all the kids my age, it meant I could work even more. It was my greatest escape. I’d carved out a nice little comfort zone and was content to stay inside.
Although I loved what I was doing, there was always this fear that held me back from doing certain things. I became the greatest spectator. When all the kids were going out and having fun, I stayed home because I was fearful I would look stupid. When I left for college, I made up my mind that I was going to change, so I joined a sorority and made some great friends who I am still in touch with today. But, I still held back. I became the designated “walker” who made sure everyone got home safely. There was always this fear in the back of my mind.
As I had kids, I was still living life on the sidelines, never sure how to jump into the game. I had fun, and I was happy, but, that fear was always there. I just assumed this was how it was going to be.
Until December 22, 2008. That’s the day I literally jumped off a cliff!
Our family had taken our first real vacation – a Caribbean cruise. We signed up for an excursion on the island of Grenada. It was a hike through one of their plantations – nothing too crazy. I’d made sure it was “safe”. When we arrived, we started down the trails with a guide and we were able to taste things they were growing right off the plants. Everyone did it, but me. Too risky. Again, I was on the sidelines watching everyone gush over how delicious everything tasted.
As the hike went on, we came to a beautiful waterfall. Our guide indicated that the water was deep and that anyone who wanted could jump off the cliff. I don’t remember how high it was, but I knew it was taller than the high dive at the pool.
I have NO idea what possessed me, but I looked at my husband and said, “I’m doing this”. He was stunned and looked at my like I had three heads and said, “ok”. But, I told him the condition was that he had to do it with me. Thankfully, he agreed.
So, we made the trek to the top of the cliff. All along, I had this conversation going in my head telling me to turn back. I was so consumed with fear that I was shaking. However, my desire to overcome the fear had finally grown bigger. I hung back and watched person after person make the leap. Some even came back for a second jump.
I told my husband that he had to go first. I figured that if something happened to him, I could still back out. So, he jumped first.
Then, it was all me.
I stood on top of that cliff looking down. I was nauseous, sweating, shaking – WHAT WAS I DOING??? All I could think was: this is crazy, back out. In that moment, I have no idea what happened or how I actually made the leap, but, I jumped.
I remember hitting the water and instinctively torpedoing to the surface.
Never in my life have I felt pure adrenaline. It was a rush. WOW. Aside from my marriage vows and giving birth three times, this was the greatest feeling in the world.
Not only was it adrenaline that I felt, but it was accomplishment. I had done it. I conquered a huge fear and I didn’t die! I didn’t even get hurt!! I recall being a little sore from hitting the water, but, it didn’t matter. I did it. I finally left my comfort zone!
That day, I finally understood that I could do anything I put my mind to doing. I realized how completely irrational the fears were that had been holding me back from so many things. Most importantly, I suddenly knew that the biggest obstacle I was facing was myself. I was my own worst enemy.
My husband and my kids told me they were proud of me for making that leap. Other people on the tour congratulated me because obviously, they saw what a complete train wreck I was on the way up. But the thing that mattered most to me was how proud I was of myself.
I look back on the photo of my leap that day often. I use it as motivation when my fears try to rear their ugly heads.
I’ve learned that the fear will always be there. It comes in the form of hesitation. But, I now know it is ok to be fearful. I’ve learned to use fear more as a barometer to ensure I have appropriately assessed all my risks. But, I refuse to let it hold me back.
About a week ago, I was talking with a friend who is starting a new career. She was hesitating and simply couldn’t get herself started. She was in that scary place at the top of the cliff looking down thinking she couldn’t do it. I told her my story. Of course, it was so easy for me to tell her what to do – she was the one who needed to take action. Nothing made me happier than when she called me back a week later with the most incredible excitement in her voice. She had taken the leap!