Meet Jodi Sagorin Spangler. She is a medical student and the founder of nonprofit programs in Haiti, Rwanda, and the United States. She believes in the fight for health as a human right and works on projects that close the gap in access to healthcare. She has spoken at TEDx, the Do Lectures USA, and Teen Summit, and interned with Seth Godin. The following is an excerpt from 3 Billion Under 30: How Millennials Continue Redefining Success, Breaking Barriers, and Changing The World, to which Jodi is a contributor.
Standing on the edge, looking down at 15,000 feet of pure air, I feel a smile creep across my face.
My heartbeat is audible, and the thumping in my ears provides a calming rhythm as I tighten my grip momentarily. I acknowledge the voice in my head yelling at me to get back in the plane. It’s just fear talking; we’ve done this dance many times before. I take a deep breath and whisper to myself, “Time to jump. This is what it feels like to be alive.” I simply let go. Free-fall.
The struggle between wanting to step back due to fear and choosing to jump in wholeheartedly, trusting I have what it takes to land safely, is one with which I’m very familiar. And it certainly isn’t isolated to skydiving.
When I was eighteen years old, I received a big packet in the mail. I had been accepted to a prestigious university with plans to study economics. My family was thrilled, and my friends were happy for me, as we talked about this great opportunity and what it would mean for me. The excitement was palpable, but there was another feeling coming through just as strong. While outwardly ecstatic, internally I was filled with doubt, quietly longing for a very different path.
I had been working through my bucket list, traveling all over and crossing off the things I always wanted to do (funded by my job at a frozen yogurt shop). And I wrote about all of it on my blog. I found a community online of people who were all going after their dreams and started getting emails from people interested in doing the same. Eventually, I was sponsored to do things like circus school and bungee jumping. I spent my days mountain climbing and flying planes. My world revolved around finding new and exciting adventures, each designed to top the last.
Then, tragedy struck, and I lost a few friends of mine at that very young age. It made me pause and reflect on the path I was pursuing. I realized that, while it was fun, I lacked purpose. I desperately craved the feeling of being part of something bigger than myself. More than adrenaline, I wanted to be useful. I wanted meaning. I wanted to be moved.
I started researching big thorny problems in the world, realizing that it was possible to make a dent with the incredible tools I had access to. I came across a nonprofit in rural India and sent them a heartfelt email asking how I could get involved. They responded right away with information about an internship opportunity, and with that, I was in.
My parents were understandably not thrilled about the idea of me moving to India alone. They were nervous about my safety, about my future and, most of all, about me turning my back on a college acceptance. After weeks of explanatory spreadsheets, presentations, and passionate pleas, my wonderful parents came around. They supported me in my decision and knew that if I did not go, I would regret it for the rest of my life. I booked my flight.
The risk to defer college for this opportunity was such a shock to those around me that my local newspaper even wrote a story about it. I remember looking out the plane window as we took off. The reality of what I had done hit me like a ton of bricks. My mind filled with self-doubt, anxiety, and of course, fear.
But that trip to India changed my life. I met and worked with a physician who believed that everyone has a right to health care and worked to bring treatment to the poorest of the poor. Immediately drawn to her passion and relentless optimism, I began working with her on rural health delivery models and assisted with patient care. I discovered my passion for health care and that experience inspired my fight for health as a human right.
The risk I took in leaving the familiar behind for the unknown changed the trajectory of my life. It led me to pursue a career in medicine and philanthropy. Since that trip, I have graduated with honors from UCLA, worked on disaster relief in both Haiti and Rwanda following both horrific earthquakes, and have initiated charitable projects around the world to bolster human resources for health and improve health equity. I also run a skydive program for patients facing tough diagnoses.
To this day, I still have to dance with the fear. After my third trip to Haiti, I learned that my translator desperately wanted to go to nursing school but could not due to cost. Many of her friends were in the same position, and I realized how crazy it was to send in short-term expatriate medical teams when so many high-achieving young Haitian students wanted to treat patients in their own communities. They just need the opportunity. So, when I got home, I decided to fundraise for full-ride scholarships for my friends in Blanchard, Haiti. Once again, my excitement was interrupted with fear. What if no one cares? What if I let them down?
I cared enough to push past those fears and launched our effort. We funded all the scholarships and then some, and it has since turned into an all-consuming passion project to train as many high-quality health care workers as possible to close the gap in access to medical care. I have now worked on training institutes in Rwanda as well and continue to sponsor incredible young Haitian medical students who exemplify a dedication to education and service.
When I think about things in my life that make me proud, the experiences I look back on and smile, there is one common theme running through them all. There’s always a moment like the one on the plane, when I’m standing on the edge, deciding whether or not to jump. And every time, I have made the leap and taken the risk.
Perhaps you don’t jump out of planes, but I bet you’ve experienced the same inner conflict. Maybe it comes before you hit launch on a new project, walk to the front of the room before speaking in public, raise your hand with a question, ask that special someone out, or decide to go after that big, impossible dream. Your mind screams at you that you don’t have to go through with this scary thing. That voice in your head tells you to sit back down, to shut up, or that it’s much too dangerous.
But if there is one thing I want you to know, it is this:the fear of failure is always less terrifying than the feeling of regret.
I will always cherish my moments on the edge. The edge is where the magic happens. It is where good stories or scars get made. These are the moments that move us, challenge us, change us, and make us better. Jumping is a practice. The more you do it, the easier it becomes to dance with the fear and make the leap.
I have no special skills, nothing that makes it easier to risk it all and take the plunge. I believe that we all have everything we need to make something far bigger than ourselves. With our access to technology, food, shelter, security, and clean water, we are in a unique position to be able to fill our lives with purpose and passion. We all have the capacity to take risks and to jump. We all have the capacity for tremendous courage and generosity.
We must challenge ourselves to expect that we will make an impact, to make purpose our bottom line. We need to push ourselves to risk it all in pursuit of doing work that truly matters. In the end, we are all just seeking the feeling of being alive. We want to be moved. And I think, deep down, we all want to leave this world a little better than how we found it.
You have everything you need to make something that matters, to be part of something far bigger than yourself.
I hope you decide to jump.