Crossing Thresholds in Life: The Second You Give Yourself the Chance to Succeed, You’ve Already Succeeded.
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” Muhammed Ali
It always feels vulnerable to make a change in your life—cross a threshold: to open a gluten-free bakery; Date a new person; Leave your accounting firm to hike in Nepal for a year. The lizard-brain within will focus exclusively on what you can lose, and really, how you will surely die. But I want you to know how much power and joy you’ll gain by getting your feet muddy in this life. Sure, you may feel more uncertain even as you head towards greater possibility. But know this: The second you give yourself the chance to succeed– you’ve already succeeded.
I am about to walk through a new door in my life subtly marked “Big Freaking Change.” I am about to put my new book Inspired & Unstoppable: Wildly Succeeding in Your Life’s Work! (Tarcher/Penguin) into the world on August 30th.
Let’s just say, that while I want this change in my life more than anything else, I find myself acting like I’m going to a dentist or something, and then wanting to bury these feelings and act like someone who greets change with bubbling toasts of champagne–instead of Advil. People innocently say to me, “You must be so excited about the release of your new book.” I don’t exactly want to tell them that I have a fat gray sewer rat gnawing at my brain. I don’t know, it just doesn’t sound like the kind of thing you’d want to hear from the woman who publishes a book on wildly succeeding in your life’s work.
But, then, I read this passage in Bird by Bird by the best-selling author Anne Lamott and I felt like licking the book cover afterward with gratitude. “The months before a book comes out of the chute are, for most writers, right up there with the worst life has to offer, pretty much like the first twenty minutes of Apocalypse Nowwith Martin Sheen in the hotel room in Saigon, totally decompensating. The waiting and the fantasies, both happy and grim, wear you down.”
Then it all makes sense. As a coach, I work with helping people change their lives all the time. And it’s never the actual situation that grinds them down. It’s the fantasies. When we’re walking into the unknown, it’s like we’re walking into Times Square with a thousand lights, choices, scenarios flashing all at once. In real life, we’ll only have one outcome. But in the fantasies before then, there are hundreds of balls up in the air, and you’re practicing responses to every one of them.
My mind, in fear, goes to extremes. My fantasies are never in the middle.
What if my book doesn’t do well? What if it’s like one of those Roman Candles that shoot high into the coal black night sky but then doesn’t explode or flare in beauty? What if I just fizzle in mid-air for all to see? And then when I’m heartsick and homeless, swilling caseloads of Wild Turkey, ducking my eyes, I’ll hear the whispers, some real, some now coming from the voices that I’ve begun to hear, “Guess, she didn’t ‘wildly succeed in her life’s work.’ ”
Or what if my success spins out of control? What if I get addicted to success, like some sullen opium addict, tuning out intimate friends, crisp orange Autumn days, and eventually even sustenance like Diet Pepsi, because I can no longer tear my eyes away from watching myself on T.V. talk shows, lip syncing my own words like a gold fish? What if I end up being so famous, I can’t leave my house because the paparazzi want to know if I’m writing in my journal again or going back to Walmart today?
And so it goes.
But here’s the real story.
It is so important to move into situations where you feel vulnerable. It’s so healthy to get in over your head, so that your Essence can finally take over. It’s what makes you sweat, pray, scramble through your bag of tricks, and then finally tear through the veils of this life, reach higher, and discover even more of your true potential. It’s an initiation. It’s a birth. And who doesn’t come into the most exquisite moments of really being alive without some hesitation, awe, and palpitation?
It takes courage to be really alive—and chase the light. Life’s thresholds are always laced with wildness. And the unfamiliar will always speed up your heart and magnify your senses. You will never regret the moments you chose to go beyond what you knew before. In the end of days, when the minutes run out on this video adventure game called life, you regret the moments you didn’t.
So, finally, I realize what I need to do. I want to cherish the part of me who is frightened. I need to stop telling myself I “shouldn’t feel this.” Instead, I know I have these feelings because I’m growing, going to my next edge. It’s universal to tremble when you’re daring to go for a success you haven’t had before. It’s easy to feel confident when you’re doing the same things. It takes even more confidence to move into the unknown.
So I come back to what I know to do for myself. I come back to the bedrock and rocket fuel of self-love.
When I first began teaching at an adult education center back in the eighties in a run-down red brick building in an urban neighborhood, I had a ritual of going into the women’s room before I taught a class. I’d be nervous, tight, butterflies in my chest cavity. “I can’t do this,” I’d think to myself. “I don’t know if I can walk into that room and lead a group of paying strangers.”
Then, making absolutely certain that no one else was in any of the stalls, I’d lean into the mirror. I’d look into my eyes, tiny, worried squirrel eyes. I’d say with authority. “I am so proud of you right now. I am so proud of you for trying. I don’t care what happens in that room. This is the only thing that matters. You’re amazing for being afraid and moving forward anyway. You are giving yourself a chance to succeed, a chance to rise. You rock. You’ve already won. Nothing that happens in that classroom can change how I see you right now and forever. I see a warrior. I see a superstar. I see someone who is not letting fear make the decision about what kind of life she can have. ” Since that time, I’ve spoken to audiences of more than a thousand at a time. I’m grateful my younger self talked herself into giving me the chance to become who I am.
So now, at this precious threshold in my life, just weeks before I release my second book into the world, I am doing the same thing again, only not in the women’s room. I am turning the outside world into soft focus, muting the sounds, until I hear my own voice. “I love you Tama for all you are doing,” says the deepest voice I know. “I love you for trembling and being alive and reaching higher and giving yourself this chance in life. It doesn’t matter what happens out there. It matters what happens here, at the threshold. I am watching you soar, precious one, by taking this holy step forward, by giving yourself a chance to experience a life which you have not experienced before. I am your advocate. I am the truth about you. No matter what happens out there, I am your witness. I know what this moment in your life means to you. And I know that you chose to show up. You chose electricity instead of habit. I have a little secret for you. You’re already on the other side.
Welcome, to an amazing new life. You made it.”
So, maybe there’s a threshold you’re about to cross in your life. It may be one you’ve chosen consciously or one you did not choose consciously. I’d suggest deciding the outcome right now. Decide to side with yourself, no matter what. Maybe, just like grooms carry their brides across the threshold, you will decide to carry yourself. Write yourself a love note at this juncture. Talk to the mirror. Seeing your own courage and grace is the only true success there is. It’s what you really crave. And you can have it right now. The world is not as scary when you’re walking forward with self-love.