‘Happy Enough’- How We Accept Less Than The Pinnacle of Joy; Inner Fear
Guest Blogger, colleague and dear friend, Lynn Serafinn, explores the many ways our inner fears contribute to our stopping short of unbridled Joy in our lives.
The featured image is of an actual wooden “stairway to heaven” ascending more than 50 meters, used by the famous “Voladores de Papantla” in Central America, whose breathtaking annual springtime “flying” ritual is famous worldwide.
A few years ago, I enrolled in a mega-personal-development course where I had to complete a series of physical challenges, many involving heights. One of the first challenges was to climb up to a balance beam about 25 feet high and walk across it–blindfolded. Of course, there was absolutely no danger involved, as all of us had secure harnesses attached to our bodies, with a team of strong people ensuring our safety at all times. But the ego-mind is very good at creating its own messages, even if your logical brain knows you are perfectly safe. And what is so interesting is that the messages it creates might not have anything whatsoever to do with the current situation. In all likelihood, you might find yourself replaying some very old “tapes” in your head that you might not even have thought of for years.
And that is precisely what happened to me. As I got close to the top of the pole I was climbing to get up to the balance beam, I suddenly froze. There was no way I could bring myself to make those few last steps to stand up on that beam.
Because all I could think of when faced with the prospect of walking across that 25-foot high plank of wood were images of me in 10th Grade, as I wobbled fearfully along a 3-foot high balance beam in my P.E. class, and the teacher made fun of me in front of the class saying, “Serafinn, you’re fat and you’re useless. Can’t you do anything?”
And as I replayed that moldy, old tape (which I hadn’t even realized I still carried with me), the voices in my head said, You have NEVER been able to walk across a balance beam in the past, and you will NEVER walk across this one either. Your body is fat and useless. Don’t’ even think about this. Get OUT now!
Totally “triggered” by this inner drama, an overwhelming sense of panic, shame, and sheer terror made me freeze. I simply couldn’t move. I shouted down to my course leader, “No, no, I can’t do this. I know I can’t. I’m bailing. I need to get down NOW.” And immediately I let go of the pole and sailed down to the ground on my guide ropes (even letting go was a challenge). When I landed, my entire body shook uncontrollably from the adrenaline flooding my every muscle. My legs collapsed under me and my hands were in intense pain from all the stress hormones.
My hands shaking the whole time, I took out my journal and wrote for a few minutes, exploring my flurry of emotions around this strange experience. But later, when I returned to watch some of the others on the course, I noticed that many people started out scared to death, but became elated when they got on top of, and eventually across, the beam. As I watched, I saw they were actually enjoying themselves in spite of–or maybe even because of–the fear.
Overcoming the Obstacle
My sense of “shame” and “failure” made me angry–at myself. I realized I had convinced myself I would fail and had deprived myself of the elation others were experiencing when they had gone past their own limits.
I harnessed this anger as I approached the next challenge–climbing now a 30-foot telephone pole to the top. It looked REALLY high! But this time, I was not going to stop. I growled with anger. I shouted. I grunted. I swore. I told myself I WILL make it to the top. I will. I will. I will.
And after overcoming a few obstacles here and there along the way, I climbed just high enough to touch the “cookie” on the top of the pole. I was really happy and felt so proud of myself.
But then, my course leader called up to me and said, “That’s great, Lynn! So, what do you want to do now?
“Now?” I asked. “But I’ve already reached the top. What do you mean?”
“Well, would you like to stand on TOP of the pole too?”
In my head, I was saying, What? On top? You want me to stand up on top of a 10-inch diameter surface 30 feet in the air? Are you kidding?
But what I replied was, “Uh, no thanks, I’m happy enough with this.” And I took a moment to hug the pole, which had carried me to the top.
I came down feeling really proud of myself. After all, I hadn’t bailed out of the challenge. But in spite of feeling happy, I noticed I didn’t feel that real rush of elation I saw others express who did choose to stand atop the pole and free-fall down to earth (on the guide ropes, of course).
