Bob Vanassen has seen a lot since joining the Air Force in 1977. In his 27 years of service, he was deployed to a handful of countries, including Somalia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan. In total, he estimates he has been to 40 countries between his time with the military and his personal time.
He spent 10 years serving as a volunteer firefighter, and is qualified as a military diver, a high-altitude parachutist.
His years of travel, all those experiences, nearly came to a halt in just a few short minutes.
During a high-altitude parachute jump, Vanassen’s main parachute became wrapped around his body. He was flipped upside down, and had no way to escape. The reserve parachute couldn’t deploy because it, too, was in the snug cocoon the main chute had formed around his body.
“I was about three seconds from impact and my mind blanked, and the next thing I knew, I had a reserve parachute open over my mind, with my main still wrapped around me. I guess it wasn’t my time to go, but it sure was a wake-up call,” says Vanassen.
It was the kind of experience everyone hopes they will never have, but one that changes the way the world looks. Suddenly, putting off goals or waiting another year to travel seems impossible.
A few months ago, Vanassen took a hard look at what brings him happiness. Happiness in all forms: spiritual, social, intellectual. For him, it boiled down to four things, “to explore the world, to experience all there is to experience, and to learn as much as possible in every situation,” he says.
After 39 years, Vanassen went back to school. In his determination to learn as much as he can, he decided to start out in general education courses—it was hard to decide which courses were most interesting. Auto mechanics, art, outdoor adventures, entrepreneurship. There was so much to learn.
These days, Vanassen thinks he will most likely settle on an aviation program—he could travel more freely that way.
As he described his goals and outlook on life, it was hard not to notice the deep sense of inspiration he holds. Perhaps it’s the reality check of a near-death experience.
After surviving the parachute accident, Vanassen began to seek more of the good in the world. He reads books that help open his mind to things he may not have noticed or been interested in before. But most of all, he is an optimist.
“I try to live each day with love, compassion, and gratitude, and I am a continual work in progress. There’s so much hate, anger, and fear in the world, but yet there is so much collaboration, joining together of hands, loving actions…that is what I choose to give my attention to,” he says.
On days when finding inspiration is a little harder, Vanassen recommends asking one question, “What would you do with your life if money, talent, or connections were not an issue?” Do what’s possible in that direction. Along the way, “take classes, read books, take chances, do some adventures…there are so many different options.”
Sometimes, it takes a defining moment in life to realize that time is short, that there is no time to wait for inspiration. But change is only a moment away. It starts now.
What will you do to live life to the fullest?