Courage is a funny thing; it’s very relative. I got thinking about it this weekend at the dropzone while talking to a middle-aged woman who is thinking of getting into skydiving. She practices gymnastics at a studio for adults and posted some images of her handstands on social media recently. Being both jealous and impressed, I asked her about the gym and complimented her on it. Handstands 1) look cool and 2) are indicative of a level of fitness that I just don’t have, but I badly want. Upon getting the gym name from her, I told her I’d check it out as soon as I work up the courage. She said, “The ‘courage’ part is funny”, which I guess, it is.
Courage is a Funny Thing
I regularly jump out of planes. I am not afraid of public speaking. I can talk to strangers and stomach heights and go for a run at night. None of those things scare me.
But I’m scared of looking stupid. I’m not brave enough to go to a gymnastics studio for adults because I don’t want to look incompetent, or not talented, or clumsy, or graceless. I’m worried about what people think of me.
But apparently, I’m not worried about looking stupid at work
Strangely enough, I’m not scared about looking stupid at work. As a consultant in a field filled with complex tediosities where no person can possibly know all the answers, I’m not afraid of saying “I don’t know; let’s find out” in front of clients, customers and teammates. I’m not afraid to admit that, while I’m really good at some things like test driven development pair programming, and development, I know nothing about other things, like networking. I am comfortable with the fact that I’m always learning and improving.
After some thought, I realized it’s the people and the environment. My coworkers understand that what we do is hard and it’s impossible to know everything. They understand that in the vast, fast-moving world of computers, there will always be a language you have not worked with, an acronym you haven’t heard, and problems you haven’t solved before. They have been there too and they have empathy for you. We champion embracing your discomfort. We encourage saying, “I don’t know; can you help teach me?”. We aim to be kind.
So, where is this going? Well, I’m afraid to look stupid at an unknown gym. I need to get over that. I’ve never been there, but perhaps the atmosphere there is inclusive, kind, and welcoming. I hope so; I’ll let you know once I go there
But I’m also afraid to look stupid at the DZ; that needs to change
- I’m afraid to freefly with other people because they’ll see how “bad” I am
- I’m afraid to ask questions sometimes because I’m worried people will think I’m stupid
- I’m afraid of organizing a load because I’m worried people will be bored
- I’m afraid people will think I’m not good enough for my jump numbers
I realized this when I was invited on an freefly jump with two other ladies that have significantly less jumps but more tunnel time and are badass freeflyers. I was so worried I’d mess up the jump, so scared of looking stupid, that I had a hard time enjoying it. This line of thinking provides no value; it gets in my way and distracts me from what probably is the real truth: they just wanted to go on a jump with me, they weren’t worried about it being perfect. They certainly weren’t aiming to judge me. Maybe they had the same thoughts too.
I need to be comfortable with not being good at things as I begin to learn them. I need to be an example, to show others that no one is perfect from the beginning. I need to let people know it’s okay to ask the stupid questions, because getting answers to your questions keeps us safe, whether they are questions about gear, or landing, or emergency procedures. I want to embrace that discomfort and never lose that feeling because it will help me empathize with new jumpers who are trying hard. Remembering the courage it takes to be the worst person on the jump, to be the person who sank out of a formation, or who blew up the exit, or who brain locked on the dive flow, will help me support others as they continue to learn in this sport.
Courage really is pretty strange. The courage to jump out of the plane isn’t the only type of courage in this sport.