It’s most apparent on a snow and ice covered sidewalk…the way the adult stride ultimately shortens, the increased hesitancy, the palpable fear. And with each ensuing decade the step is progressively shorter, from the carefree leaps and twirls of childhood into the agonizingly slow progress forward in the very elderly.
But this happens inside all of us as well.
For me, it was in my early forties when I realized my world had stopped getting larger with each passing year, and in fact was getting smaller. It was then I knew I had become, somehow, increasingly risk aversive. I knew I needed to change … or to be prepared, resigned really, for an ever-smaller space for my imagination, my vitality and my heart.
I’ve talked about risk in this space before, it is an important consideration in my life and comes up again and again, but I’ve never shared, outside of personal conversation, the image I have developed for myself around risk and growth. It is an image that has proven very helpful to me (it is the genesis in fact for the very name of this blog ) and I feel moved to share it today, here, with you. Perhaps someone else can use this particular image today?
I’ve never imagined life as linear, progressing forward in a neat series of chapters.
I picture it instead as a wagon wheel.
At the center of the wheel, the hub…our essential selves, the spokes … the risk filled journeys we take out into the world, just by living a life, and the wagon rim… the parameters we and others set upon our lives.
In my image we continually embark on journeys large and small, in all directions. On each journey of any length at all, we acquire treasures and wounds. We faithfully carry all back to our hub, our essence. Our essence now deepened with new gifts and scars, we set off again, on the next journey and then the next…
But here is the thing…the wagon’s rim will in the end define all of the rest. It begins in our lives as enormous and then, in the usual course of things, becomes ever smaller in circumference, the journeys therefore smaller and increasingly insignificant. In my mind, this rim is an elastic band …flexible as we begin in life and having the potential to remain so. This potential can be achieved though only if we, with intention and purpose, push up against the rim’s limits. Barring this, it will inevitably grow brittle and rigid, the circumference growing ever smaller. An ultimately, our inner steps will become as cautious and uncertain as an octogenarian’s external steps on icy pavement.
I took a new risk recently, agreeing to direct a piece in a short play festival. I had never directed. I had no idea if I could do it. I didn’t want to let my actors down, I didn’t want to let the theater company down, I didn’t want to let the audiences down…I didn’t want to let myself down. It was scary. But as successful risk always is, it proved exhilarating. I can sense my inner stride has taken on extra length. Honestly, I can actually feel it.
And I remind myself once again, of the urgency of coming up against the parameters and pushing with all I’ve got. I know the fullness of my life depends on it.
The push is everything.