I have to say, all the talk about leaps of faith and jumping off cliffs and waiting for nets to appear is … kind of disturbing.
Not that I doubt the legitimacy of the sensation for a moment. I don’t.
In fact, those are pretty accurate descriptions of what it feels like to take the first step in doing the thing.
Like you’re walking off into nothing. Plunging into a black hole. Taking first one step off and then … it all works.
The problem with this metaphor (and its associated variations) is that it’s freaking terrifying.
Which is just … oh, I don’t know, not helpful? It’s really, really not helpful. Or necessary,
Because there is no cliff.
I’m not saying it doesn’t feel like a cliff or look like a cliff or smell like a cliff.
And I’m definitely not saying that you shouldn’t be scared (I would never say that).
Just that the most important thing about these kinds of internal cliffs is remembering that they are not cliffs … and then rebuilding the metaphor. Transforming it into something that isn’t so impossibly scary.
Because honestly, there is no reason that I can think of to have to work through that much fear. It just doesn’t make sense — and it’s totally unfair.
We have more than enough fear to process in our lives already without turning each transition into the kind of experience that throws our nervous systems into panic and terror.
So if it’s not a cliff, what is it?
I don’t know.
But there’s a lot of power when it stops being a cliff.
I want to throw out a couple concepts and examples, and maybe I’ll figure out where we’re going with this.
Implied safety is not the same thing as feeling safe.
You know that thing at the Grand Canyon where you can walk out over a glass floor and stand over the canyon?
You’re not getting me to step out on that thing.
You can explain a thousand times how it’s completely safe. You can demonstrate in every possible way how physics is on your side and physics (like the house) always wins.
You can deliver social proof all over the place. You can show me people walking out and doing it. You can prove it in every way possible.
It’s still not going to happen. I’m not going to do it.
Not because I think I’m going to fall to my death. But because I’m not going to put my nerves through that kind of fear. The kind of fear that — to me, maybe not to you — is traumatizing, and takes years to heal from.
Not going to do it.
Point 1: There are enough legitimately fearful things in life. Not everyone needs to learn to face every single scary thing that exists.*
* Great example of this “facing fear” thing totally backfiring: my friend’s ex-girlfriend who jumped out of a plane to do just that. Oy.
From the jump to the path.
When I moved back to Israel, it scared me to pieces.
I was telling a friend and he said, “It’s like throwing yourself into a black hole, right?”
Exactly. That was exactly what it was like.
“Here’s the thing nobody tells you,” he said. “There is no black hole. You go from living your life here to living your life there. It’s just you and your life, with slight variations. No holes.”
He was right. I’ve moved countries twice since then and there was no black hole.
What there is instead is this big Continuum of You (ooh, fake band name!), and wherever you are on it is a part of you. You can contain different cultural and emotional identities at the same time.
That’s because you’re not constantly hurling yourself into space or off of cliffs.
You’re just going for a walk, and around this next bend is a new piece of terrain. But it’s not really all that different from what you already know.
Point 2: Not that the thing you can’t see yet isn’t scary by virtue of being unknown … it just doesn’t make it a cliff.
It’s about new structures.
I’m about to do a couple of scary new things right about now.
When I tell myself that I’m not ready to take the leap, it gets scarier.
So that’s not what I tell myself. What I tell myself is this:
“Even though this new house isn’t completely built yet, it does have a good foundation. I’m going to call on everyone who is capable of helping me, and we’re going to figure out what kind of windows I want it to have.”
I’m still on the ground. Not going anywhere near a cliff. Just building a new thing. Not alone. With help.
It’s still unknown because I can’t fully imagine what it will be like when we’re done, but at least it doesn’t require me jumping off into the fog.
Point 3: Your metaphor doesn’t have to be a building. It doesn’t have to be a path. Just try, if you can, to find something less terrifying than the cliff.
Because it pretty much always turns out that there is no cliff.
Not that I want to negate your experience of the existence of your cliffs, because I don’t.
My point is really only that things get easier when I give myself these three things:
- permission to be scared.
- permission to not want to do it.
- enough distance to be able to remember that the metaphor is mine
and I get to play with it.
Because not jumping off cliffs is so completely on my dammit list. I don’t jump off cliffs, dammit.
Because I don’t have to.
Comment zen for today.
We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. We’re practicing.