N. Shannon Walker

Motivational Lesson From My First Skydive

By N. Shannon Walker

N. Shannon Walker was a sport parachutist for many years and accumulated 1,750 freefall jumps before retiring from the sport in 2003. I learned a lot of things from skydiving but my biggest motivational lesson came from my very first student jump about 25 years ago.

Unlike today when most people do their first jump as a tandem sharing a parachute with an instructor, when I started in the sport many students could do their first jump as an AFF (Accelerated Freefall) which meant that the first jump student wore his or her own parachute and made the freefall part of the skydive with two instructors holding on to the harness to keep him steady. When the student deployed his parachute the instructors would fall away, leaving the student alone in the sky.

During the day and a half of ground school which preceded the jump, it was explained to us that the decision to jump would be entirely our own. The last thing we would do before our exit was answer the instructor's question "Are you ready to skydive?" and we were required to answer verbally "yes" or "no." If the answer was no, the aircraft door would be lowered and the student would ride the plane down with no argument from either instructor. I've only seen that happen a few times. The majority of students go for it, having come this far and having spent quite a bit of money.

The reason for the question is twofold. First a "yes" answer indicates to the instructor that the student is fully prepared for the jump and is thinking clearly. Second, it reinforces to the student that the risk he is taking is one hundred percent his own responsibility and nobody else's. The instructors are there to help minimize the risk of anything going wrong but they can only do so much. The student is ultimately the one responsible for a successful freefall, parachute deployment, and a safe landing.

As one might imagine, the airplane ride to altitude is more than a bit unsettling for a first jump student. The combination of exitement and uncertainty about what freefall will be like is almost overwhelming.

The motivational lesson for me came from the pre jump question. The student is jumping not because the instructors are making him, or because he thinks that he "should." He is going ahead with the jump voluntarily because he has decided that he is going to do it, and the "yes" answer reminds him of this.

During the course of a day or a week, we all are going to have to do some things that we don't want to do. Instead of avoiding the situation by procrastinating or doing it because someone said that you have to or because you know that you "should," instead do it because you have decided to do it. Begin by saying "I am going to _____" and then go ahead and take that first step. You will be astonished at how much easier and enjoyable the task will be when you are doing it for the right reason, because you made the decision to.

N. Shannon Walker
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