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A Leap of Faith

So my last post dealt with trusting yourself, trusting the extraordinary power within you that you may not even know is there. Not much of a gamble in reading that and giving it a try, in accepting it, in believing it. But how about trusting another? A stranger? Try to measure the depth of that one!! How willing might you be to expose a little piece of your soul, your spirit, to a stranger or coworker?

A leap of faith. Stop and ponder that for a moment dear reader. To leap – or to jump – it implies you need to traverse something wider than your standard footstep; greater than your legs can stretch. You need to coil your legs and jump. Of faith – on trust – it implies your mind can’t convince your body, your legs, that you can do this. Either because the span is so great: “I can’t possibly jump that far” or because you can’t see where you need to land. Either way the self-survival mechanism hard wired into all of us will throw up every red flag and flare in its arsenal to stop you from jumping.

What could possibly convince our minds to do other than refuse to operate your legs? Faith, trust, can be born from empirical evidence: you can see how far the jump is and your eyes and mind have calculated it might be possible; ego can take you the rest of the way (another diabolical tool of the psyche that is truly the definition of a double-edged sword). But what when the distance is clearly too far or the landing can’t be seen and the need, the impetus to still go is urgent and incessant – then what?

Of course it precious few of us who have ever been in such a literal situation that required a genuine physical leap of faith. Who among us has been on a precipice with no choice but to jump even though your mind is screaming “NO!”? Perhaps someone on an upper floor of a burning building being urged by the firemen to jump into the old (and ineffective) life nets. And to some degree, maybe the first time you convince yourself to leap off the high board at a pool.

Allow a quick story here – personal experience that is marginally relevant to this: I was 8 yrs old or so and my parents took a Caribbean vacation. In fact I’ve mentioned that trip at least once before in these missives. So we were in Jamaica and I was in the pool (of course) and laid eyes on the first high diving board I’d ever seen. There were not a lot of people around and no one was using it, so I wasn’t completely sure I understood it, but I was surely fascinated and got the basic concept. So a shot or two of ego and curiosity (what was that story about the cat?) and I found myself climbing up to that glittering prize up at the top of ladder.

And then there I was, looking down at that water that was sooooo far away; it struck me how odd it was that the board that didn’t seem too high when I was down in the water was actually so incredibly far away from that same water now. And I hesitated, and hemmed, and hawed, and (I think) paced a little bit. I don’t know, with even a chance of being correct or close, how long I was up there. Practical thought suggest it wasn’t nearly as long as I feel it may have been. Because I truthfully don’t, can’t, (won’t?) remember. But I do know I ultimately found my toes curled around the business edge of that board and began to bargain with myself; “other people must do this – why else would it be here?” “If it wasn’t safe, it wouldn’t be here” “it’s the same as the low board and you dive up that one all the time…” And so forth. In finality, “I can do this.”

See, my mind knew more than my 8 yr old curiosity. Something buried deep within me and still somewhat alien to me, was telling me that perhaps diving off this board was not a good idea. But that aforementioned diabolical ego, coupled with an 8 yr old’s sense of immortality (or perhaps better put, lack of knowledge of mortality) began to win the war.

So I dove.

Remember again, dear reader, that I was only 8. I had not yet developed the critical thinking skill that a rational person would use to jump feet first on their virgin high board adventure. I was a little kid whose mind was writing checks my body couldn’t cash. I dove off of the low board; this is a diving board; why wouldn’t I dive off this one?

So I dove.

And mass, acceleration, inertia, and gravity all did their thing. And if that had been off of a low board, it’d have been a really nice dive. But it was not a low board. And I (of course) continued the rotation in the air initiated at the leap designed to transition my body from the vertical with hands up to the vertical with the hands down. And I over-rotated and missed that vertical; in fact, my hands and arms ended up horizontal to the water. And I landed flat on my back.

Quite a loud, and it turns out, attention getting sound one’s back makes when hitting the water flat from that high. Stings too. For a brief moment, I think all of Jamaica froze and turned their collective heads towards that pool and winced in unison.

That, it turned out, was an example of faith misplaced in a literal leap of faith. But in the big picture, no harm, no foul. It was a back-flop and it stung and life went on. I went back up later and leapt again (feet first this time) and some years later I ultimately mastered how to dive from the high board as well. So while the story is a glimpse into my impetuous past and my often too large ego, and while it is truly a literal leap of faith, the consequences were not of significance and it is therefore not really an example of the leap of faith I am discussing here.

Most often, a true “leap of faith” is mental, emotional, and spiritual. It is soul-puckering, not knee-wracking. The trust, the faith, is usually in another and how they’ll react. Simple examples: a dark night on a quiet street and someone walking towards you trips and drops their items, or stumble and maybe even fall. What do you do? Approaching to help is truly a leap of faith.

A rival at work who has thrown you under the bus before makes a critical error in interpreting data designed to yield a solution for the important project. What do you do? Not doing anything and letting them crash and burn is an option but certainly an unkind, cold, heartless, and ungallant one. Informing the manager is another option, slightly better as it does not ruin the entire project but it does still trash the rival to their boss. And that is just not the right or gentlemanly thing to do. Or you could approach the rival and tell them where they went wrong and help get them onto the right path. The risks here are that they ignore you or even accuse you of being petty or jealous. They could take your data and solve the problem and then run to the manager with it proclaiming their success without a mention of you. Or they might thank you, humbly accept your help and data, and ask you to present the solution to the manager. Certainly the whole spectrum here. And certainly a leap of faith to approach the rival.

I don’t have even a rough estimate of how many times I’ve provided the answer, the data, or the key to an issue in my career only to hear it repeated back to me in a public forum as someone else’s original thought without so much as whisper of my contribution. But every time I’ve been faced with similar scenarios, I’ve always taken the leap of faith and shared my thoughts and ideas. Because it is how a team player needs to behave, because it is the right thing to do, because the purpose of solving a problem or successfully getting through a project should never be about the person; rather it should be about achieving the goal. It is should never be about personal credit but should always be about results. And when you stop worrying about getting credit, about being recognized, for your part, you’ll find the successes come so much more quickly and easily. And that is a leap of faith worth taking. As you do so, you’ll find people on your team become less fearful and more creative and successful; you’ll find yourself surrounded with good people and like thinkers. And in the end, when your team is always on the side of victory and success, you’ll find that everyone reaps the reward. Not such a leap after all it turns out……

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