Episode 10: Now I’m free fallin’

I’m sure you know the expression, “Take a leap of faith!” Everyone’s heard it.

Well, I have a bone to pick with it.

I’ve noticed we live in a society that tends to focus exclusively on “the leap.” That moment when against all odds, you jump into the unknown with only your dreams and passions to guide you. Sounds wild, exciting, and inspiring, right? We give accolades to entrepreneurs and bloggers for knowing when it was the right time to take “the leap”. It’s like this big secret timeline that only a few elite people know about. (For the record I would like to point out that I took “the leap” at a very inconvenient and potentially unwise time. Or so the world would say. So my theory is that there isn’t a perfect leaping time, ever. Yes, there may be smarter times to make certain business moves or whatnot. But I think that if you want it, you can sign up to leap whenever you damn well please.)

It is true though. There is an actual leaping moment. I can vouch for that. The problem is that no one talks about what happens after the initial plunge. I think there is a huge misconception that once you take “the leap” the rest will just come easily. The truth is that what happens after you leap is the really difficult part.

Speaking of willingly signing up for a leap, I went bungee jumping a year ago on my 23rd birthday. (This is what happens if you hang out too much with Marc, the ultimate hype man. Or really anyone with a woo personality.) I’m extremely competitive and I actually love thrill rides so I figured it couldn’t hurt. Here’s what I discovered: the lead-up to the leap was when the nerves hit. Walking out on that little plank-type thing, 160ft over the glacial fed Cheakamus River with only the bungee harness strapped on was nothing short of nerve-wracking. But as I prepared to jump I was still surrounded by a crowd who cheered me on. All of my friends were up there talking about the drop, I had the bungee-jump dude holding my hands, and I had a nice little countdown. I had people. Looking back I’m not sure if I would’ve jumped nearly as quickly if it weren’t forced. They literally gave me like 5 seconds once I got the harness on. I had zero say in the matter. The guys who worked there just looked at me, asked if I was ready, and then began to count. And as much as I hated them in that moment, I needed that. It forced me off the ledge.

You know what ended up being the actually terrifying part?

THE FREAKING DROP. 

That’s when your stomach flips inside out. That’s when you have no idea when the end of the rope is coming. That’s the first time ever you experience the feeling of free falling with nothing strapping you in.

That’s when you are completely alone.

The drop is the scary part. And guess what comes after the drop? Another freaking drop! And another! (I have to emphasize this strongly because for some reason in my brain I had calculated only one bounce while bungee jumping. Not true, friends! You keep bouncing until you run out of steam. And then just when you think you’re done you start to swing.)

My point is this:

  1. Don’t decide to bungee jump on a whim. It is quite a thrill and I highly recommending arriving mentally prepared.
  2. We hype up the leap way too much! The hard part is the bounce, then the subsequent bounces, and then the swinging! There isn’t some magical pillowy cloud that scoops you up the instant you leap. If you are going to leap you have to be prepared for the impending free-fall.

I was about 8 months into my leap of pursuing writing full-time when I got caught off guard by a second bounce. (A completely unexpected one, as they all are). At this point the hype of the big leap had worn off. I couldn’t hear my cheer squad anymore; they were still standing up on the bridge. It was just me bouncing. My second bounce came in the form of some unforeseen health issues. Bear in mind I had stepped away from the comforts of a regular job. I was paying (as little as possible) my own health insurance, and it didn’t cover much.

The second bounce brought with it a lot of anxiety.

“Crap, I did not plan for this!” “When will this end?”

A lot of self-pity.

“Why the hell is this happening now?? I have literally been healthy my entire life and never needed my health insurance. Is this for real, God?”

And a lot of sick days where I couldn’t work.

Those sick days would trigger more anxiety (because I could not meet my own self-made deadlines.) They would get me caught up in my own head, questioning whether or not I was cut out for this. They would trigger guilt and shame, which cycled me into even more self-pity. All while I was alone, just me bouncing on the end of my bungee cord.

We assume that the leap is the scariest part. We assume that if someone has the courage to leap then they totally have the courage for the rest. That couldn’t be farther from the truth! Leaping is easy; the hard part is everything that comes next.

So what has kept me sane? Number one. I phoned a friend. To keep the metaphor alive, this looks like continuing to scream (loudly and unattractively) at all the bounces following the initial bungee-leap. I let people know I was struggling. I let them inside my head. I let them speak positivity back into my life. Slowly but surely that vulnerability chipped away at my anxiety, self-pity, guilt, and shame spiral. It allowed me to give myself grace in the unknown. Yes, I had no idea what was coming and that was ok. I realized how many other people had similar experiences to me. I actually wasn’t all alone! It closed the gap between me on the end of my bungee cord and all my friends waiting for me on the bridge. Reaching out was crucial. It’s super important to note that my cheer squad never left that bridge. They were always watching me and cheering for me. But in the moments of fear and anxiety during the free-fall I forgot they were there at all.

