By Schon Beechler
Sitting on the edge of a turquoise blue Caribbean Sea, as I have for the past nine days, opens up enough space to explore a few of the many questions that pile up but don’t get answered in the busyness of my everyday life. As I sit quietly gazing at the brilliant fuchsia bougainvillea outside our room, sipping smooth, rich coffee early one morning, a question pops into my awareness: Why do I find it necessary to keep crossing the line? I find that I regularly cross the line by pushing myself beyond my limits in both my personal and my professional life. Predictably, every time I do, I am punished—always by myself, and usually others as well. The consequences vary—friends and family get annoyed, my work performance suffers, others’ evaluations of me fall, my confidence is shaken, and, oftentimes, my most important values end up being compromised. I inevitably feel lousy and spend untold hours analyzing what went wrong and why and vowing never to let it happen again. And yet it does, with surprising regularity.
Perhaps, I just can’t help getting myself into trouble for some deep psychological reason. Perhaps it’s because I’m too arrogant and/or narcissistic. Perhaps, I do know where the line is but I become blinded by overconfidence and I forget that I am headed straight for the cliffs …. Am I just a deeply flawed and doomed human being? Quietly, I ponder, as the rooster crows, the turtle doves coo their greetings, and the waves pound against the bright white beach. Looking deeper, I still can’t find the answer, increasingly frustrated with my inability to move forward.
Stuck, I change the question I am posing to myself: What benefits do I get from crossing the line? What might be the positive results from careening off the cliff? And here the answer is far easier. And within that answer, I find a deep truth: Only by crossing the line do I know where the line is. It seems so obvious. But it is just now, in this moment, that I realize this simple fact. I really never know whether I am a mile or an inch away from the line until I actually go too far. And like the edge of a cliff, there is usually no stepping back onto safe ground once I have crossed the line. So, predictably, I fall into the abyss, not knowing where bottom is until I hit it. Hard.
I realize, very clearly for the first time, that I must cross the line. I must fall. And not only must I fall, but I must get up again – if only to live to fall another day! I get my wind back, and acknowledging, perhaps even congratulating myself on discovering where the line is, I ask myself two critical questions: “What did I learn from that?” and “How can I use that knowledge in the future?”
Along with a few shells and echoes of the waves against the beach, I bring home with me the insight that I have no choice, there really is no other path. I have to cross the line to learn and grow – to push myself to my limits and to know where those limits really are. If I don’t cross the line, I am not finding my edge. And I have to find that edge, and to exceed it, to really know what I can do and what I can’t, who I can be, and who I cannot. I was born to cross the line, to fall, and get up again wiser, if a bit bruised. And each time I do, I will know the terrain a bit more intimately, and hopefully, I won’t forget what I have learned and fall in the exact same spot again.
But there are always new territories, new lines to cross, and new cliffs to fall off. And I suspect that no matter how much ground or how many years of experience I have behind me, the best I’ll be able to do is to summon the grace to silence my scream of self-recrimination on my way down and enjoy the ride.