Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. ~T S. Eliot
When I (John) first started working in psychology, I was hired by a practice that provided me with an office, administrative support, client referrals, and collegial relationships. The working environment was helpful, with people I liked, and I gained a lot of good professional experience there. In time, however, I began wanting more autonomy, to do my own thing, and to hang out my own shingle. So I told the owner of the business what I was planning, and we worked out an arrangement that allowed me some time to transition from his practice to my new office, which I opened with a psychologist colleague.
It was exciting to sign the lease for my own office. I felt no fear at plunging into the new venture. After all, I was still working at the old place, and it was secure and well established. But my last day there was anything but exciting. I said goodbye to the staff at my going-away party, then I got in my car. I will never forget the thought that hit me as I drove to my new office: What in the world was I thinking?
I didn`t have a full schedule of clients, and no one was providing new ones for me. The rent was due the first of the month, and I had signed a long€”term lease. All the vision, energy, and optimism of my early stirrings to be on my own were replaced by fear and anxiety. I was truly on my own, and there was no safety net below me. I was really scared, and scared for a long period of time.
Fortunately, I did have several good friends who walked with me through this period. They listened, empathized, gave advice, and above all, they affirmed reality. They told me over and over that the plan I had originally conceived about going solo was still sound. They kept me grounded. And so I worked the plan: I spent a lot of time meeting other professionals and people helpers in my new community. I volunteered services to organizations and churches. I spoke on psychological issues and relationships at various places in the area. I continued to receive training and supervision in my field.
And eventually the plan worked. In time the new office stabilized and became more established, and I could relax a little. The first of the month wasn`t as terrifying as it had been earlier.
That was a long time ago. But here is the interesting part: Since those days, there have been many other work-related risks to take.€”everything from changing locations to new ventures and new jobs. Those risks have been real and genuine, with both downsides and upsides. I have been concerned, worried, and anxious, and I have prayed a lot. Still, I have never been as scared or anxious as I was that first time. It was different then, and I was different. I was facing the unknown with little experience at handling risk. So that first professional risk was a teacher for me. Better than any book or conversation with any expert, it took me through the experience of risk and showed me how to navigate, try things, make adjustments, and see the other side. Those first experiences have always served the purpose of helping me to face new risks with a little more confidence, courage, and faith.
Time to Get Out of The Boat!
Let`s return to the purpose of this book: we want you to quit laying the blame for your failures on circumstance or other people. We want you to take charge of your dreams, goals, and obstacles, to maximize your chances for success. The way to do this is to start taking ownership of your life, and to activate the reality of those things that only you and no one else can do along your path. One of the keys to this life of ownership is to become a person who is skilled at and unafraid of stretching and risking. Perhaps you need to make a proposal to your boss about putting you in a better position. Maybe it`s time to consider retraining or getting more education. It could be that you need to try new ways to conquer a bad habit. Or perhaps you need to have a serious confrontation with someone who is causing you problems. We all encounter situations similar to these, and often the only way to solve them is to stretch yourself and take risks. This chapter will help you understand the process and show you how to take the right steps.
To clarify what we`re talking about, let`s define stretching and risking as actions toward a goal, which include a real possibility of danger. This means moving into new territory with your eyes open, aware that you may suffer some loss or harm, but knowing that you have determined it to be worth the risk. In illustrate the downside risk in the examples above, your boss might be critical of your proposal. Your retraining may fail and cost you time and money. In spite of the effort you expend in trying to change that habit, it might even get worse. Your confrontation with the problem person might blow up in your face.
Not all risks are the same. There are smart risks and dumb risks. Smart risks are smart for two reasons: because your chances of success are reasonably good (the boss has been wanting you to take the initiative to make a proposal), or because the costs of failure are negligible (he doesn`t like the proposal, but he still likes you and your work). Dumb risks are the converse: they have very low chances for success (the boss has never liked anyone`s proposals in thirty years), or a high cost for failure (when people make proposals, he feels threatened and undermines their jobs). The important thing to remember here is that you only need one of these two conditions to have a smart risk.
