Every few months, I get the alumni magazine from my college. I usually glance through the class notes to see if there's anyone I remember who has gotten mentioned.
Most of the entries are a bit, well, dull, saying things like, "Now retired after 30 years teaching in the same school" or "Just retired from 40 years at the bank."
Apparently, my fellow college students were big on staying put in one place.
One entry, however, caught my eye. It read, "Retired after thirty-five years as a social worker and probation officer. He now spends his time as a safari leader and traveler in Africa and is a full-time freelance outdoors writer."
I never knew the man so described, but I wanted to. I wanted to know how he kept his adventurous soul alive for such a long time while toiling away in Cook County Illinois.
Leaving a familiar situation is a challenge that comes to all of us--sometimes several times throughout our life.
A few years ago, I received e-mail from a woman who had spent her life as a teacher. She had stuck with it long after the satisfaction had gone. Now she was ready, she said, to do something completely different. However, she wasn't at all certain what the new path should be.
That happens, of course, when we become entrenched in a situation or relationship for so long that we forget that we have options.
I made several suggestions about how she could begin exploring.
I heard from her again after about ten days and she was making remarkable headway. She'd even listed all of her teaching books on eBay--burning her bridges she said.
Imagine my amazement when I opened another e-mail which was obviously written in a moment of great panic. "I only have another week to sign my teaching contract," it read. "Should I sign it?"
I was flabbergasted and promptly replied that I didn't have the answer to her question. I suggested, however, that it might be a temporary lapse on her part and then I said, "So how are you going to tell your grandchildren that you once had an opportunity to create a truly adventurous life and you chickened out?"
The moment I typed that question, I realized at a very deep level, how our acts of self-doubt don't just impact our own lives, but have a profound ripple effect. Take the low road and you'll have a procession behind you. What kind of legacy is that?
We might tell ourselves that staying in a stultifying relationship isn't really so bad or having a job that robs us of any creative enthusiasm is fine for now, but every day that we hang on we are losing precious time that could be spent building something bold and beautiful.
On the other hand, our acts of courage beget courage in others as well. I'm guessing that my former college classmate will inspire all sorts of people to create their own version of a safari.
While letting go can seem terrifying, think of the times you've done so and found yourself in a better place. It's no use tricking yourself into thinking that you'll make things better while staying in the bad situation, however. Doesn't work that way.
As long as you hang on, you can't move on.