Standing Outside the Fire

Note: This week’s blog is an excerpt from my next book Dancing The Tightrope: The Gift of Pressure and Uncertainty. I’m sharing an early, raw, unedited version. Would love your thoughts on what keeps you reading, where it loses you and what you want to know more about.  

Growing up, we cooked hotdogs and s’mores over the campfire almost every weekend. Getting too close to the fire taught me about getting burned. There was a just-right place to stand, where I could cook a hotdog or marshmallow without cooking myself. Get too far away and nothing got cooked. Get too close and it was me that got cooked. Depending on the wind, that just-right place could change and move and grow. Finding the safe zone was a constant balancing act.  

Getting burned can be a metaphor for more than touching a hot stove or getting too close to a real fire. We humans have well developed systems to keep us away from things that hurt.  

In my year of recovery after my horse fall, I tried to find that just-right place to stand. My mind provided both the fire and the solace. Sometimes, it fed me sensible thoughts. More often, it fired noisy thoughts like bullets from a gun:

  • You were overconfident.”
  • “You will never get it.”
  • ”It was a freak accident that will never happen again.”
  • “You just need better skills.”
  • “You would be crazy to ride again.”

 The thoughts either pulled me into the fire or kept me outside the fire. Productive learning and growth could not happen when there was no heat or too much heat.  

What was most unsettling was the gap between what I believed I could do and what my accident revealed. Like a dog with a bone, my mind gnawed at the gap, wondering what moves I should have made with my hands, my seat, my legs.  

To completely mix my metaphors, I was barking up the wrong tree. The problem was not in my skills – although my skills needed improvement.

The problem was in my relationship with pressure. What I’m uncovering is the pressure gap, much richer – and scarier – territory. 

The tangible territory of the skill gap is so alluring. It’s visible, measurable, knowable, provable. Even tough emotions feel like I can get my hands around them.  

Yet under pressure, I can’t get my hands around anything. It’s as if my skills go offline when I need them most. In the heat of the fire, there is no time to read the rule book.

The only thing that matters is the mental tools I bring to the situation. Those tools are the gateway to my skills. If my tools are not up to the task, my skills lie behind a wall of fear.