The sight of people bungee jumping off the Kawarau Bridge, in New Zealand, made me shiver.
The scene is breathtaking, but it’s chilling to watch daredevils shoot out through a narrow canyon down to a rushing river below.
My heart pounded on the walk to the edge of the bridge. I looked back and saw a gazing crowd gathered anxiously along the water.
I wanted to run, but knew we couldn’t flake because my friend Shannon and I were already in too deep. Our tandem jump wasn’t an option anymore.
We had to duck under a wooden bar and sit on a seat so these guys could secure all of our safety equipment. They wrapped ropes and cloths around our ankles and clicked little chains together to keep everything in place.
The guys put harnesses around our butts and our waists to connect us, checked our ankle wraps one more time, and had us inch out onto a plank suspended above the Kawarau River.
Short of breath, I told the guy coaxing us to wait, “I’m just going to need one more second here (for the love of God),” but he didn’t listen. He told us to extend our outside arms like bird wings and wrap our inside arms around each other.
Sure the bungee chord would snap, I figured at least one of us would slip out of the harness. Before I could protest anymore, the guy gave us a gentle shove, and we flew out into Neverland.
Wind pounded my face. My stomach zipped into my throat, and my ability to breathe disappeared. Baby Jesus help ussssss.
Up until now, I considered that bungee jump in 2009 the hairiest thing I’d ever tackled.
These days, as I continue to settle into my grownup skin, I find saying no and actually speaking up when something doesn’t work for me, a lot scarier.
I realize to some (superhuman people) this sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I’d really rather leap off a bridge than have an uncomfortable conversation. If it is with someone I love, times the apprehension by ten.
I’ve thought about my “awkward conversation avoidance” and why I can’t just say what’s inside.
I believe the answer lies somewhere in the place where I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, or have them be mad at me.
Truthfully, I don’t want anyone to be angry with me because I don’t want to experience discomfort myself.
A friend of mine recently told me about a prickly conversation she finally had with a roommate she longed to break ties with.
My friend lived uncomfortably for one year before she finally initiated the discussion. The roommate ended up moving out in a huff, and my friend felt relieved.
She acknowledged, though, that she chose to live in an unpleasant situation for one year to avoid a conversation and awkwardness that lasted for five minutes.
So why are we so afraid of what people think? Why can’t we handle them being upset with us?
At first I thought it had to do with my big caring heart. Through further investigation, I’m finding it has more to do with my ego.
If someone is irritated with our words and perceptions, they might think badly of us. They could even set out to tell other people how rotten we are.
So, I think we care more about how they perceive us. We hope they never see anything but our bright shiny personalities. God forbid they make a negative point about us that’s accurate. Nobody enjoys looking at his or her own defects.
It helps me to remember that I can only share my heart in a loving way; the other person’s reaction is actually none of my business.
If they become enraged, I won’t spontaneously combust. And if the person rejects me, I will survive that too.
Personal freedom is about willingly embracing situations that used to send me sprinting for the hills. Speaking my truth feels like another bungee jump a lot of the time, but it gets easier.
It also involves staying to listen to the other person’s thoughts on the situation, even when the words sting. If I’m going to dish, I have to be courageous enough to stay, listen, and hear what they have to say as well.
I survived the bungee jump by the way (obviously). I shut my eyes through the whole thing and thought I had a real heart attack at one point.
I hid inside myself, and while I blocked out the fear, I missed the joy too. I wish I could go back and experience that jump for real. Maybe some day I will.
Practicing bravery is about challenging myself to keep my eyes open in the scariest situations.
Each time I pull my feet out of the figurative cement I’ve poured around them, and walk into a challenge, I’m a thousand times stronger when I walk out.
We can’t predict the outcome, but we can go into situations knowing that courage usually yields strength and continued growth of self-esteem.
So I will keep jumping because the pay off is much greater than the initial anxiety that tells me to run.