My grandson, Will, soon to turn 4, was getting ready to start Pre-K. Going to school was a significant change for this little guy, who has been home with the entire family for fifteen months during CoVid. His parents and siblings had been promoting the event for weeks. It was a milestone, and they persuaded him it was going to be great! Finally, the big day arrived, and all three children stood in line with mom, awaiting their teacher, who would lead them into their classrooms. Both excitement and apprehension coexisted in these three youngster
Will was still happy, smiling, and eager to begin his day when it happened. His older brother and sister were beckoned and left him standing with his mom. His expression said it all. “Wait a minute, aren’t we all in this together! Come back here, you guys. You can’t leave me!” It seems Will thought they would all be spending the day together. His teacher appeared, and he was escorted away from mom. As she turned to leave, mom took one quick look back, and her fears were confirmed; the tears were rolling down her baby’s cheeks. She knew to dash off, for staying around could sabotage the whole plan. She might be too tempted to take Will in her arms and rescue him from his misery. With 1,000% certainty, mom and dad anticipated a phone call. They were sure Will wouldn’t survive until the end of the day.
This scenario is not that unusual for children, but what about for the rest of us? Facing change and the unknown can be daunting whether we’re 4, 14, 40, or beyond. The scared little child inside of us can come back to haunt us when something threatens to invade our comfort zone. The truth is we like sameness. We feel secure there. When we contemplate something which may be disruptive, our emotions can take over and call the shots. Doubt and fear may creep in, and we begin to question the value of the potential new opportunity. Do we really want to change jobs, pursue a degree, move to a new city, start a new relationship? We ponder what price we will have to pay. What if we fail? What if people laugh at us? What if we end up alone? Just thinking about moving forward can cause our hands to sweat and our stomachs to hurt. We may remind ourselves we’re doing well where we are; why rock the boat?
We’ve now arrived at critical juncture number one. Here is where we wrestle with the two elements most likely at odds with one another, emotions and truth. We must determine if we are willing to get beyond our emotional self, who is afraid to take risks and so often short-sited, and instead objectively, thoughtfully, and logically consider new long-term goals? Who do we want to become, what do we want to accomplish, who do we want to impact, and what legacy do we want to leave when we depart this world? Are we indeed willing to grow beyond our current self and engage in new experiences, frightening as that may be? The temptation to play it safe is powerful. Now, it may not be that something terrible will happen if we decline the opportunity placed before us; instead, we will miss out on countless blessings which may be waiting around the corner. The outcome of our decision may have a life-altering impact.
If the nagging thought to make a change won’t go away, and we don’t allow our anxiety or fears to control us, we determine to move forward. We plan our steps, pursue wise counsel, and prepare. Then, finally, we’re ready to take the plunge, but not so fast. We’ve now arrived at critical juncture number two. The old fears and doubts may reemerge. Our emotions may again get the best of us, and we have a compelling urge to put the brakes on and stay in our comfort zone. “It’s not too late. Go back!” Our insides scream. We’re standing on the precipice, prepared but so afraid to jump. Perhaps a hand is reaching out to lead us forward, or the plane is about to depart; we’re in the waiting room, and the appointed meeting time is five minutes away. What are we going to do? Do we have the courage to follow through, or will we bail? It all begins or ends here.
We go for it! In no time at all, we’re laughing at how silly we were about the whole thing and sure we made the right decision. We’re proud of ourselves and feeling confident. Time marches on, and eventually, reality hits. All is not as we expected. People are more challenging, and we encounter barriers and obstacles. It’s so much more complicated than we thought. We’re told to be flexible, patient, and keep learning. “Why did I do this?” We may ask. Is it too late to turn back?
This is critical juncture number three. We must choose to hang in there! Enduring is what it will take to succeed, but we may feel tired, disillusioned, frustrated, or even angry. Getting through this chapter is imperative, but it may take a while—a long while! The choice to persevere may even be a day-to-day decision. Yet, although we can’t see it from here, this is often the period where we grow the most and what equips us to be successful.
Let’s revisit Will’s first day. To his parent’s astonishment, he made it until dismissal. The teacher reported there were some rough moments, but he did all right. However, when Will saw mom, he did start sobbing. “I missed you so much!” He exclaimed. He later shared the day’s adventures with the family and even declared he would go back the next day. He took the plunge, and he’s willing to persevere! Fourteen or so years from now, we’ll know more about Will. What his passions, talents, and aspirations are. We’re also likely to be impressed by how much he’s grown—physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and academically.
But, imagine if, on day one of Pre-K, Will’s parents yielded to their little boy’s tears. Worse yet, what if Will rarely had to push through any emotional discomfort? What a disservice that would be to Will. We might predict the outcome: an insecure, dependent, anxious young man. The same principle applies in our lives, too. We may, more than once, find ourselves standing in front of a growth opportunity, but there are unknowns. They can be scary. If we yield to the fear and anxiety so common and understandable in those moments, we potentially jeopardize the good things in store for us down the road. Remember, fear should only be a tap on our shoulder to get our attention, but it should never direct our steps. Instead, let us all commit to going boldly forward, even if we do so, shaking and trembling!