What I Learned From Falling Out of a Plane

It’s leap day 2016. Last month, my son and I jumped out of a plane and lived to tell about it. With the help of instructors at Skydive Hollister, we accomplished tandem skydives from 11,000 feet.

We all graduate in steps. Our lives are full of milestones. We set a goal with personal and profound meaning. The event was a graduation — the fulfillment of a promise. Some things I learned. . .

Trust Your Partner

Launch DoorLife has its freefalls. As I was falling toward the ground, suspended in space and time, I had the feeling the ground was approaching, but the difference in perspective at one mile and at a half-mile isn’t that noticeable. I’d given my trust to my competent instructor. I was along for the ride. At the end of it all, the instructor taught me to trust. Wishing to remain alive, he also had ‘skin in the game.’

The biggest thing that assuaged my fear of the jump was recognizing that I wasn’t alone. Someone else had his life on the line with me. This mutual liability went far to give me the confidence that the technical details were monitored and handled competently. The skydiving experience is meant to be safe and fun. There have been countless innovations and refinements to its execution over the years. Points of failure have been recorded, studied and reduced.

Trust Your Equipment

FreefallIf you don’t trust your equipment, why are you using it? Unless you live in a cave, you use the technologies and services of others. There are assumptions and risks to using any equipment. I noticed Skydive Hollister made competent choices in the facility, staffing and processes. By extension, I felt that the unseen and unknown were also given similar care and attention to detail. One of the rites of passage to taking a freefall is completing a multi-page legal document that essentially signs your life away. The document releases all equipment manufacturers and operators from death caused by a failure. The choice to skydive is voluntary and the diver assumes all risks.

The nature of the contract was not hidden. Skydive Hollister had a comfortable waiting room to ponder and complete the document. A looping video displayed a representative of Uninsured United Parachute Technologies emphasizing the voluntary decision that participants were making. The message was simple: you could die performing the activity.

 Trust Physics

The terminal velocity of a person in freefall is about 120 MPH. Normally a person will not fall faster than this due to air resistance acting on a human body. This speed is not painful to endure, even in street clothes. Loose jewelry and hats cannot be worn. No text messages from the plane. . .leave your cell phone in the car.

Because of the tandem configuration, two bodies fall faster than one. Without a small trailing parachute, the tandem jumpers would fall at a painful 190+ MPH. The physics of the act of skydiving are basic calculations of friction and fluid dynamics. The tomes of study and experimentation provide the framework to understand and control the freefall. What a thought: to control the lethality of a deadly act.

Much of your trust in the experienced staff is that they understand the physics of the activity. There are many aspects that contribute to a safe flight, including the calm confidence of the instructors. The team bravado contributes to a necessary psychological safety that places risk at the back of the mind.

Trust God and Spirit

It’s one thing to give into circumstances beyond your control. It’s another thing to perform a voluntary act giving in to a higher power. Not that transcendence was a goal, but it was included in the package. What heights are you attempting to reach? Assisted skydiving is not an accomplishment of skill. Anyone, within reason (i.e. weight limits apply), can fall from a plane. The launch door is more than an opening to physical space, it also opens to your mental space. Fear of heights, open space and even death are patterns in your mental landscape that can be left behind along with the plane.

The decision to take flight began as a goal, a dare. With the momentum of time and conviction, the event was accomplished. We all need to challenge our relationship with ourselves. Will we discover inner voices that we haven’t heard before?

Trust Yourself

Plane SideYou can’t know exactly how you’ll feel at any moment in the future. There are so many instincts, evaluations and calculations that we bring to bear in a moment of crisis or stress. There are agitating and dampening influences to every incident that we record in the level(s) of our awareness. It was a great relief that the seasoned instructors exuded a calm confidence. There was a great amount of support for the process. The team (staff, fellow jumpers, pilot, …) was positive and encouraging.

If you’re reading this, thanks, you’re a friend. I’m sharing this personal memory with you to reach another human. How do we connect across the time and distance? Let’s talk about collaboration and sharing. I’m peter@collab.us

A post-jump Dive Video is available on YouTube. As an exploration, I built a website to collect donations for the event at dive.fab7.com. These are some of the fun projects I’ve done.

About Peter

As a consulting professional in the Internet industry, I have helped small- and medium-sized businesses and community organizations effectively design and deploy web services and information. Years of hands-on design and project management experience for this market have inspired me to post my ideas and insights on a public forum -- blog.collab.us.
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