“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the belief that something else is more important than fear.” –Meg Cabot
It’s barely past ten in the morning when I place my toes at the edge of a highwire platform suspended 134 meters above the Nevis River Valley in the Southern Alps, just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand. I am trying not to look down as The Killers reach the chorus of “Mr. Brightside” on the radio in the background. A man I’ve just met five minutes ago commands me to jump. Without thinking, I stick out my arms and leap.
It’s easier to be fearless when we are young. The world brims with possibilities, and we tackle the unknown with an audacity tempered only by the watchful eyes of our parents. As we get older, our attitudes start to shift. Reasoning replaces risk-taking, and what once seemed mysterious and magical appears dangerous in its unfamiliarity. We become fearful of leaving the comfort of our habits, worried about losing what we have worked so hard to build. Too often, we forego opportunities because we are afraid the costs outweigh the benefits. We get stuck.
Breaking the pattern doesn’t require heavenly bravery, just the decision to choose faith over fear. To make that decision we must practice, and one of the best ways to practice is to dust off our bucket lists and attempt the feats we’ve always imagined. Conquering these challenges may seem arbitrary, but when we prove to ourselves we can handle the stuff of our craziest dreams, we open up to new possibilities and rekindle our childlike wonder for the world. We can handle anything.
The first time I stepped up to the ledge of the bungee jump, I couldn’t do it. When it came down to the final moment my mind tangled up my body, and I almost missed out on what is now one of, if not the biggest, adventure in my life. The bungee jump operator’s words propelled me forward.
“You’re waiting to not be afraid,” he said. “And that’s never going to happen. If you want this, it’s there for you. But you have to jump through the fear.”
It’s not about bungee jumping or skydiving or climbing mountains. It’s about freeing ourselves from our preordained limits. Maybe it’s traveling out of the country, or traveling alone. Maybe it’s ditching our weekend plans for an impromptu road trip. Maybe it’s simply biking to work instead of driving. The nuances of our lists don’t matter; what is important is that we push our boundaries to defy even our own expectations.
Our fears will never disappear. Each day brings new anxieties or the return of old ones, but also new opportunities to overcome them. When we have learned how to let go, we are equipped with the courage to face these day-to-day fears. After all, practice makes perfect.