In other words, a high probability of success will often trump a high cost for failure, so the high probability may be a green light to go for it. And a low cost for failure will often trump a low probability for success, so that may also be a green light. Too many people insist on both of the good assurances. I will probably succeed, and even if I don`t, the downside is not a big deal. There is nothing wrong with that. Plunging ahead tinder these positive conditions is probably a good decision. But don`t call it a risk. Along with those safe choices, you need a good sprinkling of smart risks to reach the goals and dreams you want.
People have been dealing with risk since the beginning of time: it`s nothing new. God has always encouraged his people to take risks in order to grow, change, and live the lives of faith that will produce good fruit. No spiritual heroes have been able to avoid risks. They have all taken risks, and God has been with them. Remember the apostle Peter?
Then Peter called to him, €œLord, if it`s really you, tell me to come to you by walking on water
€œAll right, come, Jesus said.
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. €œSave me, Lord! he shouted.
Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and grabbed him. €œYou don`t have much faith Jesus said. €œWhy did you doubt me? And when they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.
Then the disciples worshiped him. €œYou really are the Son of God:` they exclaimed. (Matthew 14:28-33 NLT).
You have to appreciate Peter`s risky nature. Certainly he was impulsive. And he often failed miserably. But Peter was the one who always jumped out and tried something new. Where were the other guys? Significantly, Peter was also the man to whom, even with all his imperfections. Jesus gave the name, the Rock, a title of stability, faith, and substance. Peter is the patron saint of stretching and risking! Peter learned maturity from his risks, and he ultimately succeeded in life.
Risks can do the same for you. So get out of the boat and see what happens!
Now we will walk you through the steps that show how to do this.
Make Change Your Ally
The first step is to get the big picture of the nature and value of change. For you to achieve your dreams and truly have a different life, work, and relationship, you need to see change as your friend, not your enemy. Change is tough, uncomfortable, and unsettling. But big successes always come from a willingness to change. People who learn to stretch themselves and risk have also learned to see the benefits and fruits of change, rather than to fear it and avoid it.
Simply put, change is about things becoming different, as opposed to things remaining the same. Change is dynamic; it means movement. It is not the status quo. We have no choice over some changes, such as growing older, occasional accidents, the economy, or another person`s declining opinion about us. But, as we will see, we have choices over more than we think.
There are two types of change. Everyone wants one of them, but only those who are really ready for a better life want the other.
The first type is the change of outcome. An outcome is the end result you are looking for. A change of outcome refers to the fruit you want to reap; the differences you would like to see. Perhaps it is a slimmer you, a successful dating life, a passionate marriage, or a fulfilling career. Embracing a change of outcome is a good thing. It motivates, inspires, and keeps us focused on our goals.
But that is the easier part of change. It`s easier because embracing the desire for a different outcome is a no-brainer. Like daydreaming, it puts positive images€”a vision€”in your mind. But merely embracing those images does not produce any benefits. It is necessary in order to develop vision, but it is not the hardest work.
The second, more potent, type of change is the change of approach. An approach is the way we go about achieving our outcomes and reaching our goals. A change of approach may be signing up with Weight Watchers, joining a dating service, insisting on having real talks about your marriage, or taking time off from work to figure out work. It means doing things differently, in a new way€”a way that may be unfamiliar. But that`s okay. For when you don`t change your approach, you are guaranteed to keep on getting what you are getting. Or, as the quote attributed to Albert Einstein says, €œInsanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That means when you resist changing what you are doing€”even though it`s not working€”to get what you want, you are literally out of touch with reality. Crazy.
However, when you do change your approach, you receive, in turn, a change of outcome. The one is the key to the other. There is no free lunch here. We all would like life to be different and better; there`s little fear or risk in wanting that. But the potential for a changed life is enormously greater for those who choose to change what they are doing.
Change can be work, and it can also be scary. You might have to admit you are wrong, that you have been going down the wrong path. Or you might have to bump up against someone`s opposing opinion of the way things are. You might need to carve some time out to take a class. Or you might need to apologize to another person for not loving him or her with all your heart. More than anything, you will have to let go of the control you have, or attempt to have, over others. This book is about increasing your self-control€”that is, control over your life. But you can`t really have se/f: control until you give up other-control.
