Leaping Off Cliffs

When I think of 2015, I think of vertigo — of staring dazedly at my life and wondering: what is this, how is any of this possible, how did I end up here, where am I, and what am I even doing? 2015 has felt rich and full, almost overwhelmingly so. It’s been moving through every day with the feeling of careening through time, colors spinning and flying all around me, and the only answer to all my questions being I don’t know I don’t know — but it’s happening, life is happening!

There’s a Postsecret that I’ve thought about constantly since I stumbled across it two years ago:

Indeed, every momentous, life changing decision I have made over the past four years has felt very much like leaping off a cliff without knowing where I would land. I developed a taste for the adrenaline, steadily leaping off higher and higher cliffs with each passing year of college.

2015 saw the culmination of all those decisions. It began with my last semester as an undergraduate student writing a senior thesis for my beloved English major, executing my last show as “Big Mama” President of my beloved dance group, and forgoing much sleep in favor of late night hangouts paired with enormous quantities of delivery food or 6 am conversations over multiple bottles of wine or wild drunken dance parties in dark, sweaty rooms. I watched many sunrises from January to May. I stretched and dilated as many hours as possible, desperately sucking out all the last drops of marrow from college life with my dear friends.

I entered this year thinking I was in a kind of falling action phase, like in Freytag’s pyramid, moving towards a denouement and closing chapter of my life, towards graduation. In retrospect, I realize I was already falling into the liminal space of a transition phase.

You’re supposed to wind down by your senior spring of college. You pass off all your leadership positions and responsibilities to the next crop of upperclassmen, you take as few classes as possible, you relax and chill out. I came out of 2014 ready to do so, feeling like I had finally found peace and stability in my world.

I should know by now that whenever I feel life settling, it will always take me for a ride and spin everything around again.

I kept leaping off cliffs. There were too many enticing things I couldn’t say no to. I leapt into brand new friendships. I leapt into impromptu adventures outside of the campus bubble. I leapt into a new relationship on the last day of classes.

And most crazily, I leapt into starting a dance company, Chromatic Dance, with my former dance group co-president. (“What if we just… do it?” she said, one delirious night of finals. I literally leapt off the couch.)

I’d never danced formally before college, and my college dance group was a non-audition group. I still am not, by any means, a particularly good dancer.

My parents began to earnestly call me crazy, and I heard their pleas between the lines: why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you apply to law school? Why can’t you get a job at an established company with a nice steady paycheck? Can’t you go work for a startup first?

It did seem brazen and arrogant of me to leap straight into the “entrepreneurship” path on my own. After all, most entrepreneurs still get a “real job” or do finance or consulting for a few years first, to gain experience. I’d also already spent much of the end of 2014 ardently arguing with my parents about my steadfast desire to apply to graduate school and pursue English academia (literature was, still is, and always will be the second half of my heart).

Was I just irresponsibly chasing a flight of fancy, a whim I would regret? Would this finally be the reckless leap that crashed and burned?

I took my first flying trapeze class at the very end of December 2014. During that class, a couple of girls were working on getting an advanced trick. The instructor told them something that perhaps influenced my entire 2015 and best explains how I came to my ultimate decision: “The worst that can happen is that you fall — so just go for it!”

The entire experience of flying trapeze is extremely vertiginous. You climb up a ladder and are instructed to stand at the edge of a very tall platform — a cliff. You lean your upper body over the edge to reach for the bar in the most non-intuitive of ways. Non-intuitive because every part of your body and mind and heart is screaming at you to lean back the other way to safety — you are going to fall off the platform and die! You’re shaking and your heart is racing, and then you hear “hep!” and you’re supposed to just… jump!

Next thing you’re flying through the air and you’re supposed to flip yourself over so that you’re hanging from the bar by your knees upside down, and now all you see is whirling colors and sky and have zero sense of direction, and the coach is yelling instructions at you from far away down below and there’s no time and your head is spinning too much to be able to actually think about anything — you just hold on with all your strength and move your body as you practiced.

Jumping into entrepreneurship felt a lot like that. Holding on with all my strength to a vision I believed in with every string of my heart while using everything I had ever learned and practiced from all my previous leaps in college just to keep moving forward despite the world spinning around me and feeling like I had lost all stable ground.

