A couple of weeks ago I took my first trapeze lesson.
My friend Saralyn gave it to me as a 50th birthday present and while I loved the idea in one way—because I have learned that facing my fears and trying new things is a pretty good way to amazing new breakthroughs—I also began dreading it pretty much immediately.
You see, I am NOT—and never have been—one who enjoys physical risks.
In life-coachy/self-help circles when someone is trying to help you find your joy/bliss/right life they will often say something like, “Remember how when you were a child you just dove right into things without hesitation, without fear?”
NOPE. I do not remember that. Not EVER.
I was the child who was afraid.
I was the child with her nose in a book, happily living someone else’s adventures.
I was the child who dreaded every P.E. class (except square dancing – a fact which my son finds endlessly amusing!) and who, when I was introduced to skiing as a teenager found cross-country (a.k.a. glorified walking) to be ever-so-much more enjoyable than the kind that requires speeding down the side of a mountain.
But in the past five years I have learned that I am WAY more courageous and capable than my 8-year-old, or 18-year-old, or even my 38-year-old self knew I was.
So, on a sunny November Sunday I dutifully trekked down to the Santa Monica Pier to climb up a tall ladder to a platform high above the earth I love so dearly, to swing through the air on flying trapeze.
Being me, though, I needed a bigger, deeper reason to do something this terrifying, so I decided that the whole experience would be a prayer for me – a way of really putting my body where my mouth is and acting out my willingness to take a risk.
I expected to return home with amazing, metaphorical evidence that, indeed, leaving what feels safe and taking the risk of leaping into the unknown leads to exhilarating joy.
And if I were to tell you the story of my friend Saralyn’s experience of our lesson, this statement would indeed apply. You can see the exhilaration and joy on her face in the photo.
There is no similar photo of me, however, because I only lasted for 40 minutes of the 2-hour lesson after which I laid on a mat on the ground and tried not to throw up.
Also, once I stopped participating I become persona non grata among the instructors and other participants.
They didn’t know what to do with me. They barely made eye contact or spoke to me for the rest of the day. My friend was getting high fives and laughing and making new friends. Not me.
I was a quitter. A non-flyer amongst flyers.
Not exactly the metaphor—or answer to my prayer—that I was hoping for.
To make matters worse, my “prayer leap” was toward a new belief: that joyful, easeful work can be a path to success. I was seeking to let go of the belief (and unhealthy patterns of behavior that go along with it) that success comes only by working harder and working longer, a method that got me a Ph.D., but doesn’t do much for my ability to spread love, healing, and joy.
How paradoxical is it that I leapt towards joy and ease only to find hard work and a headache?
Given these results, I could see this experience as proof that:
1) Joy and ease in my work are clearly not a viable path forward for me, and
2) I am not a strong, capable leader. I am an uncoordinated, geeky, weak person worthy of rejection, as I have been since childhood.
Certainly, I have some evidence from this event to support these conclusions, but I also have a decent load of evidence to support other beliefs:
1) I am a bad ass for having climbed that ladder and jumped off that platform multiple times at the age of 50, ESPECIALLY since I was “not that kid.” And even though this experience was not fun, it also did not kill me. I didn’t even break a bone. Conclusion: I have the courage and strength I need for the challenges I face.
2) I stopped at exactly the right time – for me. Conclusion: I am a woman of wisdom who knows my limits.
3) I was able to follow my wisdom despite negative reactions from other people. Conclusion: I am ready to be a leader.
These conclusions are much more empowering than the first two options and at least equally as true.
I get to choose. And I’m going with the empowering ones.
My chosen conclusions don’t quite answer my prayer for a way forward in my work that is energized by joy and ease rather than working harder/longer. That’s an experiment still in-process.
But I’m already kinda glad I didn’t get the magical answer I’d hoped for.
Because in the past few weeks at work it’s felt like I’ve had to keep “going up the ladder” one more time. And because I survived that beastly trapeze lesson, I’ve known that I could do it.
I also know that when I really, truly can’t do it anymore, that will be clear – and I will stop and rest. In fact, I’ve done a lot of stopping and resting in-between the climbs already.
I’m choosing to trust that somehow the joy and ease part is still on its way. The trapeze method didn’t work for me. That’s information I can use to find my path. It doesn’t mean I don’t have one.
I have a hunch that my next “embodied prayer” experiment might be the more grounded, quiet, slow challenge of horse whispering….
How about you?
Is there an experience of “failure” you’ve been ruminating on that’s draining your power, courage and confidence? What evidence can you find for more empowering conclusions about what it means for you?
Are you climbing a scary ladder of your own, one more time? Is it time to rest?
What hints can you follow towards your path to joy – even in your failures?
Write me and tell me what you’re playing around with. I’d love to hear about your experiments.
Here’s to thriving!