We are all control freaks, to an extent. We would like for our lives, our relationships, and our jobs to operate as we would like them to operate. I have had more than one business friend with a work problem state something like this: €œIf my organization would just do it my way, we`d be okay. Perhaps. But usually the real truth was that these friends didn`t have all the correct data either to justify their way or to criticize the organizations` way. They were simply more comfortable trying to control others responses to bring them in line with their own rather than face the possibility that their own outlook should change.
A friend of mine is the mother of a teenage son who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. It`s a clear diagnosis€”not the kind that doctors sometimes make to cover a lack of structure and discipline in the home. The family has a lot of healthy love and structure, and the boy is a responsible person. He genuinely has the condition, and he is on medication to help him focus and think better. However, he didn`t like the hassle of taking the medicine or the feeling of being less than normal that came with needing it. So, as is common in teens, he wanted to stop. My friend came to me and said, €œHow can I make him take the medication? He needs it.
€œWhat have you tried so far? I asked.
I`ve reminded him that he needs it and tried to get him to take it, she replied. €œI`ve even thought about putting him on restriction until he takes it
I thought for a minute and then said, €œLet him not take it for a few days.
€œAre you nuts? she said. €œHe won`t be able to pay attention in class, study, or do homework.
€œMaybe, I said. €œBut try it anyway.
She didn`t like the idea, but she wasn`t getting anywhere with her own methods, so she agreed.
A few days later, I asked how things were. €œIt`s funny, she answered. €œHe loved being free of the pills the first couple of days. But on the third day, he was asked to leave a couple of classes because he was clowning around. Then he forgot his homework, and he bombed a test in a class where he`d been making straight A`s.
€œWhat happened then? I asked.
€œWell, I didn`t say anything, though I really` wanted to. But before he went to bed that night, he said to me, €˜Mom, I think I need my pills. Just don`t be triumphant about it!
We both laughed at his comment, but the lesson was serious. My friend made an important change that caused great fruit in her son`s life. She stopped reminding and nagging him and let him experience life without the medications The best part of this is that the boy is now the one who is owning and taking responsibility for his own care, not his mom. He is on his way to be a grownup.
I was pretty sure that the outcome would be good, because I knew this boy; he really cares about doing well in high school and wants to get into a good college. Had that not been the case, I might have given different advice. Was this mom`s change uncomfortable and difficult? It was indeed .And yet, because she was willing to take the risk, try something different, and give up control of the situation, they are both much better off.
Get Rid of Inertia
In the world of physics, inertia is the tendency for things to stay the way they are. If you throw a baseball, it will go in the same direction unless some external force, like a bat, changes its direction. Another law of inertia that applies to change is this: it takes more energy to get a stationary object moving than it does to change the direction of an object in motion. You have to work harder to get a ball in the air than no change tire direction of a moving ball.
These principles of inertia also apply to your personal life and to your drive for success. We all have a tendency to resist change and to keep things just as they are. That is inertia. But it`s more difficult to change if you`re going nowhere than to change if you`re headed somewhere, even if you are going in the wrong direction. When you are already moving, it`s easier to correct your course.
For example, I have a friend who was in his mid-thirties before he found his career. He made a lot of wrong moves and took a lot of jobs that weren`t a fit for him. But he kept looking, asking, searching, and exploring. He had financial setbacks, though he never let his family go into jeopardy. He never settled into €œI guess this is the best I can do, but I don`t enjoy it. He never blamed anyone. He just kept winging the bat, going to meetings, asking questions, and doing research. Finally, be got involved in the media industry which was a perfect fit for him. He has now been happy in that field for many years.
Be like my friend. Get rid of inertia: decide now to start making some changes. A bad decision is better than no decision, as the Marine Corps says. Become a moving object. As long as you`re moving, it will take God less energy to change your direction!
