In the fourth grade I decided I wanted to be an architect and attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. By the seventh grade I wanted to be a pilot and that year I learned there was a West Point for the Air Force, the USAF Academy near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Attending the Air Force Academy became my dream, my goal. I knew it was physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding but I thought I could survive. Only one thing truly disturbed me. I saw a film of cadets jumping from a 10-meter platform into the swimming pool. It looked so high. I knew sometime as a cadet I would be required to jump from that 10-meter diving platform into the water below. The thought of having to make that jump frightened me. It was my biggest fear.
I was fortunate and received a Congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy. That first summer was basic training, grueling, difficult, and demanding beyond anything I could have imagined. We just tried to survive from hour to hour, to get through the day. The only free time was a few hours on Sunday afternoons.
I knew what I had to do. So on that first Sunday I went to the Athletic Center, to the Natatorium with its Olympic-size pool, to my nemesis, the 10-meter platform. It looked so much higher than its 33 feet. Several upperclassmen (i.e., sophomores, juniors, seniors) were taking turns jumping from the top of the tower. I watched for probably half an hour, then approaching one of them.
“Sir, what do I need to know to jump off the tower safely?”
“The main thing is to jump away from the platform, cross your legs, try to enter the water as upright as you can. You going to do it?”
Slowly I climbed the stairs, occasionally looking down at the water. With each step fear in me grew. I arrived at the top scared, alone, the water far below. My heart pounded, my body weak, my breathing labored. I walked to the edge. I did not look down. I stepped off away from the platform and crossed my legs. 1.4 seconds later at 35 mph I hit the water just slightly off center. For two days my body was sore but my mind was at peace. I had done it. I had conquered my biggest fear. I knew when the time came when I would be required to make that jump that I could do it. The fear of that tower was behind me.
Later at the Academy I had to make that jump surrounded by my classmates. Some jumped with no problem, a few even enjoyed. But some were clearly scared. I was not. I had dealt with my fear privately. My demeanor was that of a leader -- calm, assured.
Ballard, J. A. (2021). Be prepared to lead. In F. Stuvek, Jr., The experience of leadership: Proven examples from successful leaders (pp. 79-94).Triumvirate.
Image from video by Joe Lesar used with permission. Obtained from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ldNJBj-q_s
© John Ballard, PhD, 2023. All rights reserved.
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