During my freshman year at American University, I found myself standing on a platform about 25 feet in the air, clutching a trapeze bar, preparing to jump with no prior training or experience.
As I stared at my toes peeping over the edge and gripped the bar with shaky hands, I tried to remember why I was there.
A couple weeks earlier, a production company called Roadtrip Nation came to our campus. The show, which is currently in its 12th season, documents the journey of the young individuals in their van, as they road trip across America to figure out their true calling in life. I guess they must have seen some potential in me, because they gave me $100 to try something outside of my comfort zone. So naturally, the first thing I thought of was to try trapeze.
As I stood on the platform, I tried not to think about what could go wrong or how unprepared I was to do this. That would only make me more nervous. Chickening out and climbing down in front of the class would be humiliating, so I ruled that out as an option. Still, I was hesitant.
There are many times in our lives when we will be hesitant and plagued by thoughts of uncertainty. These fears—fears of failure or embarrassment—do nothing for us other than hold us back.
I have felt these fears in times as insignificant as asking a question in class to times as monumental as beginning my first day of work at a new company. I also feel that women, who are more likely than men to begin questions with “sorry” or suffer from “imposter syndrome”--feelings of being incompetent or undeserving of their job their job--are especially vulnerable to these fears.
The problem isn’t having these occasional feelings; it’s in what to do with them.
When my instructor finally yelled “hep!” (trapeze talk for “go!”) I jumped from the platform. And you know what? I messed up. I swung my legs up too early, which threw my momentum off and they told me to let go. But as I plunged 25 feet down into the net, I didn’t feel embarrassed or like I had failed—because I had jumped. Even though I was afraid.
After a few more tries, I was swinging properly and learning how to back flip. Within a span of a half hour I had learned how to hook my legs over the bar, arch my back and have someone catch me.
Not allowing fear to dictate decisions and “learning on the fly” are two skills that have irreplaceable value, applicable to both our personal and professional lives. Stepping into the shoes that we are presented with, “fake it till you make it”—you’ve heard it a thousand times before. Some of the best, most exciting experiences I’ve had in life come from this advice, including my trapeze lesson.
This year, I will graduate from American University and I feel as if I am standing on the same platform again, poised to swing into the unknown. Will I fall a couple of times? Probably. But will I get it right eventually? Absolutely.
I’m not sure where on the globe I will land, when I will or into whose arms. But I know from so many past experiences, whether it was choosing to study in a foreign country for a semester, running a half marathon, starting my own business or applying for my dream job--it all starts with a small leap of faith.
“Life begins where your comfort zone ends.”
-- Alex Mazzarisi is a senior at American University studying Public Communication and Anthropology. When she's not mentoring underclassmen or writing for her university's magazine, she enjoys hiking, trying new foods and traveling.