I have always been shy and introverted. I was a quiet kid, and I grew into an even quieter adult. In college, my introversion escalated into social anxiety. I started to avoid social situations because interacting with people made me so anxious. Speaking in class, making phone calls or even just casually talking to people was terrifying. There were so many mundane things I wanted to do, but I was paralyzed by irrational fear. I missed classes and events, and I didn’t make many friends, but I somehow survived college.
After graduating and going through a few horrible situations caused by my crippling social fears, I started making strides to step outside of my heavily restricted comfort zone. I told myself that if I didn’t work to face my fears, they would only get worse. I made a list of things that I dreamed of doing but had been too afraid to try. Skydiving was one of the challenges on that list.
I made my first tandem in June of 2015. I was honestly more nervous about talking to my instructor than jumping out of the plane, which felt bizarre and stupid. But as soon as I met my TI and he harnessed me up, my anxiety melted away. I got this weird feeling of belonging in that Cessna 182, because I felt more comfortable crammed in that tiny plane with my instructor and two other skydivers than I’d felt around people in a long time. On the ground, the adrenaline overpowered my social anxiety, and everyone was extremely kind and answered all of my excited questions. They sincerely said, “You should come back,” and that stuck with me.
In the following weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about skydiving and that feeling I had in the plane. I researched the AFF program and kept thinking, “This is ridiculous; I can’t be a skydiver.” Even if I could physically and mentally do it, I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in. But there was a little voice in the back of my head that said, “Why not?” So, I decided it was worth a try.
I started AFF that July. The first day, my instructor said with no hesitation, “Yep, you’re a skydiver; you’re one of us.” I didn’t believe him then, but he was right. A month later, I was carried to a dunk tank to “celebrate” my A license. That night, I slept on a couch in the hangar because I wanted to make the first load in the morning. At that moment, I knew I found a home. I took $10,000 I had saved—intended as a down payment for a house—and instead spent it all on training, gear and jumps, and I moved into a friend’s basement.
Taking that leap changed my life. I didn’t realize it then, but learning how to skydive taught me methods to manage my anxiety. You learn and plan for the jump on the ground. Whatever fear and doubts build on the climb to altitude go out to the sky when the door opens, and you have to just go for it. At the end of the day, even if everything didn’t go as planned, you are happy that you did it instead of succumbing to the fear.
Going through this over and over taught me that the feeling of fear doesn’t mean I should stop, it means proceed with caution. The best feelings in life are past that barrier of fear, on the other side of that door. Through learning to skydive, I gained the confidence to repeatedly throw myself out that door and many others.
I have now done countless things that would’ve been unfathomable for me five years ago by applying the mindset that I learned through skydiving. I got my motorcycle license; I traveled with friends and alone; I tried many things on that original “scary things I want to do” list; and I even performed aerial arts in front of crowds of people. I went from being too anxious to talk to a cashier at a grocery store to literally performing in front of a room packed with people. It still blows my mind. I never would’ve been able to do any of this without my amazing family at WNY Skydiving in Albion, New York, who welcomed me in with no hesitation and supported me along the way, from my first solo skydive to my first aerial arts show.
It’s weird to me now that people call me “fearless.” I am absolutely not fearless; I still get anxious all the time. I’m just better at being afraid, and I often chase that feeling instead of hiding from it. I’ll admit it’s super cheesy, but I live by it now: If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.
Robin Basalla | D-39612
Rochester, New York