“Just keep running and don’t stop even when you reach the edge,” my hang gliding instructor cautioned me. I nodded and then asked, “What happens if I stop running?” He chuckled and said, “We’ll drop and it’ll take some time before we rise again. It’s scary and not much fun so … keep running and don’t stop.”
I turned and watched a tall blond man run and then slow down as he approached the edge. Sure enough, when he and his instructor reached the edge they swiftly dropped out of view instead of gliding away.
Gulp. What the hell was I doing here? What had possessed me to want to run off a mountain and in Rio no less? Did I not remember that I’m afraid of heights? Did I not remember that I didn’t have health insurance here? Damn, what’s the Portuguese word for “broken”?
Heck, I wasn’t even dressed properly. I was wearing flip flops for Pete’s sake. Sigh. Why didn’t I think this through?
Actually, this whole scenario was an object lesson tailor man for me. Earlier that year my life coach told me that she finally understood why I’d stayed in a job that I hated for years. She said, “As soon as you get close to the edge of leaving, you back away. You don’t follow through.”
My life coach was right, I have a habit of getting very excited about a big dream and at first, I will run full speed towards it. January has always been one of my go-to months for running down a dream. However, as I get closer to nearing the edge of my goal I falter and may even flat out stop running. And once I stop running the inevitable happens, my dream drops out of view.
So what keeps me from maintaining my momentum? Fear. Isn’t that the reason that most of us don’t do what we want in life? To be sure fear has its place. Standing on that mountain I had a legitimate reason to fear running off of it. I could crash and hurt myself or even die, but as Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic, “You do not need your fear in the realm of creative expression” and generally you don’t need it when you’re running down your dreams.
When I’m on the precipice of a big dream it’s not a specific fear that stops me, it’s a general fear of the unknown, followed by the usual “What ifs …?” What if I fail, what if I can’t do it or what if I actually succeed? The drumbeat of the “what ifs” becomes louder than the siren call of my dreams.
“We’re next. Ready?” my hang gliding instructor asked. I manage a barely audible, “Yes” and start to nervously rub my arm. Within a few minutes my instructor starts to run and since this is tandem hang gliding, I have to start running too. We’re running faster, faster, bearing down on the edge of the mountain.
Before I know it I’m running and there’s no ground under my feet. A pocket of air embraces us and we’re flying. A few seconds later I relax into this new reality and wonder why I’m not afraid. My fears hadn’t vanished, but they’d become foreign, distant. My mind couldn’t conceive of being afraid of crashing or falling because I was still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I was even flying. I’d literally outrun my fears.
What became more real to me than my fears was the sound of the wind as it rushed by my ears, the scent of the flowering trees as we weaved our way through Tijuca Forest, and the sight of Rio’s famous beaches below me. I didn’t have the capacity to fear this big because I’d never dreamed this big before.
Lately, I’ve been setting goals that feel as big as that mountain I ran off of. But what I’m doing is only focusing on the distance I need to cover today. I may not outrun my fears again, but I can manage them. And there might come a time when the effort to follow my dreams feels too hard and I don’t want to follow through. But when that happens I’ll think about the day that I flew and remember my hang gliding instructor’s words to “keep running and don’t stop.”