Taking the leap

Blind MBA grad Craig Warren found career confidence with a little help from Career Launch @ Perkins - and one 13,000 foot jump.

A young man skydiving with his instructor

I sat on the floor of the tiny aircraft. I could feel the upward slant of the plane as it zoomed into the sky toward our ascent to 13,000 feet. I found myself second-guessing my decision. Was jumping out of a plane a good idea? Could I do it? How did I get up here in the first place?

For the answers, we need to go back. There are some things in life we want to accomplish, but they are so terrifying that we never give ourselves the chance to experience them. For me, skydiving was that thing. Friends told me I would love it because I like the sensation of flying. I thought I would enjoy it too, but I didn’t believe that I could make the leap.

Then, in July 2019, I gathered my courage, and took the first leap: I signed up for a skydive.

When I arrived, the instructor told me what to expect, and reassured me he had done this thousands of times before. I asked if they had ever had a blind skydiver before. They never had, but they were happy to have an instructor do a tandem jump with me.

I now had to take the second leap: trusting someone I just met to lead me through this journey, which was new for both of us.

He helped me put on the full-body harness that would connect us together and tether us to the parachute. We were in this together. Literally. He explained some logistics: how we would jump out of the plane, how to lift my legs as we landed and showed me how I would need to move my legs up and behind me during freefall.

Now it was time for leap number three: getting on board, metaphorically and literally.

I climbed into a tiny plane with 20 other skydivers, and we made our ascent. The plane ride up was bumpy and noisy, and I found myself full of questions and doubt. There was no time for any of that now. The plane leveled out and it was time to jump.

Leap number four was more of a roll.

It turns out when you are tandem diving, you don’t actually jump out of the plane, you roll. My instructor and I rolled off the edge sideways. Imagine yourself falling out of bed in the morning—except instead of standing on your bedroom floor, you are suddenly moving 120 miles an hour.

The feeling of diving was exhilarating. The wind was icy cold on my face, and it stung my nose and my cheeks as it rushed over me. The freefall felt like an endless fall, but it actually only lasted 50 seconds. The wind was so loud that I could barely hear the instructor saying he would rip the cord to slow our descent. At 5,000 feet up, we spent a few minutes floating. I was able to control the ropes that moved the parachute from side to side. It was so quiet and peaceful, and the summer breeze was the perfect warmth. I felt I could have hung there forever, but it was time to make the much slower final descent and land.

I found myself safe on the ground, exhilarated by the journey. I hadn’t been terrified while I was falling. It turns out, the hardest part was not the skydive itself. Instead, the hardest parts were all of the steps I had to take to get to the edge of that plane: all the leaps I had to make, all the trust I had to put in myself and the team. I discovered that I could face my fears and even have fun doing it.

And now it was time to take that experience and use it to inspire my next leap: jumping into the working world.

As a recent MBA grad, I had been looking for work, a big challenge since people who are blind are disproportionately excluded from the workforce. Combine that with the impact of COVID-19 and I was facing a pretty bleak landscape for finding a job. Still, I knew I could do this. I also knew that things are much easier when you have a tandem instructor locked in with you for the journey.

The tandem instructors on my journey to work came in the form of Career Launch @ Perkins.

From day one, I knew the instructors and my fellow classmates had my back, and were ready to jump with me. The Perkins staff helped me gain new customer success skills and learn to communicate better. During real-world roleplay scenarios with staff and volunteers, I practiced answering customer questions quickly and succinctly. I also learned how to calm down upset callers and to solve their problems. While I wasn’t initially sure what I wanted to learn during the program, the skills I practiced and friendships I gained were worth the extra effort. I was part of Career Launch’s first virtual class, and it was a good opportunity to meet people from across the country that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to.

I put my trust in people I had never met, all the way on the other side of the country, and that trust paid off. The self-confidence I’ve gained along with the skills I’ve developed and the connections I made through the program led me to land (pun intended) a new job just a few weeks after the training ended.

Whether your fear is skydiving, participating in a virtual class, or going to your next interview, the first step is often the hardest. I encourage you to take that first step. While it may feel overwhelming at first, I found that with the right support, I could keep moving forward and conquer my fears. Often the hardest things end up being very rewarding. So, what fear would you like to overcome this year? What goal would you like to achieve? Are you ready to take the leap?

Samuel van der Swaagh

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