Overcoming Irrational Fears & Cliff Jumping

My last night in Chiang Mai, I decided to check out a jazz club a friend recommended to me. I got there around 8 pm thinking I’d have time to grab some street food before the music started, but the place was already packed. I sat in one of the last seats available. I thought I was waiting for jazz music to play, but it ended up being open mic night where local musicians — mostly expats — could perform.

One of the hardest — but sometimes most enjoyable — parts of traveling alone, is being alone. I like my alone time. It’s nice to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it. I also think when you travel alone, you’re more likely to meet new people rather than sticking with the same crew. But there are times when I wish I was traveling with someone. And as I sat there alone sipping on a beer, that was one of those times. But it didn’t take long before a Scottish girl and English guy asked me to join them. They had also met that night. We invited a few more people to join us at a table, and they were actually Americans from San Francisco: Amanda, Bryon and Omead.

The next day I went with the Americans to the Chaing Mai Canyon after the Scottish girl went on and on about how we had to go there the night before. I was taking the overnight bus to Bangkok that night, so I had the whole day to spare, The canyon is about 45 minutes outside of the city, and its infamous for cliff jumping. I’m all for being adventurous, but extreme sports that involve free falling and heights typically aren’t my thing. I’ve never really wanted to go skydiving before. And the last time I almost went cliff jumping was in Hawaii where I opted for the 6-foot jump after bailing on the bigger one. I went into this canyon pretty set on not jumping, and simply immersing myself in the water from the proper entrance point.

But of course after seeing a lot of people jump, I started to think “How bad can it really be?” Jumpers would effortlessly run to the edge of the cliff, take a leap, free fall for a couple seconds, hit the water, bob back up, smile and swim to the ladder to do it again. To give you some context, there were two different options for jumping: the smaller one was around 25 feet, and the bigger one around 40. Obviously the bigger one came with a greater risk. More people were walking away from that one with a bruise or two. I finally caved and decided I was going to give the smaller one a try.

The guys, who had already become jumping professionals, accompanied me and another girl, Tessa, for support. I thought it wouldn’t be so bad while I was up there, but I made the mistake of looking down. Of course, that’s the one thing you shouldn’t do. What you should do is just run and jump without thinking too much about it. Tessa, made the same mistake. So for about 20 minutes we stood and sat at the edge contemplating our jump.

This turned into a bigger conversation about irrational fears of the unknown. At first we spent a few minutes asking people to do it so we could watch them. We thought maybe we could learn something about the strategy behind jumping before taking the plunge ourselves. Then we spent a few minutes talking to the guys trying to figure out why we were so scared.

Doing something you’ve never done before is scary. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new job, new relationship, moving to a new city, or simply buying your groceries at a new store, the unknown is always a little uncomfortable and scary. But like the other feelings humans experience, fear is just an emotion. That’s it. Yet it holds so much more power than the rest of them. But it doesn’t have to.

After piecing together the logic behind what was stopping me from taking that jump, I got up and told myself I was going to do it — even though I was still wrapped in a blanket of terror. What finally got me over the edge were Omead’s wise words. He said, “You came to Thailand to do some crazy shit, so do some crazy shit.” And that’s all I really needed to hear. I ran without thinking about it, without blinking an eye, and jumped. A few seconds later my body hit the water, and I bobbed up with a big smile on my face like all my predecessors.

I know it’s such a cliche story, but it’s really true that the build up of the jump is always worse than the real thing. I couldn’t help but think back, and relate the jump to my current situation. I was terrified to quit my job and travel alone. But here I am, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. The more you overcome your fears, the stronger of a person you’ll become.

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