I used to be deathly afraid of flying.
When I was a kid, my parents took us on a flight to Hawaii as a surprise vacation one summer. This isn't their fault, but the night before the surprise trip, my parent's suggested a family movie night… the choice? Castaway, with Tom Hanks. If you haven’t seen it (it’s one of my all-time favorite movies), the premise begins with a fiery plane crash on to a deserted island in the middle of the pacific ocean. Unbeknownst to myself and my two little sisters, we’d be getting on our very first plane just 12 hours from the time we were watching the fiery crash on-screen.
We arrived at the airport early the following morning, and I asked my dad why we were there.
“Hey dad, are we having breakfast here at the airport before we drive to San Diego?”
“Well,” he started… “kind of!” The excitement we had when he revealed we would be going to Hawaii was only overshadowed by my baby sister’s nearly immediate vomiting out of pure fear of getting on an airplane. I was fine, as was my other sister, but in that moment, I learned a fear of flying that should never have entered me. I was rational about getting on the airplane, but I was still scared. It wasn’t my parent’s fault - if anything, they actually opened up an exciting new world of travel and mystery and flight - things I love and hold so dearly now. I truly wouldn’t be who I am without that first trip - if you’ve ever read my Single Sentence e-book, you know what I’m talking about. That trip was integral to who I am today.
The fear of flying followed me for years and years.
It metastasized in other ways, too. I eventually began to fear sleep, I became an incessant hypochondriac, and I would count my heart beat all hours of the day. Could you imagine being around me during this time of my life? I would actually wake up at 2, 3, 4 am after not being able to sleep, for months at a time, and the only thing that helped to rid me of the anxiety and fear of life around me was by going for long, mountain drives with the windows rolled down and the music blasting.
It wasn’t a complete fix, though. Driving so much so early in the morning can only suffice itself as a band-aid fix for a myriad of problems. I was in a place in my life where I had entertained so much struggle, pain, and fear. I hadn’t direction, confidence, or vision in my life - and thus, I feared life itself. I feared death’s inevitability. I feared everything around me, even though on the surface, I pretended that my life was completely fine, that I had the confidence of a WWF fighter, and that I knew where my life was going.
Enter coping mechanisms to deal with my fear:
An addiction to women.
A problem with pornography.
A lazy attitude and a sharp tongue.
Cocky, rude arrogance and a desire to fight.
I did nothing, because I lived like no one, and I let every small fear around me control who I was, what I did, and how I operated on a daily, monthly, yearly basis.
Then everything changed for me. Something clicked in my brain.
The first time it happened, I was having a severe anxiety attack. I called one of my best friends and asked him if he wanted to go out and take some photos. We headed out to a canyon and I created an image that reflected exactly what I was feeling at the time. Here's the image:
After the shoot? I felt like a new person. I had effectively learned to take that fear and pain and anxiety and channel it in to a productive outlet. I understood, then, in that moment, that in order to overcome fear, I needed to live fully.
A couple months following that experience, I was flown out to Uganda by my mentor to create artwork for his non-profit organization. It was my first trip overseas, my first big assignment as a photographer, and my first time flying over the Atlantic Ocean. I was excited, but I feared the multiple 10+ hour flights over the ocean I was about to take.
As we started our 3rd flight from Rwanda to Entebbe, our plane hit a massive thunder and lighting storm. Shakes, flashes, sudden drops, and that quiet calmness of turbulence overtook the jaunting aircraft. I was sitting next to a dentist at the time who I was having a great conversation with. He was used to this. He flew this route nearly every other week, delivering dental assistance to impoverished regions of Sub-Saharan Africa. The way he talked about what he did, how he felt that he was truly able to help others, it caught me off guard. He wasn’t afraid of the plane that felt like it was going to fall out of the sky. He simply handed me a glass of wine and told me everything was going to be okay.
It was then that I realized that the man I was sitting beside was living his life as fully as he could - his eyes shone with the happiness he had for his calling in life and his lack of fear on the flight gave light to the confidence he had in himself to do his job, and do it so well that it changed the lives of people all around him. I wanted that. I wanted that sense of purpose and calling and a life fully lived, and as our conversation came to a close, I realized that in order to get that, I too needed to live a life of purpose. A life full, every second, of every minute, of every day, every year, for my entire life.
It’s not easy to do this, and often I fail - but I’m learning every day to live each moment in each area of my life with all that I am and all that I can. Over time, I was able to gauge how I was doing in life by taking a flight somewhere. If my hands gripped the seat or my breathing changed on takeoff, I knew that I needed to analyze where in my life I wasn’t living fully, and change or fix it accordingly. I still learn each day, and even though I’m not afraid of flying anymore, the sudden drop in altitude or the quick jolt on landing can bring me back to that place of reflection. It’s why I love flying so much - that thin line between life and death, less than 1/8 of an inch thick. It forces you to think about what is important in life.
Are you living fully?
Are you giving wholly?
Are you doing something you love for your life?
Are you loving others well?
The landing gear is coming down, are you who you want to be? Are you sharing your vision with the world? Are you letting your life be controlled? Or are you pushing the world around you in to a better place.
I believe the first step in change is bringing ourselves to an awareness.
The scariest thing in life is not death. The scariest thing in life is to be scared of life itself.
How’s your breathing?
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