by Megan McDonough
Getting grounded on slippery ice is a challenge. Firm footing is elusive as you try to make forward movement. You skid this way and that. Your steps are small, tentative and fearful. You spread your arms out for balance, hoping the air will hold you up—which, of course, it won’t.
Taking steps on slippery ice is exactly what it feels like to stretch into new and demanding challenges without the right support.
On a recent weekend, my husband and I worked in the woods. Well, to be truthful, he worked and I tagged along, enjoying the crisp winter air. He was looking at trees to tap to make maple syrup. This trek through the woods was tough. We had had some drizzle and rain that had coated the snow with a layer of ice. I could barely stand, much less walk without falling.
My husband, Joe, handed me two weird-looking rubber thingamajigs with a web of chains attached to each one. “Put these over the soles of your shoes,” he said. When I did, each step was supported by the chains digging into and holding onto the ice. I could walk normally—with confidence and security. The support held, and I was able to help my husband (mostly by staying out of his way).
How are you being supported as you move forward in life? There comes a time in every life that requires us to be daring, to move over icy terrain. Terra firma eludes us, and we choose (or are forced) to find new footing. We try different things—like using our arms to ask the air for support—that just don’t work. My husband was accustomed to this icy environment. I asked him (or, more to the point, he told me) what to do.
As you step into new challenges that perhaps feel outside your capacity to navigate, who can show you the way? Who else might know more than you do about this new place you find yourself in? Who can mentor you and help you move with sure footing, perhaps just through the simple act of offering you an appropriate tool for the job?
Along with reaching out for help, what internal resources do you have that you can engage? What strengths, values, or traits do you have that can be tapped? Even if you have questions about what’s being offered, or you doubt your own ability, try the possible solution on for size. Move into the task as if it could work. At the very least, trying out the support—your own and others—will increase your learning and perspective. That’s a valuable gift in and of itself.
Amy Cuddy, Harvard researcher and hugely popular TED Talk presenter, wrote about the inner support we can call forth in challenging times in her New York Times best-seller, Presence. She writes: “Your authentic best self—your boldest self—is not about psyching yourself up or saying, ‘I am the best at this task’ or ‘I’m a winner.’ Your boldest self emerges through the experience of having full access to your values, traits, and strengths and knowing that you can autonomously and sincerely express them through your actions and interactions.”
Success need not be about playing the tough guy, stoically skating on thin ice without asking for help. Success can evolve more naturally—when you take in the truth of the environment around you, assess your capacity to navigate the new reality, engage your your deep values and strengths, and then open yourself to the support and structures that help you address the path in front of you. Be open to the possibility that there might be another way, a more mindful approach to the terrain, that could surprise and delight you as you grow into a bolder version of you. Just as my husband’s suggestion transformed my experience of ice and danger, a good idea—paired with a solid sense of self—allows you to playfully romp in new territory, staying strong as you climb the unknown, slippery slopes of life.
Learn more from Megan McDonough in The Certificate in Positive Psychology.
Megan McDonough is CEO of Wholebeing Institute, an educational organization co-founded with Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar. WBI is committed to spreading ideas and practices that can help individuals and groups live life to its fullest.
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