Mark Zuckerberg, the billionaire founder of Facebook once observed: “In a world that is changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.” Risk taking seems to have worked out pretty well for Zuck….and for many of you.
But, so is driving down the highway, eating at a restaurant, even walking down the street or falling in love. With all due respect to those of you in the insurance business, you can’t protect yourself from every single bump on the road of life. Sometimes you just have to go for it and occasionally take your lumps. If you obsess about EVERYTHING in life that could go wrong or hurt you or embarrass you, then you might never get out of bed. You certainly won’t grow.
Is sky diving safe?
I scratched a big one off my bucket list last week in Puerto Rico—skydiving with my son, Jake 10,500 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. Jake had just turned 18 and been admitted early decision to his first-choice college. His mom and I wanted to reward him for working so hard in the classroom, on the field and at the volunteer fire department where he trains. So skydiving was what he chose. Turns out even teenagers are making bucket lists these days. At the airfield, there’s a large poster of a bucket that you can sign, right before you pass through the last metal gate to get to the runway.
The 6-page release we signed included statistics about sky diving accidents. Out of roughly 3.4 million jumps in the U.S. every year, we learned there are typically a few hundred injuries and on average 19 fatalities. Statistically, those are pretty good odds, unless you’re among the unfortunate 19.
I kept Kahneman’s philosophy in mind as our dinky crop duster of a plane huffed and puffed its way to the pre-advertised altitude two vertical miles above the tiny airstrip. I tried to ignore my doubts about the laid-back training session we had in a dusty hangar area where roosters, chickens and a limping bulldog outnumbered the instructors. I tried to ignore the memory of our pilot and instructors kicking the tires of the landing gear. After whacking it a few times with a wrench, they simply shrugged their shoulders and walked away.
Again, this “extreme” skydiving outfit was the only one on the island that had all the certifications and seemed to have the best online reviews. They had already charged our credit card, they had our signature in about 100 places on the release forms and I wasn’t going to wimp out in front of my son—especially after 2-1/2 hours of waiting.
Who needs extensive training?
In a mix of Spanish and Spanglish, instructors told us to check that our “toys were in the toybox” as they cinched the straps of our parachutes around our upper thighs. We practiced our “feet up” landing technique a few times, the cross-arm free fall position and then tried a few “Superman’s”–lying on our stomachs while mule-kicking our feet behind our backs so we could maximize our glide. So off we went. Straight up. Glad we opted to skip lunch.
At about 7,000 feet, we were above the clouds and told to squat execution-style to avoid hitting our heads on the low-slung roof of the plane. At about 8,000 feet, over the deafening roar of the wind and rattling engine, they did a final check of our chutes and harnesses. At about 9,000 feet, they told us to prepare to exit the plane’s tiny door left leg first, right leg second. At about 10,000 feet, they said to admire the view (“Admira la vista”). Then WHOOSH!
It might have been helpful to know that our bored instructors would throw in some violent corkscrew dives and turns as we punctured the clouds during an otherwise gentle float back to Earth. But, where’s the fun (or personal growth) in that?
Despite the headaches and dizziness we felt over the next three hours, neither of us injured ourselves or lost our lunch or limbs during the landing. Better yet, we got the last jump of the day, just beating a fast approaching thunderstorm. While the word “AWESOME” is beyond cliché in today’s selfie-obsessed society, our skydiving adventure really was an awesome experience and provided some good father-son bonding time. Those of you with young kids will appreciate this someday.
Will Jake and I skydive again? Heck yea! Hooah!
Back at the hangar, I jokingly told one of the instructors that we didn’t get all that much instruction considering we were complete newbies to the sport of skydiving. “Dude,” he replied with a yawn. “We told you all you needed to know in the plane. People tend to black out during the free fall. If we told you anything else, you’d just forget it anyway.”