After meditating upon this, I began to understand that the thing that had stopped me short of that elation was my perspective. I had viewed climbing onto the top of the pole as a danger that threatened my happiness; I didn’t want to ruin my happiness by trying something so risky. But actually, the Universe was offering me the opportunity to experience more joy. But I chose not to receive it– for the moment.
Stretching Your Limits
Fortunately, I had the chance to stretch my limits one last time a few months later. This time, the challenge was a 35-foot high tightrope walk! But this wasn’t just a solo walk. I had to synchronize my walk with a partner who was walking on another rope a fair distance across from me, using a balancing pole.
Well, let me tell you, every single step I took climbing up to the tightrope made my heart POUND with sheer terror! But by this time, I had finally learned how to stop, acknowledge the fear, wait a moment, and continue. When I finally stepped onto the tightrope, I was completely and utterly thrilled. I had never actually STOOD so high up before, what to speak of being on a narrow, unstable wire, and working with a partner to boot!
Every step we took together was a sheer (terrifying) joy.
But then, when we got just past the halfway mark, one of my feet slipped off the wire, and for safety reasons I was instructed to let go of the pole and glide back down to the ground.
As I touched down, I felt, at long last, the rush, the elation, the sheer ecstatic JOY I had previously only witnessed in others. My partner and I were jumping up and down and hugging each other, delighted that we had survived the challenge without quitting, even if we hadn’t made it all the way across. I was buzzing. I was alive. I was so pleased with myself for mastering the art of walking WITH fear instead of fighting against it.
But then, our course leader came over to us and asked, “You two were the first in the group to do this activity, and other people have learned from watching what you did. Would you like another chance to try it again later?”
And do you know what my brain said?
It said, What if you go up and you cannot get past your fear this time? Then, it will take away all the joy you are experiencing now. No, don’t do it again. You don’t need to finish the task. You have enough joy for now.
That was 3 years ago, and a heck of a lot about me has changed since then.
Looking back on it now, I can see that while I definitely had made some major breakthroughs during that whole process, what I had not yet fully learned was the depth of my own willingness to accept less than the very best for myself. I seemed to be satisfied with overcoming my obstacles, rather than being passionately desirous of true, unfettered joy. And this was not limited to physical challenges–it actually entered into every aspect of my life: from career and financial success, to health, to love, to fun, to spiritual fulfillment.
And I as looked around me, I saw I was not the only one.
Everywhere I looked, I could see people living lives in which they felt “happy enough” by:
- Focusing on getting out of financial hardship versus wanting to create genuine wealth
- Focusing on overcoming physical ailments versus wanting to create true health and vitality
- Focusing on resolving conflict versus wanting to create true intimacy
- Focusing on “making a living” versus wanting to create a lasting legacy
Nope. Not anymore. Not me. No more “happy enough.”
Now, I’m ready to stand on top of that telephone pole–to feel the ecstasy of reaching “The Pinnacle.”
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Allison Maslan, CEO of Pinnacle Global Network, is the Wall Street Journal Best Selling Author of Scale or Fail, which is endorsed by Daymond John and Barbara Corcoran of Shark Tank. Allison’s built 10 successful companies starting out at age 19.
Now she and her team of CEO Mentors pay it forward by helping business owners scale their companies, fast-track their success, and create a more meaningful life. Pinnacle Global Network, a world leader in scaling companies and empowering business leaders has guided thousands of CEO's and Founders to success over the past decade. Allison’s been featured in Inc., Success, Fortune, Fast Company, and Forbes Magazines, is a regular contributor to Entrepreneur Magazine, and a featured expert on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox across the US. She is also the host and producer of The Scale or Fail Show podcast, and the Women Who Own it Podcast in partnership with WBENC, the largest certifier of women-owned businesses in North America.
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