Falling Forward

Posted on Tuesday, September 20, 2016

I’m crammed into a small plane with three other people, I have no idea how high we are, but definitely too high to feel safe.

One of the instructors releases the latch on the door, letting it fly open in the wind. Newport and the bay, usually so beautiful and serene, suddenly look threatening from this vantage point. It doesn't help that the instructor strapped to my back has a jumpsuit with a patch that says “Crazy Dutchman.” I'm wishing now that I'd thought to ask him on the ride up if he’d had a good day, valued his children, enjoyed his life and his job... it would be comforting to know.

If there was room in the plane to kick myself, I would. And while my brain settles into an endless loop of “HO-ly MOTH-er of GOD… what am I DOING?#$%&*!!!!" we wriggle toward the door and the Crazy Dutchman tells me to just fall forward into gravity. Really? That's IT? Somehow a graceful and quiet exit is not what I had expected. I thought it might look more like a crazed and maniacal flying squirrel leaping into space, shouting a blood-thirsty scream while foaming at the mouth. Maybe that’s too dramatic -- but so are the circumstances. 

Okay, moment of truth time. If I want to get on the ground with my pride intact, there’s no arguing, no compromise, no rationale. Just the willingness to take the risk and See—What—Happens. This is the moment where I have to dig into my grit and find my courage. And sure enough -- we managed a quietly controlled fall off the edge and into the wind.

There’s no real way to prepare for that moment at the edge, when you choose to jump into the unknown. What matters is how you take care of yourself beforehand, your focused determination to follow through, and the raw courage to simply go for it. And that applies not just to jumping out of planes -- it's true in public speaking, too. 

The clients I work with often feel unprepared.  They haven't had enough time, or something - typically the slide-deck, was changed at the last minute, leaving them feeling like they’re flying by the seat of their pants.  When time is in short supply, and we don't feel as prepared as we'd like, the best we can do during these circumstances is manage the moment and own the outcome. It begins with courage and is carried by trust. 

Trust is how we ground ourselves internally, even when we feel there’s no ground beneath us…. trust creates a safe personal space that we can own and return to. So trust that if you start one sentence, the next one will follow, and you will look more prepared than you feel.

I let myself fall out of the airplane, with my Flying Dutchman on my back. After floating for a little bit beneath a huge canopy, I got to the ground safely, with a smile on my face. I survived, with a deeper appreciation for little things and a shift in perspective. A positive outcome, despite the reality that I wasn't prepared for that jump -- and I know my clients often feel the same way, facing that last step up to the podium, wishing they'd had more time.

We don’t always have the luxury of time, and even if we did, we still might never feel fully prepared. What matters is our willingness to stay connected to our resolve -- and the courage to keep falling forward.