When I was a young man we would go up to Rock Stream on the west side of Seneca Lake in Upstate New York. There is a 60-foot high cliff there from which you can jump off into a waterhole that's about 30 feet deep. To get to the top, you have to climb the side of the cliff, grabbing onto roots and jagged rocks to safely make the ascent. When you get ready to jump, you stare out from the top of the platform rock situated at the edge of the cliff and you see a very sharp rock directly below the cliff. You have to jump way out away from the cliff, about ten feet, to avoid dangerous rocks. Aside from one girl who actually came so close that her hair brushed the sharp rock, I never saw anyone even come close to getting hurt at Rock Stream.
One night while in college, we had a bonfire at a friend's property behind Rock Stream. After a few beers we decided to go over to the cliff and, to enhance the excitement of the experience, to jump in the dark. We stood at the edge of the cliff looking down, with flashlights confirming that the sharp rock was still where we had seen it a hundred times before. When we turned off the flashlights we immediately felt the ominous reality of the danger. We could feel the void and the darkness where the trees stopped at the edge of the cliff knowing all too well that one slip or a bad jump would land us dead on the rocks. Young men filled with bravado and defiance, we were nonetheless all terrified, which quickly sobered us up. No one was forcing us to jump. It was our own egos that pushed us to make reckless decisions.
I was terrified — and that emotion was my biggest fear. I have always hated to to be afraid. I had made my mind up at a young age that the only way to overcome these fears was to face them head on, no matter what they revealed about me. While my friends debated about whether or not they would shine the flashlight down as they jumped, or if they would jump at all, I moved myself into position.
I knew the cliff well: a solid platform of rock with some dirt in the fore a grass and roots hanging over the edge. I placed my foot right on the edge of the platform with the tip of my sneaker hanging slight over. I rocked back. Then I propelled myself as hard as I could out over the water where I hoped I'd pushed hard enough to clear the sharp rock below.
As I dropped through the abyss of darkness, with no appreciation whatsoever for where my fall would end, I gasped a quick breath of air and accidentally held my breath waiting for my fate to be revealed.
It was pure silence. I was weightless. Suddenly I felt the bottom of my sneakers hit hard and felt the sudden rush of the cold water surrounding me as I plunged under the water and, just as quickly, swam back to the surface. The flashlight shined from above as my friends screamed, thrilled that I had done something so stupid and yet so brave and somehow lived to tell the tale.
This moment was just one of many adventures I had as a young man in the journey to prove myself to myself. Surely it was ill advised. And, had she known, it would have given my mother a heart attack. Many times since then in my life I've made it a practice to do things exactly the way I wanted to do them, oftentimes against the advice of others, with nontraditional methods, exotic ideas, and risky ventures. I'd like to say I cleared the rocks every time. But that wouldn't be true.
One lesson I always remember from the dark jump I took that night was that I knew I could make it. I knew if I overthought it I would chicken out. I knew the exact moment when it was time to take action. I discovered the powerful clarity of silence after I made the jump and that there was no turning back. The silence was deafening. The darkness was shapeless and peaceful, with only the stars above to reflect slightly on the water as I dropped through the sky.
There was no way to turn back. I was committed to the outcome, come what may.
That commitment is what it takes to move forward in every aspect of life. Everything great that has ever been accomplished has required us to make a jump, leaving our friends safe on the side of the cliff as we took a risk for something bigger. Nothing tragic or amazing has ever happened to someone standing on the side of the cliff debating whether or not it was worth the risk to jump.
For those of us who have done the research, studied the outcomes, and practiced our techniques, we are ready to jump when the moment is right. We are not fearless exactly, but we are courageous enough to take a risk at losing all that we have to become all that we know we should be.
We are in pursuit of our dreams and they keep getting bigger as we push our limitations. We know that our greatest asset and our biggest obstacle is our own mind, and to make that work for us it requires the constant challenge of the way we think. We are on a mission of self-discovery and expansion.
The reality is that we never really know who we are until we've committed to the jump.
So if you find yourself holding your breath in a free fall, surrounded by deafening silence with only a sparkle of light in an endless sea of darkness, don't be afraid. You may be alone falling towards an uncertain end, but in that silence comes clarity. You already know you've made it before you hit the water. There is no real danger because you knew exactly what you were doing before you took the leap. When everyone else was filled with fear and doubt, you decided to be the one to show that it could be done.
You are in the place where all great things are possible while exposing yourself to the possibility of a tragic end. It's the one place where you can completely let go, because there's nothing left to hold onto.
You're in that moment right now. And you already know if you've made it or not. So don't question if you'll smash on the cliff or splash in the water. You knew before you jumped. You are committed.
So enjoy the silence because you're about to be a legend.