Three weeks ago I was standing on what seemed like a teeny tiny plank, 3 stories up in the air, holding onto a wooden rod with my right hand. When the trainer shouted, “Go!” all I could think of was, “No!”
My whole body went into resistance when I heard the shouted command. I knew what he wanted me to do. He wanted me to let go of the safety rope with my left hand and join it together with my right hand on the rod of the swing and jump off the plank of wood I was standing on…into the abyss!
Even though we had rehearsed the move several times on a bar just a few feet off the ground, and even though I was hooked up to a safety harness AND there was a wide net below me to catch my fall, I felt only sheer terror.
But I did it. I completed the trick we were taught of hanging upside down by our legs and swinging back and forth, then doing a complete flip in the air before bouncing safely onto the net below.
“The second time is exponentially less scary.” Our instructor at Trapeze Austin insisted after we had all recovered from doing the ‘trick’ the first time.
“Second time?” I said to myself. I was thinking the class was almost over and it was time for me to skedaddle.
“Oh no!” he said. “You have to try it. You’ll see what I mean.”
I had no desire to repeat the feeling of absolute dread and fear right before I jumped off the plank. But what was I so afraid of?
Social Psychologist George Herbert Mead says, “people create meaning based on their interpretation of events around them…depending on what we determine to be useful to us. We create language to define events and structures that we interact with. If we have no language for something, it has no meaning to us. It is unknown.”
Adults experience great anxiety when faced with an unknown since we are so accustomed to having things defined and labelled…and we will do most anything to avoid this anxious feeling.
Another way to say it is, if we can’t define it, we’re scared of it.
“We are creatures of habit” is an old adage.
More accurate is the statement, “We are creatures who avoid new experiences because the feeling of a new experience seems like pain”.
I wasn’t afraid of the trapeze. I was afraid of the unfamiliar sensations in my body. Since the sensations were new and i had no meaning for them, they felt like pain. I hate pain! Don’t I?
In an effort to explore my fear…and out of curiosity…I headed up the ladder for the second time. In the instant before releasing the safety rope, grabbing the rod with both hands and jumping off, I noticed the terror had significantly diminished..just like the trainer had said.
Looking back, I realized i still had felt the terror, but it was quickly replaced by something else. Trust.
Once I knew I could do the trick the experience had meaning for me, and I had language to define it. This created familiarity which lead to trust. Trust trumped fear.
Pop psychologists and inspirational quotes are always encouraging people to “Stretch beyond your comfort zone,” and, “Think outside of the box.” Most messages of this nature fail to produce a result because we hate what we fear, we hate pain, we hate the unknown. So we stick to our habits…most often choosing to stay in the box and in the comfort zone. But Seth Godin says, “all habits are changeable.”
Finding your life path is like the trapeze. Full of as yet undefined experiences. We have to go through these experiences to find what we enjoy, go through the unknown. But at the same time, we are resisting this crucial process. So who is guiding us in this journey?
When I went to college there was no Bachelor’s Degree for ‘Undecided’. I had to declare a major. I ended up with two degrees, a B.A. in Sociology and a B.A. in Communications. At the time I had no idea what I would do as a career. There was no clear path set out for the things that I thought i would enjoy doing.
After graduation I floundered into the unknown trying to find my career path. I was first a Social Worker, Broadcast Journalist and even a short stint as a Florist. Finally someone recommended I take a course called ‘What to do With the Rest of Your Life.’
In this course I was surrounded by people who had navigational tools to guide me through the unknown territory of how to create a profession. The training team reflected back to me actual characteristics I have that could be marketable…encouraged me to use these unique qualities by starting small projects…and eventually cobbling the results into a very innovative and exciting career; a career with infinite possibilities.
I am fortunate to have found this path, and even more fortunate to have discovered a way to be useful for others as they find their own paths, and create the social systems around them to support it.
Many times I had to go through the unknown to discover a new way to conduct my business. Many times I felt the pain of stepping into the undefined territory. Now this process is more familiar to me. Almost as familiar as stepping off the plank, and swinging high on the trapeze.
If you want company and impeccably trained guides to assist you on your path through the unfamiliar, click here to find out about this great seminar “What to do With the Rest of Your Life.” It’s coming to Austin next month. Reserve your spot now. Don’t suffer the pain of the unknown in your career or business any longer.