Picture the idyllic, perfect day. Warm, but not overly so. Sunny, but not enough to be oppressive.
Picture the lush, beautiful green grass slowly rushing towards you as a stranger yells the phrase
FLARE FLARE FLARE into your ear. In your mind, some remnant of a Michael Schumacher interview is telling you to relax your body because anything kept braced will break.You should be panicking, but strangely, you’re extremely calm. You take a deep breath and your body relaxes.
You hit the ground feet first, your knees buckle and fold, the world upends and you quite don’t know what’s happening anymore. a few minutes later, you open your eyes. Your goggles and helmet are just gone, you have no idea where they went. A man sprints from a truck and asks if you’re ok. You think you’re fine. He tells you to relax and to try not to move. More people arrive, the lady who was screaming at you earlier is there. You sit up. Her husband asks you if you’re ok. You say yes again. Your eyes focus on this furrow in the soft ground that’s a few feet away. Your head and helmet dug that together. Her husband helps you to your feet and walks you over to the truck. He helps you get in, and then starts to drive back to the hangar. He asks you if you have a sweater or something to wrap around your legs. It’s at this point that you realise that you’ve ripped through not only the jumpsuit, but the jeans you were wearing underneath and your boxers. You apologize for exposing your testicles to a stranger’s truck. You reach the hangar and your friends run up to you telling you something you hadn’t internalized yet. You don’t really know how to answer them. Death or injury were really just concepts that affected other people until roughly thirty minutes ago. The only thing that comes to mind is something incredibly stupid but you say it anyway. YOLO.
This happened about five years ago - when you skydive, you basically drop a whole bunch, and then hit the brakes a few feet off the ground. I hit mine too early, dropped some 40 odd feet with a bit of a tailwind and pancaked into the ground. I was immensely lucky that it had rained previously and the ground was soft. The first in a long list of weird knee injuries I’ve accumulated over the years of doing a bunch of stupid stuff.
I’ve recently come to the realization that fear is a very weird thing and I don’t really have a good framework for dealing with it. Confronting my fears can be pretty easy; but not all fears are created equal. Certain fears are really easy to acknowledge and deal with(I started skydiving because I was petrified of heights), but I don’t often think of things like social anxiety or a fear of failure as actual fears, since they manifest in non obvious ways; as laziness or procrastination. I find that I need to be constantly vigilant, schedule my day to the hour, monitor my productivity to make sure I’m not letting these sorts of fears gain control. David Goggins talks about callouses for your brain - how forcing yourself to do unpleasant things is the only way to develop discipline and mental toughness, for me - physical discomfort has never been tough to deal with. Mental discomfort on the other hand can be crippling. I’ve let things like social anxiety prevent me from meeting people in the past. I’ve let myself drown out the fear of being wrong in procrastination. It’s hard because I don’t typically procrastinate by watching television or reading or something like that - I procrastinate by doing low priority things that while benefitial, aren’t the right thing to be doing at the moment. Like reading papers on arXiv rather than running that somewhat weird neural network I wrote. Or spending time watching open courseware lectures instead of actually doing things that need to be done. I hate having to constantly evaluate whether what I’m doing is what I should be doing, it makes me feel indecisive and weak. So I compensate by telling myself I don’t back down from my fears - and celebrate the fact that things like that accident haven’t stopped me from skydiving. Tricking myself into believing that’s what really matters.