How to Take a Leap of Faith—and Make a Perfect Landing
My clients always expect a clear and perfect moment for a leap of faith, when the seas will part, Gandalf will arrive, and action will become inevitable. I wish. The real mechanics of a leap are so much more ordinary. All you have to do, as any long-term couple knows, is set a date. The leap from your mind to your calendar is the moment of commitment. It's that simple.
Right now, set a date for any action you can take that will move you toward your heart's desire. Then tell people about it. Those same external opinions that you must ignore when making a choice can help immensely once you've chosen. My leap of faith started the day I made an appointment with a couple of real estate agents to view properties in the California woods. I still thought I was crazy, but they didn't. The combination of my heart's desire pushing from inside and various strangers pressuring me from outside kept me in motion. This is why weddings are public: The couple could bolt from the altar, but the combination of an endogenous desire and social pressure is almost always irresistible.
You'll find that many people, especially strangers, will happily support your decision to take a leap of faith. But one more hurdle remains: the very persuasive people who will not.
How to Handle the Naysayers
The hero in a classic hero's saga initially refuses the call to adventure partly on the advice of family and friends. Few people, after all, want a beloved child, spouse, or companion to set off on a possibly dangerous quest—and the nearer and dearer they are, the more likely it is that they'll protest. It takes serious cojones to leap when the people you most trust are against it. But remember, fear makes bad decisions, whether it's your fear or someone else's. Remember, too, that protective fear isn't a manifestation of love but a sort of mutation of it. So instead of giving up on your leap when everyone around you is trying to ground you, do this:
- Think back to a flying leap that proved to be a great decision despite your initial fears: You adopted your daughter, left the security of your old job for the opportunity of a new one, got the radically different haircut that became your signature look. Recall the frightening, liberating thrill of it all.
- Now think back to what I call a fettered lump time, when you retreated from your heart's desire in order to calm another person's fear. Feel the dullness, the disappointment, even the resentment.
- Switch back and forth between these two sensations until they're clear and vivid.
- If your current naysayer's advice gives you the flying-leap feeling, listen carefully; his or her advice could make your leap cleaner.
- If the naysayer's advice feels like the fettered lump, take a deep breath and become steady and serene (hint: you'll have to fake it). Calm your loved ones. Tell them all is well. This steadfast reassurance is all they really want.
Some cartoon characters whip out hankies, improvise parachutes, and float daintily to Earth. Others crash-land and pop up only slightly woozy. The more leaps of faith you take, the more you'll find your own hankies—ways of solving problems when they appear. When you crash, you'll just keep getting better at the pop-up. You'll live through every leap except the big one at the end. And even if you never leap, you'll die anyway.
This is the thinking that has brought me here, to a little house in the big woods where I'm told a repairman was recently attacked by a cougar. Personally, I think that's just a fear-based urban myth—and that he was actually attacked by a Sasquatch. It's important to get these details right as I stand in the air, looking around at my new home, at my dream come true, at the long stretch of nothing beneath my feet.
Martha Beck's latest book is Finding Your Way in a Wild New World (Free Press).
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