Enjoy the Ride
It`s not enough to just grit your teeth and say, €œOkay, I`ll start being open to change. Such a response is half-hearted and fear-based, and you will end up sabotaging yourself Instead, you need to learn to experience change as positive, beneficial, and often enjoyable. The ride can be fun, sometimes even exhilarating.
I often hear people who resist change use negative, inertia-based statements such as, €œThat will never work, or €œThat`s a crazy idea, or €œI guess things are okay like they are. Such responses reflect their feeling that changes are bad and painful. On the other hand, I hear people who like change saving such things as. €œThat idea might just be weird enough to work, or €œWhat`s a way to look at this that no one has ever seen?, or €œWe`re in a rut and it`s boring; let`s shake things up.
I like being around this second group. They are open, expectant, and don`t fear the unknown. Become a member of that group.
Face and Reject Your Fears
When I am consulting with businesspeople about their organization or counseling people about their relationships, I usually experience a predictable progression of events. First, we go over the goal or problem situation. Then we look at what efforts they have already made that haven`t been effective. Then we get into the deeper issues of what is underneath the conflict or problem. After that, we look at new solutions. Now, what happens next is generally some sort of resistance, excuse, or evasion: the clients usually give me reasons the solutions won`t work. But I expect that to happen, and so we continue.
Next we often get to another layer below the resistance which explains the resistance: a layer of fear. When people can admit to themselves, I am afraid of stretching and risking in this relationship, or in this job, or dealing with my habits, we are getting extremely close to success.
That may sound counterintuitive, but it is true. How can admitting a negative thing like fear get you closer to a great life? The answer is that when you can understand your fears of risk, you are free to reject them. And this freedom leads to another: the freedom to take new steps to new paths of success. When you don`t know your fears, you can`t deal with them. They remain in charge of your life, and you are powerless.
Helpful and Useless Fear
Just as there are smart and dumb risks, there are also helpful and useless fears. Like any emotion, fear serves as a signal to us. It alerts us to a potentially dangerous situation and prepares us to take protective action. That is why there is a physiological component to fear: increased heart rate, adrenal surges, and muscle tension. These responses prepare us for flight from harm. So fear is helpful when there is a truly dangerous situation ahead of us, and when we need to take evasive action. If your company is going bankrupt, your fear of financial problems may be helping you to get your resume out and get moving on the next job. That helpful fear is grounded in reality.
At the same rime, some fears are useless to us and keep us from the risks we need to take. These useless fears are not about reality, but more about misperceptions and distortions we have in our heads. We need to learn to pay attention to the one, and get rid of the other.
For example, I love rock music, and used to play in a band when I was a student. When I grew up and started working. I figured that my playing days were over, and I resigned myself to being a listener, not a performer. One day, however, I was talking to some neighbors, and they mentioned an upcoming rehearsal. My ears pricked up and I asked them what they were rehearsal for. They told me they were in a rock band. I was surprised that these businessmen, who were also husbands and fathers, were playing in a rock band. I now know that this is far more common than I had realized back then.
Anyway, I told them I also liked playing and asked if they needed another person. If so, could I audition. They said sure, and they told me when and where to be.
Immediately after I made the commitment, I experienced fear and anxiety. It was nothing crippling, but it was enough to make me consider coming up with some excuse and canceling the audition. I felt both helpful and useless fears. I list some of them here, along with my counter thought.
€¢ What if I`m not good enough for the band, and these guys think poorly of me? Useless. The guys aren`t that way, and anyway, if I`m not good enough, maybe I can get lessons and improve.
€¢ What if I`m no good and they let me in because they are nice guys and they feel sorry for me? Useless, They aren`t going to ruin going the band to be nice. And besides, we would all know in a few months whether it`s working or not.
€¢ What if I get in a band and my other friends and family tell me I`m attempting to re-enter my adolescence? Useless. If they say that, I`ll get feedback and see if there`s some psychological reason I shouldn`t be doing this. But until then, there`s no reason not to audition.
€¢ What if it takes too much time from my family? Helpful. Any personal interest has to be measured in terms of relationships, values, and obligations.
