The On the Edge Series explores that juicy and terrifying place of pure potential as we cross through the gauntlet of fear and vulnerability to come out on the other side, someone different.
He’d been standing on the end of the diving board for a long time. Past the time when I initially got intrigued and wondered if he’s really going to jump or not. This was minutes of standing at the end, fists clenching and unclenching. Kids lined up, waiting on the hot cement to take their turn at jumping off the high dive at the public pool in my small hometown in Iowa.
I immediately felt empathy for him – argh - that spot! We’ve all been in ‘that spot’ of total fear and paralysis. Too far out to quietly slink back as if nothing had happened, and not quite far enough to be fully committed to the jump.
What I imagined happening in his head was “Is it going to hurt? Will I ever come up for air once I go under? What will my friends think of me if I don’t jump? If I do jump? It’s so far down, why did I ever get up here? What was I thinking? My swimming isn’t even that great.” And from down below, as I watched him negotiating that precarious space, all I could think was - YOU GOT THIS! YOU GOT THIS! All it takes is one step. Just one more step! I didn’t see the same thing he did – he saw imminent death – if not physical, at least his ego was eyeing its demise. I saw a courageous, totally capable 12-year old one step away from busting through a fear that was larger than life for him right now. With pure relief and a sense of accomplishment waiting on the other side.
As the minutes went on, I looked around the pool and saw that all the kids and adults in the pool had actually stopped playing and were fixed on the boy on the high dive. The kids lined up behind him, patiently waiting their turn. The lifeguard overseeing the diving boards finally motioned toward the manager’s office and out came the 17-year old manager and another lifeguard. I couldn’t hear what they were saying to the boy on the board, but the lifeguard took his rescue floatie off his shoulder, put it around his chest and jumped in the water – prepared to help the diver once he went off the board. I kept waiting for the other kids to yell at the boy, to taunt him or make fun of him in this most vulnerable of places. But what was there instead was silence. After what felt like an hour, but was probably more like 15 minutes, the boy walked back toward the stairs, then slowly turned back to face the end of the diving board.
He glanced down at the lifeguard waiting for him in the water, looked at the end of the board and walked out to it. Then, as if an unspoken wave washed over the kids waiting in line, a couple of kids started clapping. Immediately the entire pool of people started clapping and cheering and as that wave of encouragement washed over the boy at the end of the board, he jumped!
He went underwater and when he came back up seconds later, he came up to a crowd of people cheering for him, the lifeguard right by his side should he need help, and the realization he’d survived! He swam over to the ladder to climb out with the hugest grin on his face.
I had tears in my eyes, overcome by the courage he found with the help of the people around him and by the kindness of the kids. They could have easily shamed him into jumping off or walking back down the stairs of the high dive. And neither of those options would’ve left anything positive in their wake. It was a moment of true human goodness. The goodness we all have inside that needs to be called out sometimes by seeing people as pure possibility. To hold others in a space they can’t see in/for themselves.
The crowd cheering him on didn’t imagine him walking down the stairs in defeat. They imagined him jumping off the board. They held him in the possibility that he couldn’t hold for himself in that moment. They helped him step into more of himself – the more he hadn’t met yet! And the beauty when we do that for others is that we all receive a gift from it. The crowd received a gift from extending plain ol’ goodness, positive support and taking a stand for the boy on the board. A full heart. Being part of something bigger than themselves, and contributing to someone else’s success. So everyone grew on that hot, summer day in Iowa, whether they realized it or not.
As is typical with kids, they all immediately went back to splashing, diving and swimming. Before I left the pool that day, I found the boy playing with his friends in the water and I called him over. I said, “Congratulations, You! Awesome courage you found today” and we high-fived. I asked him how he decided to jump and he said, “Well, once I heard the clapping, I just knew I could do it!”
This reminds me of how I feel when I mentor my clients. Because I’m not on their diving boards, looking at life from their perspective and beliefs - all I see is possibility. I’m aware that they believe there’s a challenge – sometimes what feels like an insurmountable challenge – that lies between them and what they’re creating, but I don’t see their limitation. I see their fear of taking the next step, and that there’s nothing actually standing between them on the end of the board and the water down below. And when I hold them in that space of pure possibility, I’m cheering them on to their full potential of what feeds their heart and has them living life large and in charge, contributing their unique flavor to the world. A flavor that won’t exist if they don’t jump.
Are you on the diving board? In that painful spot of ‘I don’t want to jump, but I can’t go back’? I know this spot so well, and I got you.
Want a hand? Give me a shout and let't see what wants to happen next.