THE WASHINGTON POST – In the sixth episode of Will Smith’s streaming show, Welcome to Earth, the action star is afraid.
Alongside his guide, polar explorer Dwayne Fields, the Oscar nominee rappels down a cavernous ice hole in the Icelandic wilderness. As the pair descend down the frozen walls, they are suspended over total darkness. “Now, dangling over a bottomless pit isn’t exactly my bag but, man, scary as it is, it’s liberating,” Smith said in a voice-over.
Over the course of the six-part Disney Plus show from National Geographic, which debuted in December, Smith travels the globe and pairs up with experienced adventurers to throw himself into captivating spectacles. Part cinematic adventure series, part science lesson, Welcome to Earth contains an abundance of information about the natural world. But the show has a surprisingly relatable lesson to teach.
Seeing Smith push past his reservations shows viewers in real time what we stand to gain when we use an adventurous trip to confront our fears.
Smith, who is afraid of water, plunges 3,300 feet beneath the ocean in a submersible, where he and his guides gawk at technicolour marine life displaying bioluminescence. He crosses a crocodile-infested river on a rope in Namibia to get a better view of waterfalls, joking, “In a movie, my stuntman would’ve did that.”
By the time he makes it to Iceland, he kayaks – for the very first time – on whitewater, ultimately ending the journey on a serene, black sand beach. There’s a payoff each time.
Smith takes the idea of confronting one’s fears on a trip to the extreme, but the idea can apply to not-as-intense circumstances.
For instance, I once hiked to Snooper’s Rock in Prentice Cooper State Forest. The overlook is located about 19 miles from downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a quarter-mile walk from a nearby parking lot, but it sat well outside my comfort zone: I’m terrified of heights.
I begrudgingly followed my more-adventurous boyfriend in the pitch-dark during a weekend trip, and I declined to stand near the edge. I did sit a few feet away, however, which was a big deal for me. But when the sun came up, I saw the fog-covered Tennessee River Gorge bathed in late July morning light.
On the surface, my small triumph pales in comparison to Smith scaling the crater of Vanuatu’s Mount Yasur volcano, surrounded by “spatter bombs” of molten lava. But in the end I was glad I ignored my nerves long enough to take in the scene. I think about that morning all the time.
In the season finale, Smith takes stock of his adventures. “My mission at the start of this journey was simple: Get out of my comfort zone, connect with the planet, and hopefully inspire others to do the same,” he said.
“It can be terrifying to step out into those unknowns,” he said, “but sometimes the only thing to do is to give yourself over the flow. Let go of your fears.”
Whatever your fears, wherever you are, whether hiking a Tennessee state forest a couple of hours from your hometown, or, like Smith, tracking wildebeest in the Serengeti, facing them down might yield a great view.
Maybe next time I visit Snooper’s Rock, I’ll sit a little closer to the edge – from a safe distance, of course.