I was standing at the side of a bridge somewhere in the middle of nowhere on Vancouver Island, staring down at the water. The river felt like it was a few feet and a thousand miles below me at the same time, its water rushing faster than I had expected and murkier than I would have liked. The bridge was stable, sturdy, but still seemed to sway in the light breeze as I stood on the ledge, taking in the sunlight. I wasn’t scared — I was ready.
So I jumped.
As I fell head first towards the murky river, my heartbeat quickened and the light breeze felt like a cold blanket across my body. I remember clearly the blood rushing to the top of my brain, leaving my fingertips and toes numb and tingly. Barely a second had passed since I had leapt off the bridge but it felt like hours; my abdominal muscles tightened and the loosened repeatedly dozens of times. And then, as I could feel on my skin the small droplets of water jumping up from the river, my body relaxed, my arms extended and prepared for immersion into the murkiness.
My fingers had just broken the surface of the bitterly-cold water when the bungee cord yanked at the harness attached to my lower body, pulling me back up towards the bridge. And then back down towards the river. And then back up again. And down again.
I bounced through the air until the cord had lost its elasticity and I was brought back ashore by the boat waiting downstream. That was ten years ago, and it was my first time bungee jumping.
When I got back to shore, a friend of mine that had accompanied me but refused to jump started asking me dozens of questions. The first one: “were you scared?”
No. I honestly wasn’t scared. Bungee jumping was fun, thrilling, but it was not scary. Neither was white-water kayaking. Nor singing a solo at a concert hall with two thousand people in attendance. Nor climbing the escarpment rockface at Rattlesnake Point. Nor giving a speech to a room of dignitaries like Queen Noor and HRH The Earl of Wessex. Nor giving CPR to a heart attack patient after patching up a chest wound. Nor deciding to pack up all my belongings and move to another part of the world for work, or for school, again and again over the years.
Those things don’t scare me. Usually, I’m pretty unfazed in the face of pressure; many of my friends tend to believe that I’m not scared of anything. They believe that, while I may worry too much, and take things too personally, and put my foot in my mouth more often than I’d like, the one thing that I don’t have is fear.
They’re wrong, of course. I’m afraid of a lot of things. (And I’m not just talking about my uneasiness with revolving doors.) In fact, I fear more than most people, I think. I’m afraid of being forgotten. I’m afraid of being misunderstood. I’m afraid of falling in love and not being loved back. I’m afraid of never being good enough. I’m afraid of never making a positive impact. I’m afraid of being mediocre. I’m afraid of disappointing my friends and loved ones. I’m afraid of hurting people. Most of all, I’m afraid of growing old alone.
Everybody’s scared of something.
Fearlessness is elusive: even the most confident person has an insecurity hiding in them, somewhere. Having those fears, those insecurities exposed can feel like plunging into the water below and not having the bungee cord around to pull you back out. Even the hardiest of people — the people who don’t think twice about jumping off a bridge attached to an elastic band — have trouble bouncing back when they face the things that scare them the most.