€¢ What if the equipment costs a lot of money? Helpful. Time to talk to my wife about how much room we have in the hobby budget.
As it turned out, the audition went well, and for several years the hobby has been a lot of fun. But the point here is for you to learn which fears are helpful€”that is, grounded in reality€”and which are useless€”because they are based on your own misperceptions. When you deal with your useless fears, you are much more able to choose freely and well which risks you should take.
Your Fear List
Fears, like had dreams, are best disposed of in the light of day. Expose your fears to yourself and others you trust. Identify them and where they came from. They are much less powerful when you can look at them in the light. Say to yourself, I have not taken a risk in an important area of my life because I am afraid that:
€¢ I will lose a relationship. Are you sure? Or will that person just get mad and withdraw for a while?
€¢ Someone will get mad at me. The anger of others is unpleasant, but you must be able to tolerate people being mad at you to be successful.
€¢ I might hurt somebody`s feelings. Certainly, you could. But hurt and harm are two different things. You don`t want to harm, but discomfort can be a help to someone.
€¢ I might lose my job. Check out the reality of that fear with someone who is balanced. Is the situation truly that fragile?
€¢ 1 might fail. You might. You might not. And failure is often a blessing.
€¢ I might be disappointed. That is possible. And when you are, call a friend, get a pep talk, and get back up again.
€¢ I will be out of control. If you have strong feelings that emerge, deal with them with someone who can help you express and understand them.
€¢ I won`t know what will happen next. Right, but you have a pretty good idea. Don`t wait until there is a 100 percent guarantee of the outcome.
€¢ I might have feelings I don`t want to have. Yes, feelings can be uncomfortable, but they don`t last forever.
€¢ I will be worse off than if I had never taken the chance. Certainly you shouldn`t risk everything on a long shot. But will you later regret missing the window of opportunity you have now to make the situation better?
I hope you don`t think I am trivializing your fears; I am not. Fears are real, and they are quite painful. But always submit your fears to reality. See if it`s your past talking, or a critical person you`ve given too much power to, or if things truly are as bad as you fear. It is a helpful exercise.
Learn How to Address Fear and Reject It
Working through the list above won`t abolish all fear for all time. Life is not like that. Even though you can become a person who faces change and takes risks, you will always be faced with anxiety, concern, and scared feelings when the unknown danger appears. But you can reject fear when you understand it, and when you understand where it gets its power to paralyze you.
Fear of Fear
As any psychologist will tell you, fear is stronger when we fear becoming afraid. This is called the fear of fear. Suppose you need to confront the boss about his attitude, but you are afraid that he might retaliate. So you stay happy and positive on the outside but remain dissatisfied on the inside.
The longer you ignore the fear, the more you will activate it. And since is associated with an uncomfortable outcome, having it burrow around in your mind naturally gives you an uncomfortable feeling. Eventually you learn to avoid thinking about the fearful situation so you won`t have to keep feeling the fear. And the more you avoid feeling that fear, the more afraid of it you become. It is a vicious cycle, and it doesn`t help you reach your dreams.
If you are experiencing this downward spiral, begin allowing yourself to tolerate fear, let yourself feel the anxiety and scared feelings you have about your boss`s wrath. The more you do this, the more you will realize that things might get unpleasant, but you can make it through his anger. Now you can allow the fear to enter your mind, acknowledge it for what it is, and let it go. Facing fear helps you to no longer fear your fear. The power is greatly reduced.
Self-Control and Power
Another aspect of fear is that the less control and power you feel, the greater the fear. Fear is a danger signal. It says, €œProtect yourself! Run! And if you don`t feel any sense of control or power over your life and choices, you experience yourself as powerless, unsafe, and vulnerable. You are at the mercy of the danger, and you can`t protect yourself. It is a horrible feeling, and it gives fear a strength it shouldn`t have.
The antidote is to see the reality that you are not helpless. You have choices, all the choices that a mature adult has. You`re not your boss`s slave, victim or little child. You can relate to him, talk to him as an adult, and, if you have to, protect yourself from any toxicity he might throw at you. Remind yourself that you have choices. This will give u access to all the control and power you need.
