What Skydiving taught me

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It’s been a busy last month, full of traveling (to Washington DC) to provide some coaching/training to a client company in partnership with other coaches and with also new local adventures, and this took me away from writing. It’s time to get back to it, and today I want to take you up in the air.

At the end of the summer/beginning of the fall, I decided to skydive again after a 14 years break. I had done more than 50 jumps when I was between 21 and 28 years old. I had always been attracted to this, to the sensation of flying and had followed through with this dream in my young adult life. Then I stopped and had not really considered jumping again. Until last year. I started to feel a strong desire to go back up there, and to experience these sensations again. It started without really being too serious about it, but then the idea made its way and I got more and more determined to go for it, despite the fear. Because indeed, after 14 years, I had a lot of fear.

The way we show up somewhere in life is usually representative of the way we show up everywhere, and due to the intensity of the moment, which amplified everything, it got me present to some very insightful things that I want to share with you. And if you just want to enjoy the jumps without the insights That’s Here (these were the 3rd and 4th recovery jumps, from a bigger plane than the 1st and 2nd jumps which I mention here below).

  • The more you do something scary, the less scary it becomes.

    And the less you do it, the scarier it becomes again. This is obvious, but worth remembering though. My first 2 jumps after 14 years, I was super nervous and scared. And progressively, I got more confidence, my skills came back pretty quickly, my awareness during the fall increased (I could even see my neighborhood in the distance 😊) and I could really enjoy the last 2 jumps in October. Whatever it is that you want to do but are scared of doing, do it, again, and again, and again and the fear will fade away (although it won’t completely disappear and it’ OK).

  • Trust and Commitment:

    As I often tell the athletes I coach, once you have prepared and have done all you need, you have to trust and commit (and go have fun).

  • Trust others: I had to trust the person who had packed my parachute, I had to trust my instructor, I had to trust the pilot of the plane. It’s the same for you: in any adventure, project or work, at some point you have to trust your colleagues, your partners, your friends, etc…And it’s not easy specially when you like to be in control. Trusting others is a practice.
  • Trust ourselves: I had to trust that I knew what to do and how to do it despite the stress, trust that I had listened carefully, trust that in case of malfunctions, I would know how to react, etc…  And it’s not the easiest thing to do either.
  • Commit: commitment is the fuel that helps move forward through the fear and challenges. How much are you committed to whatever you are moving toward?

     In skydiving, all this comes to one singular instant, when you lose contact with the plane. This is the point of No Return, which can be the worst or the best moment depending on your perspective. In that particular moment (which is such an intense feeling), Trust and Commitment are at their peak. I like to think it’s the same in life: the moment you click to send an important email, the moment you start a difficult conversation (before that you still have a way out but once you have said the first words, you’re all in), the moment you go on stage to speak, the moment the gun goes off in a race. I invite you to bring trust and commitment to those key moments and see how that changes your experience.

  • The importance to have someone by your side

     When jumping from a small plane, the worst part (or best part once you are used to it) is when you make your way onto the footboard of the small plane, holding to the wing, 12000 feet (4000m) above the ground, with the wind pressing on your whole body…When I was on that footboard, ready to go for my first recovery jump, I gave a look at my instructor. I can still remember the eye contact, and seeing his reassuring face, smiling and confident. In that particular instant, I measured the importance of having the support of someone in the face of fear, adversity, challenge. My “Hercules” syndrome which I talked about in a previous post usually tends to take over and make me think that I don’t need support, but in this moment, I was able to see that I actually needed him to be here for me. And in some way, that’s what a coach does with his clients: be there for them, with an unconditional support, in the face of fear, adversity and challenge.

  • Take a deep breath, Relax, Smile and have fun!

     That’s what my instructor told me to do right before my first jump, and as I was on the small footboard, ready to let go of holding the wing, that really helped me go and enjoy (plus if you want to be stable in the air, you have to be relaxed). And I highly invite you to do the same whenever you do anything scary or stressful: a competition in sport, a presentation at work, any new thing that scares you. Seriously, do this: Take a deep breath, Relax, Smile and have fun!

  • “If you are willing to feel everything, you can do anything” (Peter Bregman in Leading with Emotional Courage)

     Part of my coaching journey has been to develop my ability to feel (and invite my clients to feel too) because what often gets in our way is our avoiding some feelings. And I must admit that skydiving is a great way to feel: the fear of course, the excitement, the shame/guilt of doing something dangerous, the joy when the parachutes opens properly, the feeling of being intensely alive…. And beyond the Fear, the feeling of Bliss and Freedom of flying.

  • Take responsibility, YOU are in charge

     The instructor made it clear when going through the course. He could teach, recommend, be close at the beginning of the fall, but in the end, it’s the skydiver’s responsibility to pull the handle and then fly the canopy. Once you leave the plane, you are by yourself. You are the only one in charge And some decisions were not obvious, like if the canopy opens and have a small hole but you can fly and control the canopy. You might want to leave it this way because it’s flying, or you might want to cut away and open the back-up parachute because you are not sure how the hole is going to evolve. The instructor shared what he would do, and that it was our decision. And I don’t like that… I prefer to be told that “this is the way you have to do”.During this process, I got really present to my usual tendency to try and find a way out of taking responsibility, maybe someone or something to blame if things don’t work out the way I planned, find excuses and reasons why it didn’t work, etc… I think it is related to not willing/accepting to fail. But in this case, it was clear that there was no way out. I had to take full responsibility; I was in charge of pulling the handle, I was in charge of flying the canopy and I was in charge of making the decisions in case of malfunctions. Period. That’s probably my biggest take away. It was both challenging/scary AND very empowering. I believe if we are willing to take the risk and feel the fear of owning who we are as a whole and take full responsibility for our actions and decisions, that will not only improve our experience but also improve our leadership.

  • A world of possibility

    Eventually, a big part of the coaching process is inviting us to live in a world of possibility. Instead of letting our usual thinking and rational analyzing kill any possibility as soon as we don’t see the exact path to our dream/most important objectives, we learn to leave that possibility open and take tiny steps toward it. A part of my brain still doesn’t believe we can jump out of an airplane and fall with only a small backpack with a piece of fabric that will almost magically unfold and hold you in the air. So skydiving, in a way, illustrates perfectly what a world of possibility is. If I can jump out of an airplane with only a backpack, what could get in the way of my achieving my dreams if I am really committed to them.

And you, what possibilities should you keep alive?

Take care,

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