Filling Your Niche
what holds you back

What holds you back?

This weekend, Dan took me climbing. I made it halfway up the cliff before I realized I was scared. Not paralyzed with panic like usual. Just scared, like a normal person really should be upon finding themselves halfway up the cliff.

Unsettled, I rappelled down, only to find that wasn’t scary either. I looked up at the cliff, looked back over at Dan.

“You going again?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, eyes narrowing, because I knew it was a fluke; I have been trying to climb with my husband for eight years now and it’s rarely been anything but an unmitigated disaster– because  of my anxiety and my terror of heights, and because I know impossible when I see it goddammit and I know that no matter how hard I try or how much I want to, I will never be a good climber.

“You’re on belay,” he says.

“Climbing,” I answer, according to formula.

“Climb on,” he says, and I do. Faster this time. Less hesitant. More wonderstruck. I make it to the top, and on the drive home I am the lightest and most optimistic I have ever felt.

If you would have told me-of-three-years-ago even one thing that’s true about my life today– that I would live in Colorado; I would work from home full-time; that I could shop in Costco without Xanax; that I would reach the top of a climb— I would have laughed. Not one of those things was within spitting distance of likely.

Except now– this is my actual life. These things have become so normal they’re not even noteworthy, let alone spectacular.

When I envision my life three years from now, it’s still chock-full of impossibilities: every single goal I have is one I have no idea how to reach from here. But today, like Dan’s cliff, all that only seems normal-person scary.

Urban legend says that when elephants are very young, they’re tied up around the ankle with chains. They learn quickly that they cannot break the chains and soon stop fighting them. As they grow, the chain is replaced by a simple rope; the elephants remain captive. They have no idea that by barely pulling they could free themselves, that their strength is more than enough to break what holds them back.

But they don’t even try. Their limiting belief has itself become the invisible, inviolable chain keeping them bound.

Like elephants, life trains us to stop struggling. Hold still and it won’t hurt so much. You know the chain is unbreakable so knock it off. Accept your place.

Those restraints overwhelm us. We learn we cannot break free so we, like elephants, eventually stop trying. We think moving forward is impossible anyway so why bother?

And I’m no different. I imagine my laundry list of what holds me back as equal parts impressive and depressing, like most of us do.

We tell ourselves we can’t. We can’t, we can’t, we can’t. We clench our eyes shut, clench our fists tighter. We’re so convinced we can’t that we don’t bother opening our eyes. We know we can’t move– our history and laundry lists tell us so– so we don’t try.

The truth is, nothing is impossible. It only looks that way from the wrong perspective. If you open your eyes, you’ll find all that holds you back is a slim, ratty, worthless little cord. You can break it without half trying. And when you do, when at last you move forward and look back at where you’ve been, the distance you’ve traveled will stagger you.

What holds you back?

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Maarit • 02/18/2014

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