“I think this is it?” a friend uncertainly proclaimed.
Clusters of swimsuit-clad thrill-seekers dotted the clifftop - a promising sign. To make sure we were in the right place, we proceeded to the edge and looked down. Nope. This couldn’t be it. The water was too far below us.
“Has anyone jumped this?” I double-checked with the nearest stranger.
“Today? In front of you?” I jokingly pressed, hoping for an out.
He laughingly nodded, much to my dismay. The distress was short-lived though. Unsatisfied with a second-hand observation, we decided we had to see for ourselves. What better way to rationalize than to move the goalposts?
Right behind us, a group was congregated in a boisterous huddle. They were hyping up their friend. “This is your moment,” one encouraged. “Don’t be a coward,” the other taunted. (It’s important to diversify your motivational techniques.) He trudged to the edge to take a final look at the task ahead of him. He glanced back at his pals, the fear palpable in his eyes. They were still cheering him on. The gesture of support gave him the burst of confidence he needed. He closed his eyes, and dove off the cliff into the water.
A second later, he emerged from the surface. Alive, swimming back towards land. Now that we verified the dubious claims of the first stranger, the five of us gathered and the negotiations began. Who would be the sacrificial lamb? Mark bravely volunteered and I offered to document it, hoping the generosity would veil my fear. This way, I thought, I could go last.
One by one, my friends jumped. And survived (to my disappointment). Before I could come up with another excuse, Mark had climbed back up so I could go next. I handed him the phone (if you don’t have a video, did you really cliff dive?) and reluctantly made my way towards the edge. I stared at the water below, still in disbelief that this was possible. It didn’t matter that I just witnessed it. Deep down, I just knew that this couldn’t be done. What would happen if I turn back, I pondered? I ran some simulations and concluded that this could end in only one of two ways: with a sense of accomplishment or regret. My presence at the cliff edge had created a fork in the road - either I conquer the fear, or it conquers me. So, I took the leap. It wasn’t that bad. Then again, it never is.
So, why am I telling you this story? To show off how adventurous and well-traveled I am, of course! That, and two lessons I learned.
Fear never disappears entirely. We didn’t just cliff dive once. We climbed back up and did it again. And again. And again. Each successive jump was easier, but a small amount of fear always persisted. Despite the knowledge there were no consequences, my instincts always kicked in. Fear was the default state - by expecting to eliminate it, I was setting myself up for failure. Instead, I had to prepare to face and overcome it.
Inaction is an action. Choosing not to jump would have had a concrete effect - cementing that moment as a regret. Deferral is a particularly deceiving form of inaction - it is a way of saying no without admitting it to ourselves. When it was my turn to go, I contemplated waiting until my friends did their second round. “I’ll do it later,” I told myself, temporarily sidestepping defeat. What that translated to, though, was “I won’t do it now”. This perspective shift from the ambiguous future to the definite present was revealing. If we choose to not act today, why do we think we will act in the future? We idealize the blank canvas of the future, unaware that those moments will be just as challenging as the present. It’s the classic trap of Things Will Be Different This Time. The underlying reality is fixed - the height of the cliff is immutable. Our resolve is the only aspect that can change, but it builds up as easily as it wears down. With the uncertainty of the future and the guarantee of constant fear, there’s only one appropriate course of action. To take the leap.