There is this bridge connecting the two countries of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Right next to the awe-inspiring Victoria Falls, the bridge goes over this deep ravine and is a sight to behold.
I jumped off that bridge in 1998 with nothing but a bungee chord tied to my feet.
It was on the day of my 18th birthday. The bungee crew ask you questions, gauging how mentally fit you are before hurling yourself off a bridge, and during the conversation I told them it was my birthday that day. When you’re scared you say silly things. I remember looking into the camera and yelling out, “18 till I die!”.
Now all Bryan Adams‘ fans will appreciate the choice of this phrase. But the irony is that I was bungee jumping on my 18th birthday, and screaming 18 till I die on the day you turn 18 isn’t exactly an apt use of that phrase.
“You are here to die then?” the cameraman casually asks. And then everyone joins in, “he’s here to die, here’s here to die to die to die…” they made it into some sort of African chant I remember. I put on a brave face through all of this (I have video proof of the brave face!), and finally made it to the edge.
The Bungee Master, this Australian guy, comes up to my ear and says, “if the string breaks mate, swim to your right ‘coz there’re crocodiles on the left, OK?”
He then placed his hand lightly on my back, and started the count down.
Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
And I jumped.
A Business is Born
You see an opportunity, you take all necessary precautions, you tell yourself you can do it, you surround yourself with people who encourage this seemingly outrageous behaviour, and then you walk up to the edge. And then you jump.
And then everything changes.
The dynamics of the both sides of the edge are remarkably different. Before you start, the business looks almost an open-and-shut case of easy profiteering. But that’s on paper.
Once you jump, the business starts, and that paper makes less and less sense. All your planning and projections and forecasting, everything seems meaningless sometimes. It feels that you talked yourself into walking up to the edge, that all your business plans were just elaborate tricks to get you all set up to take the leap.
But jump you must: there is no other way of getting to the other side.
I think most people come up to the edge, look down and refuse to jump. “It’s too risky,” they tell themselves. “My mother/father/brother/family was right, this is just too stupid,” you remind yourself.
You remember people who did jump and didn’t make it. I remember clearly – all too clearly – when I was told by the person who was tying the bungee cord to my feet, “once, this guy jumped and the cord was caught up – it didn’t stretch proper – and he slammed under the bridge. He died immediately,” and he clapped his hands together. Hard.
And then another “helper” told me how one guy jumped, and the blood rushed too quickly into his head, haemorrhaging his retinas and he was blinded for life.
Once you decide to pursue your dreams, start a business, embark on an adventure, people will come out to tell you how wrong you are. How this will fail. How it has failed for so many others.
These scary stories serve a purpose. They emphasise the inherent risk in jumping off a bridge, or in starting a new business. No one wants to be the one you complain to when things go wrong. Because it is a risk and things can and sometimes do go wrong. Bungee jumping is not for everyone and it’s OK. Starting a business is not for everyone and that’s OK too.
But still you push through. Because you know, that for many before you, the magic happens on the other side. You latch onto the stories of people who made it. They become your heroes, your role models.
The Most Powerful Story
You become a different person because you hear the most powerful story ever: the one you tell yourself, about yourself. You tell yourself that you belong to the other side. The edge scares the shit out of you, but you push on through, nudged along by the most powerful story ever.
You see yourself on the other side. You have done what you wanted to do. Does it excite you?
Taking the leap, fighting fears, going on daring adventures may not be how you want to live your life. Starting a business is a daring adventure, make no mistake. And it requires the same toolkit that any adventurer would require.
When you jump and hurl yourself to the other side, one thing becomes clear: this is risky. The cord can break after all. And your business can lose you money. Or your crazy idea was nothing more than exactly that; a crazy idea. That is the risk. And we do not need to close our eyes to it.
Why Risk is Necessary
All adventures and all enterprises are a risk.
And risk is necessary. To improve, we need to do something different. Doing something different is, by definition, something we haven’t done before. So there is always a higher risk involved.
“Behold the turtle.
He makes progress
only when he sticks his neck out.” ~ James Bryant Conant.
We are normally trained to avoid risk. But do you want to avoid the only chance of improving yourself?
One way to improve is to be different. One way is to keep trying out new things. One way is to welcome risk and uncertainty. Whatever you may choose, the end result is always dangerous. And always necessary.
You may be laughed at, you may be mocked, you may lose your money, you may lose a few friends. That’s the risk. The risk of life. We can turn away from it by taking a supposedly safe route, or we can teach ourselves how to flinch forward.
We need to think about handling risk, not avoiding it.
I wish you all the best in your adventures.
Photo courtesy of HBarrison