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  • SuePattonThoele

The Higher You Go, The Farther You Will Fall

Many of us believe that life is like a pie. It’s dished out in large and small pieces and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Therefore, we don’t tempt the gods by asking for too much. After all, if we ask for more than our share, we’re just begging to be disappointed. We’ve probably been trained to believe that the higher you go, the farther you’ll fall.

When we were children, and the joy of risking and stretching was still natural to us, we were warned:

• Don’t get too excited.

• Remember, there are only two spots on the

cheerleading squad, and fourteen girls trying

out for them.

• Don’t get your heart set on it.

• You’ll cry as hard tomorrow as you laughed today.

• Don’t expect too much from (____). (“Marriage” is a

good fill-in for this one.)

• Life is hard.

• Don’t rock the boat.

What are the underlying messages behind such statements?

Maybe some of these:

• It’s dangerous to risk.

• It’s dangerous to hope, to be happy, to expect life to

be good and fulfilling.

• There’s not enough to go around.

• Give up your childlike awe and wonder.

• Enthusiasm inevitably leads to disappointment.

I know a woman whose favorite statement is “Life is hard and then you die.” What’s your image of a woman whose life is determined by such a statement? Is she constantly threatened by scarcity? Yes. Does she cling to the old because risk taking is scary? Yes. This woman believes that life is hard. Guess what? For her, it jolly well is. She gets what she believes life will give her.

If you’re one of the older children in your family, can you remember the birth of your first younger sibling? I do. I remember being both excited and scared. Would my parents

have enough love for both of us? They assured me they would, so I began to look forward to my baby. Then my grandmother gave me this input, which was all too easy for seven-year-old to take to heart: “Even though your mother and father will now have someone they love more than you, I’ll still love you.” You can imagine how I welcomed my baby sister after that—with open hostility. Because I believed I’d be unloved, I felt unloved. I was loved, but for many crucial years I was unable to feel it. And this scarcity of feeling loved contributed much toward the leveling of my life in adulthood. It was only with the patient help of friends, my mother, and therapy that I was eventually healed.

The leveling message Linda received from her family was that she must “do it right or don’t do it at all!” She was never given permission to learn, risk, and experiment, so she developed a pattern she called “slip ’n’ quit.” Since only angels always do things right the first time, and since she had never been encouraged to make mistakes and therefore had no support system to buoy her up while her life jacket was in for repairs, she took up a whole series of things in which she slipped and quit, including ice skating and ballet.

Linda was afraid to climb higher for fear of falling farther. Her habit of slipping and quitting fostered a fear of trying, so she settled for less and less, shedding dreams almost before

she was fully conscious of them. Her life became monotonous and monotone.

Linda’s story has a happy ending. As she became aware of her limiting pattern, she was able to give herself permission to try new things even if she did them wrong. Linda is becoming a loving parent to herself and is gradually acquiring more and more courage to be who she really is. Giving herself a much needed infusion of enthusiasm, she has risked taking a new job and is loving it. With her change in attitude, other areas of her life are also being suffused with fresh energy. She told me she still slipped, but that she had been able to keep her promise not to quit.

Excerpted from The Courage to Be Yourself by Sue Patton Thoele. Available on Mango and Amazon.

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