Support and Reality Checks
It always helps to have a few friends you can confess your fears to€”friends who can weigh them front their more uninvolved view point. Tell them what you`re afraid of and say, €œI need a reality check here. Am I listening to a fear that is real or just in my head? They can help provide insight, perspective, and encouragement for you to push through the fear.
I once had to confront a certain person about a problem, and I was really afraid of his reaction. He was defensive and blamey, and I had seen him tear into people who told him the truth. But I needed to do it for his family and him. I had a couple of friends call me on my cell phone a few hours before meeting just to say, €œThis is a reality check. You`re doing the right thing, and I`m in your corner. It meant a great deal to me, and I was able to go through with the conversation. It was bad, and he blasted away at me, but I was able to listen, stay neutral, and still be direct about the problem. And because I did, and because it happened in the right way, he and his family were eventually a lot better off.
Try Things that are Beyond You
My first job out of college was as a houseparent in a children`s home. Here I was, a twenty-three-year-old recent graduate, living in a cottage with seven teenage boys. I didn`t know then how much I didn`t know, and I am glad now that I didn`t,
One of the kids on campus, a large and muscular sixteen-year-old named Paul, absolutely hated me. He was from another cottage, and I had caught him sneaking out one night, in his mind, I had no authority to report him because he wasn`t one of my kids. So when I did, he went on a mission to make me miserable. Paul would walk into a room where I was, with other people present, and cuss me out. He would threaten me when others couldn`t hear. To my dismay, he had a reputation for being a good fighter, so there was substance behind his threats. Also, he would urge other kids to disobey me. In time, his mission worked. Though the other workers and I tried all the right things€”talking with Paul, working on the relationship, setting limits, and warning him of more limits, his bad behavior was escalating and getting more out of control. He didn`t care about the consequences; he wanted to hurt me.
I had no idea what to do. Things were going from bad to worse. Then one day, Ray, my boss, who was truly gifted with kids, said to me, €œHave a boxing match with Paul.
€œWhat? I said,
€œI think you need to box with Paul.
€œYou have got to be kidding!
€œWell, hear me out, Ray said. €œNothing is working, right? And I think sometimes a really angry kid like Paul needs to experience his aggression with your own aggression, in real life. He has this vendetta thing, and I think his mind is getting more and more angry and powerful, because there`s nowhere for him to go with the anger. He never had a dad he could face it order to experience healthy conflict. And so his anger has a life of its own. Also, I think it will be kind of a connection between you and him. Sort of like the bond that opposing athletes feel for each other after a game.
I said, €œNo. You`re nuts. No.
Ray said, €œWell, it`s just an idea, But think about it, okay?
I did think about it. Meanwhile, during the next couple of days, Paul got more and more crazy, and we were beginning to consider shipping him to a more structured environment. Finally I thought, What the heck.
So the match was scheduled. Three rounds. The children`s home went mad with anticipation. It was every kid`s dream to have one of their own annihilate an authority figure. As for me, I didn`t know anything about boxing, so a friend of mine hurriedly gave me some lessons.
On the day of the match, I was sick to my stomach. I walked into the room where a makeshift ring had been assembled. Sixty kids were surrounding it, yelling for Paul to kill me. When the bell rang, went after each other. Paul was much quicker and more experienced in boxing than I was, but I had a little size edge on him, and maybe I could strategize a little better. Anyway, I survived the three rounds, and most people called it a draw. (Actually, I think Paul won.)
Ray was dead on. Paul changed toward me. We never became close, but the harassment ended. He would say hello when we saw each other, and when I asked him how things were going, he always had a little something to say. Some sort of positive connection had been forged between us, as well as a little mutual respect. I left the home later that year, and I never saw Paul again. But I still think about him from time to time and wish him well.
