The lesson I learned on the day I jumped off a roof for a childhood dare
It was a leap of faith that opened my eyes to the power of change.
I stood on the edge of the roof. I took a deep breath. “Okay,” I told myself as adrenaline surged through my body, “Now!”
I closed my eyes, bent my legs and…and nothing. I opened my eyes, slowly.
On the grass below, Eddie gazed up at me. I made my way down from the roof to join him.
“Next time, Jon,” he said.
I was 10 or 11, and Eddie and I were best friends. We were also jumpers. We jumped out of windows and off walls, we jumped from tree branches and balconies, and we hurled ourselves off ledges.
Our ultimate challenge, though, was jumping off The Roof. It was the roof of a ramshackle stone changeroom in the back garden of my parents’ home.
Eddie would walk to the edge and hurl himself into the abyss. It was my turn next. Eddie gave me lots of advice: Bend your legs. Don’t look down, look into the distance. Jump long. Tuck and roll.
But his main advice was: Whatever you do, just don’t think.
I would stand there, poised with my legs bent, looking into the distance – doing whatever I could to not look down at the ground, about two-and-a-half metres below.
I would take a deep breath. There was always a moment of clarity, and I could feel myself about to jump, my heart beating like machine gun fire, sending adrenaline swirling to all corners of my body, I would brace for impact and…
Well, and nothing. I didn’t jump. I had every intention of jumping, but my nerves would fail me at the very last second.
I just couldn’t stop my knees from quaking and my mind from thinking. What if I broke my ankle? What if I fractured my skull? What if I died?
After every failed attempt, I would walk to the bottom, where Eddie would reassure me. “Next time, Jon.”
At night, I’d lie awake and imagine myself jumping off the roof. I would leap with confidence, a broad grin on my face, and soar into the air, but then I’d see myself crashing to the ground.
My bruised, bloody, and battered body lying in a mangled heap. My subconscious motto was: Better safe than surgery.
The next day, though, I’d put these gory visions aside and I’d march confidently to the roof.
The end would be the same, though. A walk of shame back to Eddie, who would offer up a comforting, “Next time, Jon.”
And then one day, I bent my legs, I took a deep breath and…I leapt.
I don’t know if there was a broad grin on my face as I jumped — probably not — but I do know that I didn’t slam headfirst into the ground and die (obviously) and I do know that I didn’t break any bones.
I landed on my bum on the grass. I was shaken and surprised. I had no idea what propelled me out of my comfort zone and off the roof.
Eddie helped me up. “I knew you could do it,” he told me, slapping my back.
Weirdly, though, that was the end of our jumping careers. Eddie and I both stopped jumping off things.
I’m not sure why. Perhaps we moved on to more important challenges, like girls.
I may have stopped jumping, but I didn’t stop taking leaps. These weren’t leaps off great heights, but small, medium and large leaps into the unknown.
Some of them paid off. Like when I resigned from a soul-crushing 9-to-5 yes-sir-no-sir job for a life of funemployment; and the time I packed everything I owned into my car and left the big smog to live in a small town for a couple of years.
I didn’t land all my leaps, though. Like the time I invested in a flat in an area that was soon overrun by drug dealers and their clients.
Every leap I’ve taken has brought benefits. Even the ones where I crashed and burned (okay, maybe not my dodgy property investment).
I’ve learnt that taking risks brings change, and change brings growth, and growth brings opportunities.
When it’s time to steel myself, I turn to my jumping days for a boost of courage. However, it’s not my one successful jump off The Roof that inspires me.
Rather, I think of my friend Eddie’s unshakeable confidence in me. He believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.
It was only much later that I realised it was Eddie’s faith in me all those years ago that gave me — and continues to give me — the courage to leap into the unknown.