I’ve had a fear of heights for as long as I can remember.
When I was 4, my dad took me fishing. The jetty was too high, and we had to come home…
My fear of heights caused 10-year-old me to “chicken out” on a school trip as we walked Mt Tarawera. I remember my teacher rolling her eyes as she asked a parent helper to walk me back to the bus while the rest of the class carried on.
When I was 26, I went to Queenstown with some adventure-loving friends.
I managed mountain biking down a scary-for-me track so when they suggested paragliding, I said yes, thinking that maybe… just maybe, I wasn’t scared of heights anymore.
We headed up the mountain on the gondola. I held on tightly to the sides of my seat thinking “What am I getting myself into”?
We were led by the paragliding team to what looked like a harmless hillside, except beyond the grassy verge was a sheer cliff face…
Our tandem pilots suited us up while explaining how it all worked. I listened as Steve, my pilot, attached my harness to his, telling me that all I had to do was “run off the cliff”.
“Run off the cliff!”
I started backing away, pulling him with me. “I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’m scared of heights, and I definitely can’t do this!”
Steve was patient and gentle. He told me of his 20+ years of flying experience and shared stories of people like me, who feared heights too, yet went on to do it and had the most amazing experience.
I look at my friends, laughing and excited. Why couldn’t I be more like them? Fearless and brave.
“OK, I will do it – BUT – with my eyes closed. If I’m running off a cliff, I don’t want to see myself running off a cliff”.
He laughs. “No problem. Start running … NOW!”
I run; my eyes firmly closed. Suddenly my feet leave the ground, and we are in the air.
“You made it”, he says. “Check out that view!”
“No way! I’m keeping my eyes closed!”
“Just take a peep, you don’t want to miss this”.
I open one eye and decide to look up first. Cloudless blue sky. And then I looked out – at the expansive beautiful view of Queenstown around me. And then I looked down…
“Oh wow, this is amazing. I can’t believe how AMAZING this is!”
Steve laughs. “I told you, you would love it”.
I’m laughing and squealing and having a ball. I can’t believe I am doing this. I can’t believe I almost missed doing this. Where has my fear gone?
Before I know it, it’s time to land. We start to descend, and as we come closer to the ground, Steve tells me to start running so that we can land safely on our feet. We manage it perfectly…
I look at Steve, my eyes glassy with joyful tears.
“Thank you so much. That was amazing! I never would have done this if you hadn’t helped me get over my fear. You were so kind and patient. I can’t thank you enough”.
“No regrets then?”
“No way! I want to do it again!”
Some people go the extra mile when it comes to the way they serve. They care about the experience you have as much as the product they sell or the service they provide. They care about “how they made you feel”.
Steve provided an amazing paragliding experience, but more than that he gave me the “experience” of receiving his generous attention and care – an experience that left me as exalted as the flight itself. The kind of “experience” that is memorable. The kind of “experience” I still talk about all these years later.
You might not be able to change how the world values your profession but you can change how you are valued by doing work that matters. Work that changes how people feel, not just what they think. Bernadette Jiwa
Photo by Arno Senoner on Unsplash