“Humans are the only creatures with the ability to dive deep in the sea, fly high in the sky, send instant messages around the globe, reflect on the past, assess the present and imagine the future.”
~Sylvia Earle, American Marine Biologist
When I first interviewed Cristina Zenato for my podcast What it Takes to be Wild, I thought she would be a great guest and would likely bring some real insight to our audience. I had no idea that talking with her would open up a completely new personal challenge for me.
I’ve always struggled to believe in my capacity to live fully and explore worlds bigger than myself. As a result, I created a small, safe life, with an acceptable job and reasonable marriage. But there has always been a hidden part of me yearning to be stronger than I think I am. It is like a small white light in my chest that occasionally glows bright and says: “You’re bigger than this”.
Around age 35 I had my first “mid-life” crisis (hopefully my last but I doubt it). That hidden light within me grew so bright I couldn’t ignore it any longer. Somehow and in some way, it grew bigger than my fear. Something had to change. When that light suddenly gave me a whopping dose of courage, I completely dumped my entire life all at once. In one fell swoop, I left my marriage and my custom-built home and even my puppies just to restart my life anew. I acted quickly because I worried my newfound courage would disappear, sending me on the same path forever.
So, I rebuilt my life and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I survived this transition period by utilizing both physical and cognitive therapies to improve my emotional and physical strength. Counseling, chiropractic, massage therapy, and rowing on a local crew team were my crutches. But just as going to the gym and lifting weights doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t open up new opportunities in your life, my psychological health would only be as useful as the challenges applied to it.
One day, my massage therapist said, “Well, we are done here. Your assignment now is to go have fun.” That’s when I knew it was time for a new challenge. So I started taking lessons on how to fly my body in the wind. I know, it sounds totally random and crazy, but I spent a year learning how to indoor skydive, with no intention what-so-ever to actually skydive. But after a year of challenging my mind and body to learn this difficult skill, it became clear the next level of challenge was to throw myself out of a plane.
This was something I didn’t take lightly as I was finally growing to like my life! I was also TERRIFIED of falling. Not only that, but I didn’t want to simply “survive” a tandem skydive. I wanted to become a skydiver; someone who lives in the sky and makes it a lifestyle. Believe it or not, skydiving is a sport – actually two sports – falling with powerful grace and intention as well as flying a canopy (parachute) with precision. If you want to see what high caliber, world-class skydiving looks like, you can take a look at this RedBull video that demonstrates the disciplines of free-flying and canopy piloting (keep in mind this is the highest level of professional you can get!). You can also explore formation skydiving, wingsuiting, and speed flying!
So I did it. I studied long before the training and spent several months doing hypnotherapy to get myself out of the plane. But here I am today, three years later, a skydiver.
My experience of initiating and overcoming life-developing challenges led me to start a podcast called What it Takes to be Wild. What it takes to be wild is a podcast created to encourage and support women to realize that no matter who they THINK they are, they can always become who they really want to be. We interview normal, everyday women who have powerful stories of change. We explore the personal benefits of extreme sports, work with animals, and the magic of redeeming ourselves from our own mistakes, all for the hope that our stories will inspire other women to create a life they love. My interview with Cristina blew my mind. I had no idea that sharks could be so unique and comforting and non-threatening. This made me rethink my bias against being underwater.
To tell you the truth, I hate scuba diving. I tried it about 20 years ago and couldn’t complete the PADI course because I felt so claustrophobic. I also have this terrible fear of drowning – the worst way to go! I’d rather hit the ground at 120 MPH with no suffering than not be able to breathe for 3-5 minutes before death. Many of my skydiving friends, scuba dive and they all love it so much, but I – probably like so many people about skydiving – always think “Why in the world would I ever put myself through that torturous experience?” But talking with Cristina changed my mind.
The truth is, the only reason to do anything is for some kind of personal reward. Even being selflessly generous produces an addictive dopamine rush of pleasure whether we recognize it or not. I chose to upend my life because I suddenly believed the life I wanted was possible. I chose to skydive because I saw the potential to experience personal power. Cristina’s work with sharks and learning the truth about working with even the scariest of animals showed me the possibility of being truly peaceful and connected to nature. This suddenly made it clear to me that learning to scuba dive and swim with these animals may very well be the next challenge that makes me more human, more humble, and more alive.
I look forward to learning from Cristina, to overcoming my fears of suffocation and to recognizing some of my hidden anxieties and fears still holding me back.