“I can’t go on, but I know I have to.” This overriding sentiment stood out loud and clear at talk I recently attended with guest speaker Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild. It struck me that this single thought is the make or break for most of us. It is that contemplation that likely determines our overall success or failure in life.
At some point, (and for many of us, it’s more than once), we are faced with a situation that forces us to make a decision. Seemingly, life creates a situation or series of events that can make us go from a feeling of overwhelm to a feeling of complete defeat. It is in these moments that we feel we just can’t go on – that we develop our strength, our courage and sometimes our faith.
I remember many years ago, while I was going through the final phases of the hiring process for the Fire Department, the Chief asked me what my breaking point was both mentally and physically. Now you have to understand, this was the final interview with ten firefighter positions open and 1,400 applicants…and they were down to the final 15. This was not a time to answer a question incorrectly. As quickly as the thought entered my mind to figure out what answer he was looking for, it was immediately replaced with, “WAIT, for the first time in my life, I don’t have a well-crafted answer to an interview question! In fact, I don’t have an answer for that AT ALL.” There was a silence that seemed to go on for days, (it was likely 30 seconds), and as I scoured my mind, I was left with nothing but the honesty that I was sure would cost me the job that meant the world to me, “Sir, I don’t have an answer for you.” And in the next passing moments I realized I must not have ever pushed myself hard enough to know; just what is my breaking point?! Did I get close in the past, and run in the other direction out of fear? Did I find an easier path to a solution rather than meeting the challenge head on? Does everyone know their breaking point, and I am the only person on the planet who has not faced difficulties enough to know the feeling of wanting to “tap out”?
As you probably know from this web-site, I did get hired and I never did come up with an answer. It was many years later before I could answer that question for myself. As a coach I am often asked how one finds the courage to face life’s most daunting challenges. I can honestly say, you are as strong as the greatest challenge that you have made your way through. If you have been following our blog, you know that there are many ways of “dealing” with a difficult situation. These range from medicating yourself into another more pleasant reality, or lying to yourself so much that you aren’t even in touch with the reality that has become your life. True courage comes from putting one foot in front of the other, one breath at a time, and walking right up to and through your greatest fear. In this moment, when you hear that voice in your head that says, “I can’t go on, but I know I have to” you will become stronger, wiser and more courageousthan you thought possible. It all starts with the truth of what is, before we can move toward the direction of what will be.
Back in 1995, Cheryl Strayed hiked 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail along the West Coast of the United States. After the three-month journey, she came out on the other side stronger in every way: better able to cope with her divorce, her past drug abuse and her mother’s death. I encourage you to get her bestselling memoir Wild.
In closing these are the words I had inscribed on a keepsake box, I gave to my daughter as she left for college:
“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart.. I’ll always be with you.” Winnie the Pooh