By Gail Barker, B.A., C.P.C.C.
“The higher you climb, the further you have to fall.”
That quote is attributed to Malorie Blackman. I can’t recall when I first heard it, or within what context. The echo of it has often reverberated in my experience, however, particularly as I feel myself climbing metaphorical mountains that I’ve challenged myself to tackle. The higher I get, the more I hear a voice cautioning me: “Be careful! You might fall!”
Sometimes that voice causes me to stop and turn back on my journey. Sometimes that voice is brushed aside by a deep curiosity that won’t allow fear to prevail. In all instances, the voice causes a moment of pause as I reflect on the climb I am taking, exploring what I envision to be ahead.
There’s something about a climb that is simultaneously exhilarating and daunting, something both inviting and repellant. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that while my climb—metaphorical or otherwise—will feel tough at moments, the end result will be a feeling of accomplishment making the effort worthwhile, if I only stay the course. Focusing on the climb has been a big part of my life experience.
Recently, however, I’ve started shifting my focus away from what exists “up there” on the proverbial mountaintop. I’ve started getting curious about what happens on the other end of the landscape. While heights are alluring, it turns out there’s something as compelling about the depths of life. I feel the need to share that I am not a swimmer by any stretch of the imagination; literal deep-diving in actual waters isn’t something I’ve ever engaged in or that I envision happening any time soon. But diving into the deeps of life? This feels necessary somehow. And as I’ve been standing in curiosity around what it might be like to dive deep instead of climb high, here’s what I’ve realized: the two experiences have an unlikely link. It seems that the deeper you are willing to dive in life, the higher you will ultimately soar.
Let me explain. Life is complex. There are so many layers to every person’s experience. No matter what stage or age you’re in, there are different ways to understand and make meaning of what is happening or has happened to you. Such understanding and meaning is often discovered as you peel back the layers, moving deeper to the core of the event in question.
As I scan the various experiences in my own life, I am realizing that whenever I choose to peel back a layer or dive a little deeper, more “climbing” becomes possible by virtue of what I unearth and discover. In other words, the more learning I acquire by diving deep, the more information I have to facilitate a corresponding climb.
As a visual person, I keep seeing a trampoline of sorts. If you’ve never experienced a trampoline, let me try to describe the experience for you: a trampoline is springy, bouncy, elastic. A trampoline is something you bounce on. The stronger you bounce, the deeper you go AND the higher you rise correspondingly. Ergo, my personal saying: the deeper you dive (or bounce), the higher you soar.
This metaphor is particularly apt when it comes to emotions. I know many folks would rather avoid emotional experiences altogether, never mind “diving deep.” I want to invite you to hear me out though, because while diving deep into the pool of your emotions might be daunting, it actually will serve you well. No matter how strong you think you are, how smart you consider yourself to be, or how well you are viewed in your field, emotional depth is where your power source resides.
For most folks, emotions are limited to happy, angry, and sad, or minor variations thereof. Generally speaking, these three words are what we gravitate to when it comes to expressing what we are feeling. We don’t go any deeper; we don’t allow ourselves to get clear about subtle nuances. And yet, when we dive deeper, we notice that there are far more emotions than just these three. Moreover, the subtle deviations can actually allow each of those three emotions to expand in such a way that we start to realize there is so much more to be understood.
Take a moment and ask yourself: what are you feeling right now? (Note: “stress” is not an emotion—it’s an experience. Same thing for “tired.” So if you were going to say “stressed” or “tired,” try again—go for an emotion). When you check in, you will likely default to happy, sad, or angry as your descriptor because these are the easy emotions to identify. They’re the broad sweeping catch-alls, if you will. What happens if you go for subtlety? What do you notice if you connect with the core of it—the depth of your actual feeling?
If “happy” is the word you’re tempted to use in this moment, is it truly accurate? Or is it more like joyful? Excited? Playful? Hopeful? If “sad” is the emotion you’re connecting with, dive deeper: is it simply sadness? Or is it grief? Despair? Loss? What about for those feeling “anger?” Is that the true essence here? Or is there something much more accurate, like rage? Fury? Or frustration?
This isn’t just about semantics. Each of these words actually takes the superficial experience of emotions and connects you to a deeper level. It’s only when you allow yourself to truly feel the depth of what’s going on for you that you can move through the experience and on to something else.
Have you ever noticed that you’ll attempt to deny or push aside an emotion only to have it come back when you least expect it, and often at full force? It’s like it ambushes you, forcing you to pay attention. There’s a reason for this. Emotions are meant to be felt deeply so that you can live your life with full range and genuine power. You read that correctly; feeling emotions deeply facilitates a powerful life experience.
It’s imperative that you learn to feel and experience your emotions deeply, and then to give expression to them appropriately. Sometimes, it can be enough to name the emotion for what it is. Naming grief as sadness isn’t sufficient. Naming grief as grief gives it a voice and a place at the table. And every time you connect and give expression to the core of your emotion, you bounce more strongly on life’s trampoline, diving deeper into what’s happening. That then allows you to soar into the experience you’re striving to create.
Bottom line: a truly successful life is a life experienced in full range. In order to gain the most in the life you’re living, there’s value in pushing yourself to explore both height and depth. A life lived meaningfully is a life which encompasses the fullest range of your experiences. Dive deep into the pool of what you’re feeling, and you’ll allow yourself to know the exhilaration of soaring high among the pinnacles of genuine life success.
Gail Barker is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. She specializes in supporting leaders to lead powerfully and meaningfully. Here company, Stellar Coaching & Consulting was established in 2003, and through that platform, she has supported hundreds of leaders in elevating their leadership game. A few of the additional hats she wears professionally are author, speaker, and radio show host. Personally, she is deeply committed to her family, loves to read, and finds deep restoration when walking along the beach (even in the winter).
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