Close your eyes for a few seconds and imagine that you are standing on solid ground that just suddenly crumbled and disappeared into the unknown, taking you with it.
We are now living in a time when we do not have to imagine such instability, danger, and uncertainty. The Covid-19 pandemic is here and it has ushered in a new reality for us. Life in this new reality comes up in just about every conversation I have these days. With my family, we talk about my 13-year-old son’s commitment to sanitizing the entire apartment. With my university students, we talk about how they are adjusting to having all their courses shifted from in-person to online.
At Cultivating Leadership, we are actively exploring ways to support our clients thrive in an increasingly virtual and complex world while managing our own virtual sanity. When I talk with friends and coaching clients, they mention the tension they feel between supporting those they lead and taking care of themselves. Some are asking, “How do I hold the fear for my family’s survival when the way I make a living is now being challenged or changed?” and “Who do I need to be to realize my heart’s desire for humanity on the other side of this situation?”
This is a time when we face some of our deepest fears and also explore the possibility of re-inventing ourselves. In the next few blogs, I will be exploring the relationship between our fears, our identity’s response to it, and the demands of the new reality we are living in.
In her book, Who Do We Choose To Be?: Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity, Margaret Wheatley asks, “Amid all the information available in our environment, which identity filter(s) do you use? Are you dedicated to popularity, to a role, to a cause, an ethic, a nation, an ethnicity? What identity gives meaning to your life?” She also observes that “Facing reality is an empowering act – it can liberate our mind and heart to discern how best to use our power and influence in service for this time.” Bringing awareness to our identities and facing into our current and emerging realities is one of the important tasks to attend to now and is what Jennifer teaches us about with the identity mindtrap and how to unlock it. Read more about that here and here.
Many of us are seeing the need to re-invent ourselves and operate differently from pre-Covid-19 days. The present situation reveals new ways of seeing the world and our attempts at seeing these new ways can launch us into new identities and ways of being. Before the launch, though, we stand at the edge of the identity that currently gives meaning to our life and the new one necessary for facing into the future. This is a challenging place to be. At some point, though, life either nudges us over the edge or we take the leap ourselves.
This business of leaping into a new identity can be scary. I learned that and other lessons a few weeks ago when I stood on a bungee jumping platform in Taupo, New Zealand. Jumping off that platform was one of the scariest things I have ever done. Here are three considerations to keep in mind as you prepare to step into a new reality and identity.
Start at the Edge
You likely saw this lesson coming. A few weeks ago many of us realized that we woke up in a new world. Things are not the same as they were a month ago. And some of us are attempting to hold on to the old normal or race into the new world. Do neither. Slow down. Pause. We do not need to figure it all out now. Start at the edge. As a colleague of Lynne Twist advised her, which she shared in her book, The Soul of Money, now is the time to hospice the death of the old and midwife the birth of the new. Our fear gets triggered when we stand in this place. An important question to ask is: who is this fear protecting?
As I stood at the edge of the bungee jumping platform, my stomach tightened and was in my mouth in seconds. It felt as though I was about to spill my identity out of myself and I unconsciously resisted that act of emptying. The resistance paralyzed me. As much as I was securely strapped to various harnesses, what mattered the most was my sense that my identity and control were not strapped to anything and therefore I would lose them both. Before you judge me, think about a time when you felt you were losing control, like that time when your government told you there is a pandemic, there is no vaccine, and you and your family need to stay home until further notice. And then you went to the store to stock up on supplies and discovered they were completely out of toilet paper. You get the picture.
Our identities want to be protected. The one we make meaning from wants to be in control. When self-protection and control are threatened, fear and resistance arise. We start at the edge to slow down, to honor and to bring awareness to our current identity. The fear I experienced standing at the edge of the platform was similar to moments when I thought of saying no to someone or some perceived opportunity. It seemed to me that I had little trust in the strength of that part of me that would need to hold the uncertain outcome of my no. Perhaps it was the loss of the solidity of my current identity that I was most afraid of. What about you? What is most at stake when you think about letting go of your current identity?
Pay Attention to What Fear Reveals
Before I got to the platform, I imagined myself fearlessly walking to the edge and diving off like a pro, the way I see people do it in promo videos on the Internet. You know, mind over matter stuff. Nonsense. None of that happened. I was full to the brim of fear. At the same time, I did manage to notice what was going on within my self-system. Fear is data, and for me, standing at the edge of that platform, I experienced my fear as something to learn from. This was a struggle because the force of the fear constantly threatened to overcome my awareness of it and the rest of what was going on with me. My attempt to pay attention helped me slow down enough to notice some of what was going on. I also realized that the longer I stood at the edge the more convinced I was becoming about not jumping at all. I wanted to let go and jump, but I couldn’t. In the end, one of the guides nudged me just enough where my only options were to reach out and grab onto something, perhaps his body and most likely air, or dive. I dove.
Leaning into the possibility of a new identity or experience of self is simultaneously leaning out of the solidity or certainty of our current identity. At some point, as we pivot from the former into the latter, we come face to face with the fear of losing certainty, control, and the identity that has given meaning to our lives up to that point. In order to re-invent ourselves to face reality, we must let go of control.
I fell for what seemed like minutes, but it was really only a few seconds before I reached the full length of the elastic rope and got dragged back up again a couple more times because of the tension. When I finally made it inside the waiting boat, all I could do was lay on my back and laugh. I could not move an inch. I could not say a word. If my laughs were words, they would say, “Damn! I’m alive!” When I got out of the boat, I felt like I was floating, moving around in a different dimension without time and solid form, except for the new pain in my neck and head. I was present to a single conviction. I must do this again. Now. I was convinced that, as much as I was still afraid, there was more to learn about how I experience myself in challenging and unknown situations. So, I walked back to the office, paid for another jump (which was heavily discounted), and jumped again.
There was no going back after I jumped off the bungee platform. I could not back up and change my mind about jumping. I was already falling. So, I extended my arms and streamed “BUNGEEEE!!!” Screaming helped. Getting to the end helped even more. As I lay in the boat, laughing like an idiot, I could tell that something shifted in me.
When our world changes, like now with Covid-19, it sometimes demands that we re-invent ourselves by stepping out of the security of our current identity into a new one. As we lean into this new way of being we subconsciously or consciously embrace the uncertainty that this new reality is. This move of stepping into the uncertainty of an unknown identity, while often scary, can also be empowering and liberating. And being liberated, we can access our power to express our desire to be of greater service to each other. So, in this time of irrevocable change, deep fear, and compounded complexity and uncertainty, who do you choose to be?