A Lesson in Humility at 13,000 Feet

A Lesson in Humility at 13,000 Feet

“I would like to start off by doing multiple flips through the air, followed by spinning. Lots of spinning. After that, let’s just coast through the air like Superman for a bit to take in the view of everything. Okay?” I burst out enthusiastically.

“Uh-huh,” was his short retort.  He seemed to be a man of few words, so I left it at that.

This was my first interaction with the tandem skydiving instructor, the man who would be strapped to my back at 13,000 feet. He was well over six feet tall and clearly exceeded the 200-pound mark. He easily dwarfed all 115 pounds of me.

I was ecstatic that my first skydiving experience would be on a Hawaiian beach with my best friend, my sister, and her husband. For that reason, I gave my instructor these explicit directions to ensure everything would go perfectly.

We strapped on our gear and boarded the small plane. The planed lifted off the ground and rose at a steep trajectory to reach the necessary altitude. I sat next to the door, and when it was flung open, I was treated to a picturesque view of the vast Hawaiian terrain. My tandem instructor edged us closer and said, “When you’re ready, say ‘three, two, one, jump!’ and then jump.”

I took a deep breath, said, “Three, two, one … jump!” and threw myself towards the earth.

Nothing happened. We hardly budged.

I tried again, this time louder, “THREE, TWO, ONE, JUMP!”

Still nothing.

“Give up?” he asked.

“Yup,” I replied. With that, he hurled us both through the open door.

Later, as we were all driving back to my sister’s home, I described what had happened prior to my jump. “Were you mad?” my sister wanted to know.

Nope. Not in the least.

Here I was, some pipsqueak, thinking I could tell a stranger how to do his job without a measly “Hi.” I didn’t bother to learn about him or even ask his opinion on how to achieve the best skydiving experience. I demanded something based entirely on my desires and, if I’m being honest, my ignorance of the situation.

After some reflection, I realized this was disrespectful not only to his profession, but also to his personhood. I didn’t see him as an expert. I didn’t even treat him like an individual. Instead, I acted like he was a means to an end. I allowed my own wants and desires to supersede all manners.

How did he react? He could have balked at my rudeness or pointed out the offensiveness of my behavior. Instead, he handled the situation like any good instructor. He showed me the error of my ways through the craft of his vocation. In this way, he helped me understand my own limitations. Through this experience, I learned to apply some simple steps to ensure that I approach this type of situation with the proper amount of humility.

When you’re on a new adventure, whether it’s at 13,000 feet or in a corporate boardroom, consider these tips to help keep your composure:

  1. If you don’t have prior experience or substantial knowledge in an area, don’t assume control of the situation or try to act like the expert.
  2. If there is an instructor or a guide, listen carefully. When appropriate, ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand.
  3. Only after following the first two steps should you consider offering your own comments and asking for their input. They may have a very valid reason against the suggestions that you would never have considered.

It can be difficult to rely on strangers for their expertise; especially when facing a challenge that is new and daunting. However, being open to give a professional a chance to guide the way can lead to more enjoyable experiences.  It just takes a leap of faith.


Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here.

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