Well it’s been a month since I made my big leap, and I’ve realized that much of the emotion I have experienced in that time feels like an elongated form of bungy jumping.
Let me start by explaining what bungy, or bungee in America, jumping actually feels like – for anyone who’s not done it. Basically you stand on the side of a ledge with hundreds of feet of free air between you and something like a rocky river below, and as you inch your toes out to the very edge you have a profound desire to shit your pants due to the absolute full body terror that starts to take over. It requires extreme mental force to actually step forward.
Most people’s knees buckle as soon as their body weight is over the edge – only the really brave ones make it a big, badass leap. And then the glorious, completely unencumbered free fall begins accompanied by a full body rush of exhilaration mixed with acute foreboding as you desperately await the moment when you arrive at the bounce at the bottom and finally receive FULL CONFIRMATION that you’re not going to die!
So yeah – that’s kind of what the first month of leaping out of the nice warm comfy job has been for me. It’s an exhilarating free fall for SURE – and I have no idea when I am going to feel that that big bungy bounce.
In the first week of announcing the news of my departure from Equinox, and my decision to launch my own start up EXTREMEYOU, I was overwhelmed with the incredible emails, texts, calls, tweets and Facebook posts of support. To be honest it was completely humbling and immediately began to trigger in me my fierce desire not to let down the people who so tirelessly and caringly support me.
What I was not prepared for was the innocent questions from people I admire, who know me as a big corporate leader. That led me to wonder: had I tied my bungy cord correctly?
A week after I left Equinox, I ran into a great friend who happens to be a very high profile business thought leader. He was so awesomely interested in my new venture – and quickly got to questions like, “So where are your offices?” and “How big’s your team?” My instant gut reaction was that I was SUPPOSED to have a well thought through answer to this question and shit if I don’t – I might be hurtling into a suicide mission. I could feel anxiety in my tummy as I had a flash thought about the fact that my only “employees” are my 9-year old son as my self-proclaimed head of technology, and my 7-year old daughter who is my chief of staff. What’s more – my only thought on my future office location was Starbucks – as a simple means of not being in my house and crowding my stay-at home-husband’s turf. I think I kind of stumbled through an answer that “we are still thinking all that through.”
Later, I was chatting with another friend who has a big role at a media company. He was excited about my ideas for the future, but then said “Well, I hope your husband is gainfully employed to help you guys through this one.”
I replied, “Well, yes, my husband, he’s the lead parent – a stay at home Dad.”
WOW did I feel untethered in those particular moments. Had I lept without knowing the answers to all these questions that any competent person starting a business should be able to answer?
People don’t make risky decisions in their lives because they don’t know for sure that the outcome is going to be positive. But obviously if you don’t take the risk, you’ll never get the reward of discovering new parts of yourself that emerge when faced with new challenges.
At some point you have to jump. You can’t stand there with the bungy cord swinging in the breeze forever.
Just as I was looking down over the edge, feeling full body anxiety, I was jolted with a huge dose of perspective this weekend by the inspirational journey of a dear friend of mine, Frank Rappa.
Frankie and I worked together at Equinox – he joined the company maybe a year after me as our head of retail. I remember him literally bouncing through the door in his first week with a trademark infectious energy that all of his colleagues connected to immediately. And then – about three months after he started, the most shocking thing happened. Frank was diagnosed with stage two testicular cancer. Imagine for a second the terrifying double whammy of being brand new in a job – which is anxiety provoking on its own as you try to navigate your way into a new culture and begin to build new relationships – AND being faced head-on with your own mortality. I simply can’t imagine how one would ever prepare for that.
Frank has not only endured and won an incredibly tough battle to crush this fucking insidious disease in his body, but he managed to do it all while courageously sharing his story with 13,000 of his colleagues in an effort to support the amazing fund raising initiative Cycle For Survival to raise money for rare cancer research. You can check out his awesome story here.
Being with Frank this weekend and seeing him finally up riding a spin bike with the most GIANT smile on his face just gave me chills. He’s a massive inspiration.
It got me to thinking – how on earth do you overcome the ultimate fear of horribly scary medical treatments with no sure positive outcome? I asked Frank, and his answer was incredibly powerful.
“I think simply by not making this about me. This was bigger than me. There was an US factor. I had to focus on making sure WE, my family , friends, and supporters were going to be ok. The word fear is a lot different than the word guilt. I would have felt more guilty if I wasn’t strong enough for those around me going through this with me. I would have felt guilty if I didn’t go in and fight harder and harder each day. You can’t be afraid if you’re focused on leading through something and not wanting to disappoint.”
Frank Rappa’s CYCLE FOR SURVIVAL Team. Frank (center) with Sarah Robb O’Hagan to his right.
FRANK RAPPA’S CYCLE FOR SURVIVAL TEAM. FRANK (CENTER) WITH SARAH ROBB O’HAGAN TO HIS RIGHT.
What I take away from Frank’s inspiring story is that when you have so much to lose, you will fight SO much harder to survive and to thrive. You simply don’t know how much fight is really in you until you find yourself in a scary situation with no certain outcome. Most of us spend so much of our lives procrastinating and putting off the really risky or scary decisions – thinking that if we just spend a bit more time tying that bungee cord correctly then for SURE we will be OK. But you never can be prepared for all that can come your way in life. And if you wait too long to make the big leaps – the opportunities will most certainly pass you by.
The other thing Frank said that really stuck is that confidence was such an important factor. Not confidence in his job performance or his ability to beat cancer but confidence in being able to do HIS best and to try his hardest. And in that way, to take confidence out of what you can control to overcome the possibilities that you can’t. Frank has a great new tattoo on his arm that says: Be humble, be thankful, be brave. But most of all be wild!
So yes, I’m sure people will keep asking me questions that tug at my doubts, but I’ve made the leap, I’ve put it all on the line and now it’s up to me to make it work. There’s simply no other option. Re-framing my thinking that way has turned me from an antsy, rather short-tempered procrastinator to a business-planning machine pumping out my strategies and priorities, and giving me absolute clarity on the first steps I need to take. Yes, I feel anxious sometimes, but I’m channeling my anxiety into real energy and momentum with the confidence of knowing I CAN give it my all. There’s no way in hell I will let down my “us factor.”
Thanks Frankie for that blindingly clear insight at a time when I needed it most!
Breaking yourself down to make yourself stronger happens many different ways. We are looking forward to sharing more thoughts on how to do this in coming months at extremeyou.com. So if you’re keen to hear more in the future – be sure to sign up to our list of Extremers.
For now – I’d love to hear your thoughts on your uncomfortable, slightly sweaty, or even shit your pants experiences and how you grew from them. And if Frank’s story inspires you as much as it inspires me – you can also donate to his Cycle For Survival fundraising team here.