Leap of faith. What does that expression mean to you?
A friend used those very words in conversation with me recently, and it isn’t the first time that I’ve heard “leap of faith” in the past six months. When we’re seeking change, when we’re processing what change might look like, when we don’t have all the information we wish for, when we feel ourselves at a crossroad where we have stalled — at some point, don’t we need to make a decision?
The options as we see them:
Step into the unknown; do nothing and stagnate; do nothing and sink; try to back away from risk altogether.
Right. It’s that “waiting to decide” concept. Then again, each of these, including (seemingly) doing nothing, is an action in its own way.
Hmmm… So what exactly is this about?
Now, now. It’s not complicated. We all face moments in life when we know change is inevitable. We’re dying to start something new, or we’re confronted with circumstances that present constraints that obscure the benefits of our options. We may feel as if we’re staring into a precipice — no net below us, no tightrope to walk, no shaky rope ladder to traverse the gap — and though we can make out the other side, the distance from “here” to “there” is unclear, and what awaits us is hazy.
So we ruminate. We marinate. We hesitate.
Until we can’t tolerate passivity any longer, and one way or another, it’s decision time.
Leap of Faith, by Definition
By definition, a leap of faith is about risk, and about belief despite the risk. The Free Dictionary provides this definition:
The act or an instance of believing or trusting in something intangible or incapable of being proved.
That definition is an adequate start, but it doesn’t begin to capture the depth and breadth of emotions that may accompany the leap in question — the far-reaching fears associated with leaving solid ground behind, as you wonder if you will step, soar, or potentially free fall into the unknown.
Common examples? Try these.
- You’re choosing a university, sight unseen, among those that accepted you.
- You’re contemplating a new career — your second or third (or fourth or fifth) — armed only with a gut feeling that it will suit you.
- An opportunity presents itself, but time is of the essence. Maybe it’s an investment. Maybe it’s a job.
- Maybe the opportunity is a person, and perhaps more importantly, the “best self” you find emerging with that person.
- You’re considering cohabitation, marriage, relocation, remarriage. Maybe your family and friends approve, or maybe there is no one to support your decision.
Will you make the wrong choice?
When you’re young, everything is a “lesson,” and the repercussions of misjudgments, generally, are simpler than when you’re older. Clearly, there are scenarios in which this isn’t the case, but most would agree that in midlife (and beyond), you have less time to recover from a mistake.
Additionally, sometimes life backs us into corners. Who wants to deal with that? Isn’t decision-making gnarlier if we see only “bad” or narrowing options?
Tips to Make Tough Transitions and Risk-Taking Easier
Mind Body Green offers tips for taking a leap of faith, and these two strike a chord for me:
… Practice daily self-care…
… Replace fear of the unknown with a sense of desire for what’s to come…
Why are these reminders so helpful?
Daily self-care falls by the wayside easily for women, certainly women of “my generation,” in which identity rests at least in part on caring for a spouse, a partner, children, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. That said, I plead guilty to sacrificing my own healthy routines — a good night’s sleep, proper eating, regular exercise — in the service of those closest to me.
And even in empty nest, I continue to do so out of habit. I know that when I focus on taking care of myself, I’m more able to be resourceful and to thrive outside my comfort zone.
As for fear, it can leave us stuck in analysis paralysis forever, or hunkering down for so long that we cannot imagine daring unfamiliar territory — from living in a new part of town to taking on a new type of job to exploring a new relationship.
Add to the mix the complex reality of beginnings as we seek to “start over:” Beginnings require us to process endings, and endings may involve grieving and regret. Loss is painful; all the more reason to visualize the positives as we embark on change, even if we don’t know exactly how the result will look.
Taking Risk Means Finding Strength
We spend our lives taking leaps of faith; it’s inevitable. We give ourselves to friendships, we fall in love, we bear children, we start companies, we buy homes, we take new jobs, we change cities or states or countries, we change ourselves — and it all becomes easier as we grow accustomed to taking risk and knowing that we can recover if things don’t work out.
Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that the success of any leap of faith depends on elements beyond our immediate control — from trusting that our children will make good choices when they’re out of sight, to relying on our sewers and roads and Internet providers. We put our faith in other people, in systems, in things. We expect them to function well and safely.
When we dare to take the greatest leaps of faith, aren’t we more adaptive than we anticipate, more savvy than we realize, and more creative than we could have imagined if we run into a snag? Don’t we have the capacity to manage unsettling situations, especially if we take care of ourselves in the process, if we focus on what we have to gain, and of course — if possible — we undertake change with the support of those who believe in us?
We Are All Stronger With Support Systems
That last? Supportive friends, family, even “strangers?”
Without a sufficiently “populated” circle, can’t we believe in ourselves enough to risk success? A different sort of success than we may be accustomed to? A leap toward something we desire — that we hope will yield a happy outcome? If we don’t have “intimates” cheering us on, can’t we find supportive communities that remind us that we aren’t alone after all?
I say yes, yes, yes. And yes again.
Where am I in all this? What’s up with the conversations lauding the proverbial leap of faith? What’s up with my struggle to embrace the freedom of where I am right now, to see that I needn’t be winding down, to understand that I could be winding up for something new — if I’m brave?
I’m facing a slew of decisions. I’ve sat with uncertainty for too long already. I’m well aware that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I’m reminding myself that there’s no such thing as safety — decisions come with no guarantees — yet when we pay attention, when we’re honest with ourselves, when we listen to that all-important inner voice nudging, coaxing, prodding, provoking, motivating, encouraging… we assess the risks and rewards as best we can, we say goodbye to stagnation and inertia, we dig for grit and we hope for a bit of luck.
And then, we jump.
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