The other thing that helped enormously was reading Jen Sincero’s book, “You Are A Badass.” One of her chapters talks about what to expect when you finally start pursing your dreams and or destiny. Or in her terms, when you wake up from the “Big Snooze.” Basically she says that the universe is going to crap all over you. It’s like you create waves in the atmosphere; you disrupt the typical day-to-day hum drum monotony. You are fighting against everything the world and your limiting beliefs are pressuring you to become; you are carving a new path, your own path. And when you do, the world seems to fight back.

“The Big Snooze is like an overprotective Italian mother who not only doesn’t want you to ever go outside, but who wants you to live with her forever. Her intentions are good, but fully fear-based. As long as you stay inside the familiar, risk-free zone of your present reality, the Big Snooze is content, but should you try to sneak past her to attend the rockin’ party outside, your overprotective, controlling mother is going to claw, scratch, bite, hurl her body in front of your rapidly approaching new life- basically she’s going to do whatever she can to stop you. And it ain’t gonna be pretty.”

(You Are A Badass, p. 45).

Whether you believe, as Jen does, that this is the work of Karma or The Universe, or maybe you aren’t sure what to chalk it up to. I can say without a doubt I found there was a definite push-back to my dreams. I believe in God, and in doing so I also believe in the Devil. Not a pitch-fork bearing dude in a suit. But I think he’s real and that he adamantly opposes our dreams, the very things that lead us into the destiny God has planned for us. He uses whatever he can to convince us to quit along the way. And he loves using adversity. He also loves making it seem like God isn’t good. If God is with me, and if he wants me to be a writer (or an astronaut, or a singer, or a successful business owner), then why is this so hard?

It’s hard because we idolize our independence. It’s hard because vulnerability is misconstrued in our own minds as weakness. It’s hard because since we don’t hear other people share their struggles we assume they have none. Therefore, we shouldn’t struggle either. It’s hard because we all need to learn to phone a friend.

Life is not supposed to be lived alone! It isn’t supposed to be lived via technology either. We all need people, real face-to-face interaction with people. I don’t care how introverted you think you are, it doesn’t exempt you. And we don’t just need people on the good days. Last summer felt like one big stretch of good days. There was always something to celebrate; I graduated university, we had 3 family weddings, countless parties and vacations. I had literally just decided to start this whole writing thing, so it felt like every weekend someone was cheersing to my future! (The fears, insecurities and reality of what I actually signed up for hadn’t hit me yet.) This winter hasn’t quite been the same. I’m now in the middle of actually writing a book, which is a whole lot more challenging than I ever could have anticipated. We just lost my grandpa a week ago, so my family isn’t celebrating so much as mourning a heavy loss. A lot of people I know are experiencing heartbreak, tragic losses, and disappointments. To top it all off it has been a friggen’ long cold Canadian winter, like really really cold. (For those of you from warm climates bear in mind that seasonal depression is a real thing!) Here’s my point. It is really easy to be around people in the good times. It is so fun to go out with your friends and connect with others when you’re proud of where your life is at, you feel accomplished, and whatever plans you’ve made are falling nicely into place. Conversely, it is one of the hardest things in the world to reach out in the hard times. To pick up my phone when I’m bummed, or disappointed, or just avoiding reality. To stop my self-pity parties before they really get going. To be real. To be honest. Those times are so freaking hard.

But I don’t think we were designed to live alone. There are reasons for community, it’s incredibly healthy and incredibly natural. Only a sociopath goes bungee jumping all alone! When you attempt to take on your fear of heights, those butterflies in your stomach, and the unknown drop you bring a support crew along with you. The same principle applies to life. I think the greatest way to resist the bummed-out feelings that ride in with adversity is to surround yourself with amazing people. Especially when all you want to do is hide, or back down, or cave in.

You know how people say, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, I’m pretty sure it takes a village to raise up dreams as well.

Whatever leap you’re taking in life, don’t go at it alone. Regardless of what you choose to believe in, remember that the leap isn’t the hardest part. It’s actually pretty fun for a bit once you get your feet off the ledge. The leap is when you just let yourself free-fall.

Everything that follows requires a bit of a fight. It requires everything you’ve got. It requires everyone you’ve got.

But it’s definitely worth it.