My four children, my husband and I stood on a wooden platform, five stories in the air, wearing unflattering helmets and too-tight harnesses, attached (not the right term, I know) to a cable at the start of a half-mile zipline. This particular zipline was the first of seven we would be traversing that morning, cutting through the Costa Rican tree line. Our kids were giddy with excitement, arguing who would go first on this adventure, smiles wide, laughing and horsing around. In contrast, my husband and I had both turned a curious shade of green, signaling to each other with our furtive glances and tight grips on the cable, that perhaps we could still escape this nightmare. We were petrified, neither of us capable of giving the other comfort, nervously laughing. As I explained to our oldest child when he noticed our fear, neither of his parents is a thrill seeker in outdoor adventures, rather, we are intellectual thrill seekers. Needless to say, he did not appreciate the joke.
As I gazed across the expanse of tree line, watching as one after another of my precious children disappeared at alarming rates through the canopy of trees, I threw up a bit in my mouth. I knew my husband was feeling the same way, because he said to me “Can we get down and walk to the next zipline?” “No. We have to do this.” I told him. That morning, sweat dripping down my spine, panic unsettling my stomach, I was staring down two conundrums: one, how could I let the human beings most important to me in the whole world engage in an activity that scared the crap out of me? And two, how was I going to get over my paralyzing fear and ride the zipline?
To answer the first, I was able to let my children go down the zipline because for a short time, I put out of my mind all of the things that could go wrong. I spend so much of my time as a parent considering the dangers to my children in our everyday lives, I decided to give that worrying muscle a rest (wisely or not.) Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I could let my kids go because I put my trust in our guides, two adults who were more expert in this particular journey than I was. The two men who guided us through the zipline were kind and methodical and joyful. Had I not felt that they were up to the task, I would not have entrusted them with my children’s safety. I did not blindly let my children go, I assessed the situation and chose to put them in someone else’s hands.
Lesson number one: sometimes your children are going to embark on experiences that require the expertise of someone other than you. Trust your instinct, test the ropes and if you are able, let them learn and adventure under the tutelage of another adult. It doesn’t become any less frightening and you don’t worry any less, but you at least recognize that you are not the only person in the world who can keep your children safe.
For the second question: how was I going to get over my own fear of the zipline? My answer was: I am going to close my eyes and jump. (Not very scientific, I know.) I understood that I had to prove to my kids and to myself that I could do it. I could tell that my normally strong partnership with my husband would be no help on this one because we were both foundering. I knew that if I had my eyes open for the start of the journey and saw all that was to come, I would panic and possibly vomit. So I figured I would close my eyes and jump. I thought that if I couldn’t see too much of what was ahead on the journey, I had less to fear and I could handle things as they came up along the way.
Lesson number two: as adults, we are called on to embark on big, scary, overwhelming journeys, some personal and some professional. The desire to panic, to hide, to quit, is inevitable but there are times when we have no choice but to proceed anyway. I have learned that when I am faced with something that feels too large to tackle, it really helps me not to look too far down the road. When people ask me about my 5-year-plan it is the equivalent of staring down a half mile zipline in the Costa Rican forest. It makes me feel uncertain and frightened and nauseous because it forces me to think about the scary things I will have to overcome on the journey to the next platform. But I also know that just as I cannot stand on the zipline platform forever, so too do I need to get the show on the road and start trying to move forward. It’s not going to be pretty, and in some parts I’m to get stuck in the middle of the zipline and pull myself to the next platform and other times I’m going to go too fast, risking a crash if I don’t slow down. But regardless, I have to get off the platform and there are only two ways: to quit and go home or to jump.
So for all of us embarking on a new journey this year, take my hand, close your eyes and we’ll jump together.