Living the crazy and adventurous life sounds romantic, but any life on a day-to-day basis is usually pretty banal and unromantic. There have been all too many headaches and tears — some not even my own, for which I felt doubly awful. A lot of afternoons have been spent hauling heavy suitcases and duffle bags and boxes for what seems like an infinite number of blocks across the city. There have been design struggles, website struggles, collaboration struggles. Discussions that somehow drag on for five hours until 4 am. Coffee meetings on coffee meetings and events on events, talking to as many strangers as possible, telling my story over and over, despite being an introvert.

I was bouncing from New Haven to Philadelphia to Princeton from August to November, commuting in and out of New York City all the while (about 2 hours one way), overstuffed backpacks and duffle bags in tow, sleeping in different beds each night, always prepared for one night’s stay to potentially turn into a week’s length stay at any moment. My possessions were dispersed into various apartments in three different states. My life became trains on trains on trains. I felt deeply homesick, but I wasn’t even sure where home was anymore.

My second flying trapeze class happened during March of 2015. It was still terrifying. What I realized: the fear doesn’t really ever go away. It always feels a little bit like you’re gonna die. You reach for the bar and jump anyway. After all, the worst that can happen is that you fall. I used this mantra to propel me through every uncomfortable, frustrating, hard jump in 2015 — go for it, do it anyway, the worst that happens is you fall.

But here’s the thing — the reason you can afford to fall while practicing flying trapeze is because there is a giant safety net to catch you.

As the year comes to a close, the biggest lesson that I have learned from four years at Yale, from half a year of entrepreneurship, is this: the strongest safety net of all is love. The net woven from human connection.

In all the cliffs I have leapt off, I’ve learned that as long as you have love, as long as you’re chasing love, you can pull through anything.

Even in the most unpleasant of situations and the worst of stress over the summer, at the end of each day, love brought all of us back to the dinner table to laugh and tell jokes and play silly word games over drinks. When I needed space to store all the cherished possessions that I couldn’t bring with me when I moved out, my friends lovingly offered their closets and bedrooms. Despite the seemingly endless trains, love ensured that I’d always have a bed or couch to crash on for the night — whether it would be in New Haven, Philadelphia, Princeton, or New York. Even if I had no home of my own, I knew I had many homes to retreat to if I needed, no strings attached.

When my cofounder and I needed to gather a group of dancers for our video shoot, love brought our friends out to dance in full force. When we were swimming in doubt and frustration, the love of all our mentors and advisors — their pep talks over the phone, their genuine interest in our progress, their responses to our longwinded nervous emails — gave us the push we needed to keep going. The love and support of my parents, despite all their misgivings and all our arguments at the end of the day, makes everything possible.

Love is what we strive to create in the dance studio at every Chromatic class, what Chromatic Dance means to us. Love for music, love for dance and movement, love for each other, love for life. Dance is, after all, how I came to really understand what love is.

There’s a lot of individual-focused rhetoric about bootstrapping and being scrappy and blazing your own trail and striking out and doing your own thing and such whenever people write or talk about entrepreneurship. And it’s true that being independent and doing things on your own feels pretty awesome. I’m certainly proud of all that I’ve pushed myself to do and all that I’ve accomplished in 2015. I’ve learned so much and I’ve grown so much.

But there’s no way I would have ever had the strength or guts to leap off anything if I hadn’t had such a strong safety net of love. Love is the thing that will keep you grounded and stable and centered and safe even when life is flying and spinning and whirling and even falling apart around you. It’s how you know you’re going to be okay no matter what, that it will work out, that truly the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll fall. And then you’ll be able to get back up and climb up the platform and leap again and again and again, until you get the trick right.

As I look forward to 2016, I intend to do just that — to keep reaching for the bar and falling again and again and again until I get it right. The trapeze instructor told me I had “explosive power”, but that I needed to learn how to use that power with control and finesse. It’s a worthy goal for 2016 — learn to use all my energy more optimally.

At the beginning of 2015, I reminded myself to “always keep working on compassion and love and authenticity and honesty and being a good person and doing good in this world. To keep working hard, to keep following the things I care about, the things that matter, and to give it my all.” I remind myself of this again for 2016 too.

I end 2015 above all feeling so grateful to have found true love, in so many forms, with so many people, so many times this year. More than anything in the world, I believe in love. The thing that enables you to keep moving, even in the midst of vertigo.

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