What Skydiving Taught Me About Mentorship

Personal growth begins with humility.

I had an epiphany about mentorship after throwing myself out of a plane (solo) at 13,000 feet on my seventh skydive in three days.

To learn how to skydive solo, you take the Accelerated Free Fall course. It is four to five hours of coaching, plus seven levels and takes about a week. You can pass it in seven dives, but most people fail levels and have to do it again.

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To attain new frontiers, break free of your comfort zone and what you know you’re great at.

I didn’t want to fail, so for three days, the only thing on my mind was “arms bent, legs extended, chin up, arch, stay calm, stay relaxed, check altimeter” and so on, going up in the planes and flying and parachuting down.

Never easy

It seems simple, but it’s not.

Every nuanced change in elbow direction, legs angled just too much in, not enough arch in the lower back, equates to instability in the air.

Combine that with the adrenaline and sheer fear of diving off a plane … it takes a lot of mental and physical focus to pass each of the seven levels, especially with just one to two minutes of practice in the air flying for each dive.

Learning to skydive was utterly humbling. This was what I loved most about it.

In the world of skydiving, the things I’m good at don’t matter.

Tech, entrepreneurship, strategy, branding … my skydiving instructors didn’t care about my expertise in any of these.

What mattered was that I listened to every instruction they gave and practiced it over and over again so I didn’t kill myself jumping out of a plane.

Knowing you’re a (bottom-percentile) amateur and still choosing to complete the task when you know you’re way better at other things is surprisingly freeing — it’s a complete concession of control.

Skydiving made me realize how easy it is to live in a comfortable world where you’ve spent years honing your skills to be the best in your field.

Being master of your arena is easy.

Picking up parallel skills where you’re still the best-in-class is also easy.

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When you enter someone else’s arena, seek their expertise with total humility.

When you enter someone else’s arena, where you don’t have the skills, and you seek their expertise with total humility — that’s where you see real growth.

And that’s what I learned about mentorship from skydiving.

Total humility

My skydiving instructor had 8,000 dives under his belt.

His students were brain surgeons and billionaires alike. But when they entered his arena, it didn’t matter how smart or how rich they were.

They were there to learn to skydive, and he was the very best teacher at it.

Utter, total humility is one of the most powerful tools a mentee can wield. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished.

To attain new frontiers, break free of your comfort zone and what you know you’re great at.

So next time you work with your coach, mentor or teacher, approach the task with total humility to absorb their mastery within their world.

It’s the ultimate growth mindset.

This article first appeared on U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and was republished with permission.

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Diana Tsai is CEO and Co-Founder of Veterati, a tech startup solving job-search issues for 1.5 million transitioning veterans.

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