I don`t recommend Ray`s solution to others. I think it was his intuitive genius that inspired him in those unique circumstances, never to be repeated. And I was way out of my comfort zone, literally. But the combination of factors€”the reality that nothing was working, along with respect for Ray, as well as my own early twenties` impulsivity€”created a way to try something that was very much beyond me. It wasn`t beyond me physically, perhaps, but certainly beyond any idea I had that I was capable of doing something as foolhardy as boxing a fighter kid. And good things resulted.
This is what stretching yourself is all about. Successful people are always extending themselves, trying new things, and getting out of their comfort zones. That is the way life works and how we were designed. There is no stagnant position in growth and life. We are either moving forward or moving backward. And here is the reality that requires the stretch: that which you desire will require more of you than you are today.
What do you dream of and desire? I hope your dreams are big ones; dreaming big is the only way to grow through life. But at the same time, big dreams will demand big things of you. You may find that you need to try things you can`t do now. That means you will need to develop abilities and capacities that will reach the dream.
For example, I have a good friend who has always dreamed of becoming a psychologist. She is very drawn to the process of connecting deeply with people`s emotions and understanding the core of their being in order to help them grow and heal. She is a single mom, so her education track doesn`t fit the typical model of going straight to grad school after you get sour bachelor`s degree. But that has not been her biggest obstacle. The thing that was really beyond her was the math and statistics requirements of grad school. In her previous life, she majored in fine arts, and she always hated and avoided math. Now she has this goal that includes coursework and a required exam in math and stats. It was a big deal.
However, she wasn`t going to let it stop her. So she signed up for courses, hired tutors, and took practice exams in these subjects she had shunned. It was really painful at first, as she had never worked her brain in these areas€”-never mind the fact that she hadn`t been in school for many years. But in time, what was beyond her became a part of her. Now she can hardly believe that she actually understands math and statistics at a quite sophisticated level. It never would have happened had she not been willing to stretch herself.
Look at your own situation. Does your dream require more of you than you presently have? To become more confrontive and assertive in your relationships? To learn a new skill, such as accounting, computers, or sales techniques? To know your way around the Bible and grasp theological concepts? To master listening skills for a certain position? Just because you can`t do these things today doesn`t mean you won`t be able to do them tomorrow. The upcoming discussion on persistence (see chapter 8) will go into detail on how to engage the stretching process that will get you there.
When you reach the end of your abilities is when you truly live. We were designed to change, try new things, fail, learn, and become better people. Those individuals who have stopped reaching beyond themselves have stopped living. The research on aging supports this idea. As people get older, those who continue learning things€”from dancing to rock climbing to real estate€”stay healthier and more alert. The mind`s ability to change is technically known as plasticity, and it means that our minds adapt and grow as we require them to. But if we don`t require anything of our minds, they begin to deteriorate. It`s the €œuse it or lose it principle.
Not only that, but when you learn new life skills to achieve your goal or solve your problem, you receive another benefit. Those skills will have value in achieving other goals as well. Life skills that were previously beyond you can often be applied to many areas of life and give you more success, competence, and mastery over your other plans and dreams. Becoming more equipped for business, or personal growth, or learning about addictions, or parenting, can affect so many other parts of your world. For example, my friend who now knows math is also more competent in her personal finances. And my own experience with Paul helped me to learn how to deal effectively with someone who hated me. (I assure you, however, that I have found other ways besides boxing!)
Think, Then Do
Those people who are adept at stretching and risking have the skill of thinking and doing. This may sound overly simple, but many people don`t have this skill. As a result, they often end up not living the lives they would love to live. Let me explain. Any goal that requires risk, whether it`s investing your effort, having an important conversation, or trying to break into a new industry, will also require a process to best engage in that risk. Basically, this means that smart risk takers think through the matter thoroughly, then, if it seems worth risk, they do it. They take the plunge and jump into the water. They have learned when it`s time to think and analyze, and when it`s time to stop and get on with it. That`s the process thinking and doing. In successful scenarios, the one goes before the other.
When my father and mother were dating in our home state of North Carolina, she got a call to audition for a large opera company in New York City. She was a highly talented coloratura soprano, and there was a great deal of interest in bet. In fact, she got an offer to move there and join the company.
