Ten Lessons from 2012 – One: “Transcend Fear.”

I stood on the edge of a cliff in aEast Texas quarry.  It was one of those unofficial businesses off the paved roads and among the makeshift gravel paths.  A quarry had struck an aquifer and water came to fill up the pit several hundred feet.  The straight jagged cliffs had since become an attraction for Rural texans and Dallas city folks alike.  After having heard about the cliffs I’d been challenged to head out and take a jump.

I felt in need for a summer adventure, so I made the trip.  On arriving to the cliffs I was surprised how much taller they seemed in person.  Still – I saw several people make the jump safely, I explored the water beneath the drop, and I knew I had every reason to believe the jump would be harmless and thrilling.

As I eased my way up on the edge of the cliff the water seemed further away, the danger seemed greatly increased, and every instinct warned me not to jump.  It was a dilemma that left me standing paralyzed for what seemed like an hour.  I began questioning everything about this cliff, about what it meant in my life, about risks I had failed to take and about the risks of my future as well as my past.

One of the great things I came to believe a year or so ago was that courage is the foundation of all virtue.  This is a theme that runs through many of the ancient philosophers works.  The moral act must also be an act of courage – especially in a world who so often encourages us to take the easier, less heroic path of cowardice – violence – and vice.

So standing on top of the world, wondering about what this cliff really meant to me I was faced with a few interesting thoughts.

2012 was a year I took a lot of risks in my work and in my life.  Earlier on, when I felt fearful, I challenged myself to answer that fear with rationality.  When I felt fearful about an opportunity that I thought meant the possibility of growth – I strived to overcome the fear and take the opportunity despite the risk.  In many respects this was part of the journey to take command over the way I live my life – on my own terms and in pursuit of the things that I find beautiful and enriching.

Those decisions in my personal life, my craft, my debates, my readings, and my adventures almost always resulted in enrichment and satisfaction.  I made films that pushed my craft to new boundaries.  I overcame social anxieties to build relationships and stimulate friendships that would have frightened me before.

And there I stood on the edge of a cliff – about a week away from returning to begin my last year of college before graduating and embarking into the “real world.”

I decided something up there.  I’ve kept it with me.  I decided there are two types of people in the world.  People who face cliffs with courage and jump and people who turn from the cliff out of fear.  Even if there were risks involved – the jump that I took was probably the greatest feeling I’d had in a long time.

I felt the air rush around me.  I was dropping.  The seconds dragged into illusory minutes as the air whistled louder and louder.  It’s single pitch sang like a choir of mono-tone angels.  Then, with a sudden smack, I crashed through the surface of the water.  It didn’t hurt.  The force was just jolting enough to force my eyes open.  I could see the light from the surface above me getting further and further away as I continued descending in a blanket of bubbles.  But with a kick of my legs – I rocketed back to the surface.  Back into the air, into the light, and into life.  Time was ticking away at its normal pace.

“How was it?” – My friend, who chose not to jump, asked me.

No words.

Only days later would I come up with a phrase that concisely summarized this experience.  It was one of the great lessons I walked away with in 2012.  “Have no fear.”  It is a simple mantra that I use to remind myself when confronted with some anxiety or concern that life is filled with opportunities of growth.  Sometimes these opportunities seem frightening.  Remembering that all virtue comes from courage – and that I’d rather be one of the people who jumps then one of the people who does not – I carry that mantra around with me as my greatest defense against vice and the life un-lived.

I carry it into 2013, without fear.