Leap of Faith: Face Your Fears

This is me as an outdoor instructor; pretty awesome because I didn't know how to read a
topographical map and had never spent a day camping in the backcountry before being hired as an Outward Bound instructor - one of the top wilderness leadership training companies in the world -  at 34 years old. 

by Kaki Flynn // OutwardBound.org

Always choose to be the type of person that knows
what it feels like to leap,
as opposed to those
who never know what it feels like to leave the ground

As an instructor for Outward Bound and other like-minded organizations, I take people out on trips, but I also take people out on ropes courses. These are great, especially for groups that don't have time to go into the backcountry for days or weeks at a time.

One of the activities that we do on these courses is called The Leap of Faith.

It's simple: you climb up to the top of a telephone pole, and then leap off the pole towards a trapeze hanging out in the air about five feet away.

As with any problem to solve, I love watching how different personalities approach fear and the unknown and have never, ever had someone approach it in the exact same way as someone else.

We are all so unique, and all unfold in ways that are both subtly and grandly different.

It's a lot of fun to flow with those differences.

Some people love to gather information, and pepper me with questions. "How high is the pole? Is that thing safe? What's the distance? How many people succeed? How much will the rope hold? How far, exactly, is the trapeze?"

Some people want to get strapped in as soon as possible, and haul butt up the pole in .01 seconds, and then launch off of the top. Some stand at the top for about five minutes, shaking.

Some say yes to coaching and cheering from below, some want silence. Counting up. Counting down.

One of the biggest obsessions is the distance between the pole and the trapeze. "What if I don't make it?"

This is where the biggest lesson of the activity comes from - letting students know that ultimately, it is about the leap, not the landing.

Be bold.
If you're going to make an error, make a doozy,
and don't be afraid to hit the ball.

Billie Jean King

We run students through a lot of exercises that build them up to trying new things; too many to explain them all here - but a major one I do before the Leap is to have them write down a list of three things he or she wants to accomplish in this lifetime.

Then, when they are at the top of the pole and ready to leap, they are supposed to stare at the handle of the trapeze, and imagine one of those things on the list written in script, in shiny, gold letters, across the bar, shining back at them.

Whether or not they make it to the trapeze is not nearly is important is getting their feet to leave the pole. It's not the trapeze that scares people, it's the hang time in the air.

Life, if lived large, is full of so many x-factors.

We can't control all of our landings, and that's fine.
Think about jobs you have had, relationships you have been in, friends that you have, and adventures you have gone on.

All of those things ultimately started, somewhere, with a Leap of Faith.


In 1996, I came across a small, 1/4 inch ad in a journalism school newspaper when I was taking classes at UNC-Chapel Hill, which is amazing in itself considering that I had failed out of school from Florida State University a few years before.

Myself and a group of friends rebuilt the FSU Crew Team, and built the first women's team.

My interest in classroom's with 100+ people and no interaction with the professor and other students was zero.

At the time, I was an almost off-the charts introvert, and so talking to my professors was just not in my tool box.

While anyone who has spent time with me knows that I'm now very extroverted and actually thrive at a substantially higher level in a base camp setting with like minding people - at that time in my life I spoke little.

After failing out of FSU, I moved to North Carolina and literally just showed up at the School of Journalism.

Through the Continuing Education department and basically a loop hole in the registration system, I was able to register for advanced journalism classes.

That allowed me to build a relationship with professors there;  and eventually got myself accepted full time into UNC-Chapel Hill.

I did not accept that full-time status.

Why? After all that work?

Back to that tiny piece of paper.

It's all because of that little ad in the newspaper I carried around for almost a month that my life changed.

The ad was for that internship with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

I learned a lot about fears and leaps of faith from that little piece of paper.

I also learned about being careful not to pick up the reflections of the fears of others.

I had a lot of people telling me to apply, and a lot of people telling me not to.

The voices in the not-to camp seemed to think that the USOC was an unattainable place to work.

The USOC internship is one of the top 100 internships in the country, and I was going up against 400 other people.

The can-do voices were people that I was smart enough to surround myself with: the go-for it people.

Of course, I didn't know that monumental leap - just turning in the application after carrying that piece of paper around in my pocket for a month - would dramatically shape the next eight years of my life. That is amazing.

My application was faxed in - somewhere around 40 pages - to the internship coordinators office - about an hour before the deadline. At the time, I was not thinking about who was receiving those 40 pages.

How did I end up at the U.S. Olympic Committee after failing out of FSU?

There were a list of about 10 different requirements for the internship; I didn't fit over half of them, including the requirement that I be a junior enrolled full-time in college, or had ever written a single published article.

Included in the 40 faxed pages were six articles that needed to be sent in; I had never been published before.

I took a week of vacation off from my job at Eurosport Soccer & Lacrosse, and wrote six sports articles to fax in; interviewing UNC-Chapel Hill professors and anyone I could think of (now I could write that many in a day).

Thanks to Michael Wilson, the person in charge of the USOC program, I did get that internship.

He saw the similarities in our backgrounds. My journalism class at Florida State University was taken through Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) where he went to school, and he also had a background filled with multiple colleges before he started with the U.S. Olympic Committee.

U.S. Speedskating had offered me a full-time position as the Public Relations Director right after my internship with the USOC; my professors at UNC-Chapel Hill told me that I needed to take that job instead of starting UNC-Chapel Hill full-time.

I may not be an official Chapel Hill graduate, but definitely bleed Tar Heel Blue.

The succession of leaps since then are too many to fully grasp or list here.

The truth is, some of the landings from those leaps hurt like hell.

Relationships or jobs that didn't work out, taking great risks that had some major bumps along the way. The landing was painful, but I could not have known that unless I jumped in the first place. It's still worth it.

It's the same for anything in the outdoors, whether I'm convincing someone to snowboard off of a super-steep hill, or backpack for a week across Joshua Tree.

Of course, the biggest benefits of leaping don't come from just our act of jumping; the greatest rewards come from the transference of courage to others.

One of my life goals is to be that person that tells people, "Heck ya, you should go for it . Freekin' leap. Do it."

May you live a life filled with leaps, big and small.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Holy cow! Kaki, I teach at an alternative HS & our program just completed a ropes course. Prior to the course, I had read your blog about the leap of faith jump. I just wanted to let you know how much your article helped me climb up that tree and eventually jump off the platform. It was amazing! (although I did sustain some rope burn ;) Thank you. Keep up the good work. - Shannon

Anonymous said...

You also know when you've met a leaper. Non-leapers can't hold my attention for more than a minute. Love the blog.