I was stood right on the very edge of the Eiger, the infamous mountain in the Swiss Alps. As I looked down, there was a plunging vertical drop of thousands of feet. I was perched above the north face - the sun didn't penetrate here. The jagged rock below had that dark, menacing look. I took my final deep breath in, bent my knees and jumped.
As a human flight specialist and wingsuit BASE jumper, leaping from the Eiger was like a dream come true. It had been an incredible journey and, after a safe and successful landing, I looked back up at the mountain I had flown from and contemplated life in a new way. I realised I had just learned three invaluable life lessons:
- Life isn't worth living unless you indulge your passions. Of course, that's not strictly true - life is always worth living. But, how much will you really get out of life if you don't indulge your passions? Sure, you'll laugh with your friends and smile ear-to-ear with your family. You'll cry when times are tough and get goose bumps when you go on that first date with someone incredibly special. Throughout all of that, have you really lived? When you're sat in that retirement home looking back on your life, treasuring your memories, will you be able to say that you've really, deeply indulged your passions or will you see a life of missed opportunities?
- Conforming is for others. Regular people don't jump off mountains. Regular people sit in offices or cubicles. They start work before 9 am and finish after 5 pm. They conform with this cultural norm. It's what is expected of us in a western society. When I'm 70 I don't want to look back at a life spent in a cubicle. I want to look back at a life full of adventure and excitement, at the incredible successes and the inevitable horrendous failures, the highs and the lows of stepping outside of cultural conformity. Sure, it's a risk to take that step from living your life in an office but if you never take that first step you'll never know what you are really missing. You can strike a balance but first consider if absolute conformity is really for you.
- Believe in your own abilities. Leaping from the Eiger was a dream come true. It had been a goal of mine for years. It had been a goal that I thought I would never achieve. But then, one day, I believed. I believed that I would accomplish this goal. At the time I didn't know how but I knew that I'd find a way. I set a list of smaller goals that I would need to achieve in order to accomplish this master goal and believed that, one day, I would achieve it. If I hadn't believed, this never would have happened. I believed - it happened.
I thought that leaping from the infamous north face of the Eiger was about achieving a seemingly unachievable dream. I thought it was about achieving human flight in this daunting, unforgiving environment. I was wrong.
Sure, that's what I achieved. But, I realised, it was actually about these three life lessons that, looking back up at the mountain face, I had now learned. I now strive to indulge my passions, conform to perceived normality only when it suits me and believe that I really do have the abilities to achieve what it is that I want to achieve.