This offer gave my dad a couple of hard things to deal with. He really valued her musical giftedness and wanted her to be a success. Yet her move to New York would present difficulties for the relationship. On the other hand, marriages had survived that sort of distance. He thought long and hard about the situation, evaluating both sides of the issue. But finally, he reached a decision and told Mom. €œIf you go, we`re over.
She really did not want to hear that. Singing in the opera was her lifelong dream. Yet she was very much in love with Dad and wanted a life with him. She was placed in a position where, either way, she would lose something quite important to her. She weighed the alternatives and eventually decided not to go to New York. Now, with well over fifty years of marriage behind them, she agrees that Dad made the right move with her. It costs her a lot, but she has no regrets.
At the time, Dad didn`t know whether it would turn out to be the right move or not. He didn`t have a lot of time to figure it out She would leave by a certain date, and he had to decide whether to act or to let things just follow the course they were on. If he forced her to make a choice, he risked losing her forever. If he did nothings however, he risked losing her to long distance. To do nothing was to choose something. So he deliberated as much as he could, and then he took the gamble. He decided to act.
There is a time to think, deliberate, analyze, and pray. Then there is a time to act.
When you are considering a big risk, do your thinking well. Get all the information, perspective, and wisdom you can. Understand the nature of the benefits and the cost. Jesus taught this principle in a metaphor about building: Suppose one of you wants to build a towel. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? (Luke 14:28 NIV). This is a necessary step. Successful people may risk, but they don`t equate risk with impulsivity.
At the same time, however, the thinking step must end and give way to the risk. My dad only had so much time or he would have missed his opportunity. We have a tendency to want all of the answers before jumping into the water: Will it hold me up? Is it too cold? How deep is it? When Peter decided to leave the boat and meet Jesus on the water, he didn`t have a focus group to tell him how to walk out. We have a term for the demand to have all the information before one acts: we call it the paralysis of analysis. People often obsess and worry, trying to manage the risk to the point that the open door will close. That is not how stretching, risking, or faith works. At some point, you must use your best judgment and make a choice. Make it. That`s all anyone can do.
Finally, when you risk, do it all the way. If you can`t take the risk wholeheartedly, it might be better to pass on it rather than be halfway about it. If you can`t truly plunge into the risk and follow through with it, then you will experience the pain of the risk but never its benefits. Taking risk halfway trains you to believe that this process doesn`t work. Better far to make the leap knowing that you`ll either get what you want, or that you did your best and can learn from your failure.
Last year, I went on a whitewater rafting trip with my sons, along with another father and his son. During a break from the river, we hiked up to a canyon where we found a natural pool of water. A high rock formation extended over the edge of the pool, creating a natural diving platform. Everyone took turns making the jump, except for my friend`s son who had no experience jumping off heights. He was a great athlete, but he`d never had a chance to try anything like this. Still, he climbed to the top of the formation. He walked to the edge and looked down. He edged back a couple of feet, then walked forward again. Then he did it again. And again. By this time the rest of us knew he was struggling. We yelled encouragement, and we also yelled that it was okay not to jump. We really wanted to support him. Back to the edge, and then back to safety he went, over and over. I could not tell how this would play out, and I really felt bad for him and his predicament. He was trying to be brave, but his fear was strong. But finally he screwed up his courage, took the leap, and landed in the water. We all applauded and cheered his success, for we knew what taking that plunge meant to him.
When you are ready to stop thinking and start taking the risk, there can be no going back. You can`t reverse your direction in midair. Think where you are flow. What risk lies ahead for you that will help you achieve your dream? Will you need to give up free nights to get training? Or walk up to the person you are dating and say that you can`t see him anymore if he doesn`t change a bad behavior? Or quit a job and go on a search for the right one? Or admit to someone that you have an addition that you are afraid might be gaining control of your life?
The good news is that midair is one of those places where God loves to meet us. He knows how scary risk is. And he knows that what we need most in those times when we are suspended above the ground is the knowledge of his presence, his support, and his grace:
Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 NASB)
Blessed are you when you stretch and risk to find your dreams. He is on your side.