I sit at my desk. I wonder. “Can I?” Unbreakable, the title of my new book, challenges me. Writing always does. Yet, this book presents a unique test. It’s impossible for me to write about our unbreakable core without exploring my own brokenness. That is my stopping place.
Do I have the courage to be as vulnerable as this topic requires?
My words are caught in a tangle of thoughts. Wanting to write yet concerned about writing from a more revealing place.
Researchers have creative ways to test behavioral responses. One experiment used a water filled fish tank, a few goldfish along with a piece of clear Lucite. Goldfish are quarantined in one half of the tank by placing the Lucite across the middle. Goldfish swim towards the other side of the tank until their noses bump into a wall. After several weeks, the researchers remove the obstacle. Fish can now swim freely.
But they don’t.
They stop at the same point.
Lucite no longer prevents them from swimming the whole tank. Their memory of a barrier does. Goldfish have learned that only half the tank is available to them. They stop trying.
Like goldfish we all have stopping points. Places where we see possibilities and don’t venture forth because something prevented us before. We assume it still will. Maybe it’s no longer there, but we live as if it is. I can see the other end of my own “tank.” My pen stretches across the page recounting painful moments and resilient responses. Yet, as I begin to write I run into a block as solid as Lucite.
I’ve been here before.
An early time was traveling to attend a group therapy session. My car jerked down Roosevelt Road. My legs shook with fear. Keeping consistent pressure on the gas pedal was hard. Each drive after that became easier.
My most daring adventure was to finish my bachelor’s degree in Spain. That meant leaving Don, Doug and Deb, for nearly four months. I was miserable when I arrived. I even wrote a list of all the things I hated about Spain and being away from them. Four months later, I cried because I was leaving the country.
So, I have broken through barriers before. It won’t be easy. I will wish I had not swum into this uncharted place. Fear is already warning me to go back to comfort and familiarity. Yet, I know there are gifts on the other side of this hurdle. I’ve become stronger, more helpful to others and happier when I kept going.
Here are a few more places where I wanted to quit: I feared attending college as a mother in her twenties. A requirement in graduate school to take a statistics class overwhelmed me and made me face my math insecurities. Opening my own private psychotherapy practice was another huge step. Later I halted writing my book Unfolding. It was too hard. My friend Donna threatened to finish it if I didn’t. I kept going.
I get to the other end of the tank when I…
• Remember past successes
• Lean on my support team of friends and family
• Ask for professional help when I need it
• Let my longing become more compelling than my fear
• Trust myself, even when it doesn’t seem like a good idea
Stopping points appear insurmountable, until they are tested.
The first step is to notice where we stop. Some of the time it’s beliefs that halt us. Here are a few that I’ve heard from other women and in my own head; Don’t be too loud. That’s a crazy idea. Who do you think you are? You are not smart enough to do it. You do not have the qualifications to accomplish what you want to do. Maybe it is a past hurt or disappointment that stops us like a wall of Lucite.
But what if the wall is gone?
What would you do right now if you learned you are free to make new choices? Would you write that memoir? Go on that trip to India? Start that business? Speak up? Run for office? Sign up for that program?
If we dare pay attention to what it means to be authentic and trust enough to follow our longing, we will discover what brings us alive. We will also bump into obstacles. Look back, and I bet you’ll discover times when your heart raced, and your legs shook with fear. Yet, you kept going and pushed past a perceived limit. Remembering times like these, will encourage you to try something new. Recalling time I pushed through my stopping points is helping me now.
I pick up my pen and write one word at a time.
Image from painting by artist Nancy Gelband O’Connor