Follow your Gut

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Have you ever been on a jump doing something you just knew you shouldn’t have?

Kaz Sheekey (pictured) is a super-experienced canopy pilot on the Highlight Pro Skydiving Team. This stunt is within her skill level but well in the Danger Zone for most of us
Image by Michael Clark

Maybe you did something against your better knowledge and fell for that little voice saying: ‘That’ll look so sick on instagram’ or ‘That will impress so-and-so’?  

I hope that you walked away from the situation like I have more often than I’d like to admit, sweating bullets and thinking to myself “Wow, that was DUMB!”

Unfortunately we have a tendency to fall for the devil on our shoulder, who, fuelled by a toxic cocktail of testosterone, adrenaline and an insatiable thirst of proving himself to others tries to gag the angel on the other side and drown the other’s words of warning, frantically yelling “SEND IT, BROOOO!”

That fight of the devil versus the angel, the wish for recognition versus common sense, the ego versus actual ability, is ever present. Hopefully, if we do give in to the devil’s voice, it ends in you walking away thinking “I hope no-one saw that!” or even worse “That was close… but it was SICK!”. Unfortunately, in a lot of cases it ends in tears, hospital or worse.

Our gut instinct, or as I formerly called it, the angel on our shoulder, is usually quieter, but persistent and always there. It’s that feeling you have deep down that says…”maybe this is not the best idea… maybe I shouldn’t do this..”

Ego-driven decisions

Taking a step back and taking a critical look at whether your motivations are driven by ego and deciding to listen to your gut will dramatically increase the likelihood of you having a long healthy life and jumping career.

Ego-driven decisions could manifest in the form of:

  • Joining jumps that are clearly above our level
  • Downsizing prematurely
  • Attempting manoeuvres (freefall or canopy) without proper training

Factors

One factor that fuels the destructive fire of the ego more than anything else: Public Focus and the wish for recognition. For example

  • Friends and family are watching
  • Demo jumps
  • Jumping with loved ones (tandems/AFF)
  • TV/Media Present on the DZ

It’s not always the ego one is battling with, sometimes it’s a balance between progressing at a healthy pace and progressing at an unhealthy pace. Knowing when to challenge yourself and when the step is too big. Maybe you felt a bit out of your depth with the skydive plan but you didn’t like to speak up ? Or volunteered for a jump but had a niggling feeling you’d be better staying on the ground? Understand when your concern about a jump is about safety and when it is about skill level. 

Questions to ask yourself

If you have the slightest doubt whether you are about to take a risk where the odds are higher than usual, you should ask yourself the following questions and be brutally honest with yourself:

  • What is my motivation behind this decision?
  • Have I done everything necessary to guarantee success?
  • Is this really worth it?

One great technique recommended to raise your awareness towards your own biases and motivations is from Matt Gerdes in “The Great Book of Base”. He calls to “Read your own incident Report” – where Gerdes suggests to imagine how your current endeavor unfolds into an accident and which factors might contribute to a possibly disastrous outcome. This technique allows us to detach ourselves from our own situation and gain a third person perspective and second degree thinking on how we execute our preparation and jump.

Instructional Role

As instructors and coaches we hold an obligation to uphold safety standards and a responsibility to stay aware, spot and guide to safety from unsafe practices to the best of our abilities. Our gut feeling can guide us, and sometimes almost instinctively help us spot something wrong, even if we just saw a split second of what was going on.

It’s not only instructors and coaches who have a responsibility to get involved. Speaking up when you feel something is unsafe or taking someone aside because we feel that the person is not fully prepared/aware is an uncomfortable but necessary burden that falls on all of us sometimes.

Here, again we can find two little figures battling again on our shoulders, this time in the form of:

  • Comfort – versus doing what’s right

It is uncomfortable to be the Fun Police who potentially ruin the mood. It’s hard to stand up and confront people. Especially when the other person has more experience. But frequently, if you overcome your fears, and speak from a place of concern and curiosity rather than accusation and blame, then you’ll be met with a positive response, because you took the time and showed that you care.

Summary

To summarise, we will often be faced with decisions where perceived short-term gain, in all shapes and forms, will tempt us to not listen to our better judgement. Our ego or simply convenience and comfort are strong drivers to ignore what we instinctively know to be the right thing to do. Doing what’s right can come in many forms, such as:

  • Not taking a risk which, in our minds, will bring us kudos with our peers
  • Speaking up when we see someone endanger themselves or others
  • Going the extra mile to make sure someone gets the attention they need and deserve.


All in all we should be aware of our underlying motivations. We need to be mindful that making the right choice will contribute to the safety of ourselves and those around us. By making the conservative or uncomfortable choice, we might set an example and inspire others to do the same.

Image: Kaz Sheekey by Michael Clark
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Meet: Julian Barthel

Julian is a full time Flight-1 Instructor, Tunnel Coach, Freefly Coach, Load Organizer, USPA Coach Examiner and Founder of FlyinMynd.
He worked in the sport as AFF-I, TD-I and Camera Flyer for 8 years before going freelance.
Julian loves Canopy Piloting, XRW and is part of the German Canopy Piloting Team.
He was part of the current National German Head down Record (38) and the European Head down Sequential Record (3-point 24-way) as well as the current European Head Up Record (43).
Likes: Canopy Flocking, Freefly, XRW, Canopy Piloting, Dynamic Flying.
Julian is sponsored by PD, UPT, Tonfly, Alti-2 and Cypres.

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