Last night, on the very funny show Modern Family, the father Phil decides that he wants to walk on a tightrope. So he gets all of the equipment and places the tightrope only a foot or so off the ground at first, just so he can get the hang of it before making it higher. He struggles, however; he falls off the tightrope every time and eventually decides to give up. But then his son, who’s probably about 10 years old, says something very wise:
“Maybe you keep falling because part of you knows you can fall. Maybe if the wire was much, much higher, you wouldn’t fall.”
I’ve found that this philosophy applies to a lot of areas in life. Sometimes, when you know that someone is there to catch you, you’re more likely to fall.
For example (a very practical one), when I was out of college and just learning how to cook (things other than Ramen noodles and mac ‘n cheese), there was a huge difference in how I acted in the kitchen when by myself as opposed to when I was with my mom. When Mom was with me, I questioned every move I made. I would ask her if I’d measured the ingredients correctly, or if I’d stirred for long enough or if the chicken was cooked enough. But when cooking by myself, I didn’t have anyone else to rely on to answer those questions for me. I had to figure it out for myself, and doing so helped me become a better, more independent cook. You’d think I would have learned more from Mom’s expertise (and don’t get me wrong, I did learn a LOT from her), but it was stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing my own trials and errors that had the greatest impact on my ability.
There are countless other ways in which this concept applies. If you’re grieving something and you know someone is there to listen to every tearful woe, you might grieve a little longer than you would otherwise. Drug or alcohol addicts who have loved ones that keep taking them back in when they mess up are more likely to keep messing up, because they know they won’t really lose anything either way.
There’s a fine line between having support and knowing when to do things on your own. You don’t want to abandon the people who are there to help you, but there comes a time when you do need to step out and experience life on your own, or else you’ll never grow. It can be painful and scary, and you might even fail, but the lessons you learn from doing so will make you far better, without a doubt.
After listening to his son’s wise words, Phil hangs the tightrope seven feet off the ground. And sure enough, he makes it all the way across. He knew that this time around, the consequences of falling were far greater, so he tried harder, focused more intently on doing it the right way, and therefore found success.
We all need to rely on other people to help us get through life. But every once in a while, you need to place the tightrope a little higher and trust in your own ability.