Taylor Fussman: Skydiving provides ultimate lesson in overcoming fear

Taylor Fussman, a staff writer with the Pioneer, before going skydiving at Skydive Harbor Springs in Charlevoix. (Courtesy photo)

If you’ve ever done something incredibly stupid in your life you have probably experienced the gut-wrenching feeling of regret just before going through with it when you wonder how on Earth you’ve gotten to this point in your life. For me, this feeling came at about 10,000 feet above Lake Michigan as I hung my feet out the open door of an airplane with a complete stranger strapped to my back.

Sitting there, for what was the three longest seconds of my life, before being shoved out the door and into a free fall at more than 100 mph, I honestly questioned why I ever thought going skydiving would be a good idea. What is fun about plummeting thousands of feet toward probable death? Who in their right mind would trust a parachute folded into a backpack to prevent them from splattering in someone’s front yard? Why didn’t I just go out for a drink for my birthday instead of scheduling this insane escapade?

Even though I was concerned about my sanity at this point, I took one last deep and horrified breath before my jump partner sent us flying out the door of that tiny airplane.

I have no doubt my mind shut down for the first few seconds as we flipped through the air because I couldn’t have told you what was up and what was down or probably even my name, but the moment we leveled out and I saw the world stretched out beautifully below, I was overcome with an almost indescribably amazing feeling.

You would think mind-numbing fear would take over, but a strange sense of calm was the only thing I could register. In the absolute recesses of my mind I knew things like paying my rent bill and buying groceries were still important, but as the lakes and farms and clusters of houses came into perspective below me, none of it really mattered. Free falling is the only time I have ever been entirely present in a single moment.

This blissful experience of course ended much too soon as the stranger who I trusted with my life deployed the parachute and jerked me back into reality.

Once my mind was able to function a bit more coherently, I could begin to process what I was seeing and the fact I willingly jumped out of an airplane.

I’ve always been someone who overthinks the smallest decisions. I’m someone who puts on a calm exterior while completely panicking on the inside a majority of the time, but when faced with this terrifying situation, the fear disappeared. Falling at an insane speed toward the Earth was the most relaxed I have ever felt, and in those roughly 60 seconds I learned more about myself than any other experience has ever taught me.

Fear can be crippling, but sometimes setting the fear aside and taking the plunge — for me, literally — is exactly what you need to do.

There will still be plenty of situations in my life that scare me, but knowing I once jumped out of an airplane and survived might just make the next challenge seem slightly more manageable.

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