First Steps Are Always the Hardest

Dr. Earl R. Smith II

(Read More From My Blog)

Inertia is the Enemy of the Possible

“I should’ve done this a long time ago. Why didn’t I? Why did I waste all of those years? It’s like I spent my time walking around in the dark when, all the time, I knew where the light switch was.”

I hear variations of this response all the time in my mentoring work. Most often, it occurs after a half-dozen sessions during which we have begun to focus on finding the right life-path. It is one of the most difficult times in a mentoring engagement. Quite often the remorse and feeling of lost opportunities – wasted time – can be overwhelming and cause a kind of paralysis.

We all like to think that we are accountable for our own lives. But then something happens which shows us that we have only held ourselves accountable for the comfortable. Change is challenging and, as the saying goes, real change requires real change. And so, our definition of accountability shrinks to the boundaries of our comfort zone. One of my first jobs as a mentor is to help a person realize that not only can they survive outside their comfort zone but that the journey will be life enriching.

For most of the people that I mentor, this encounter with accountability was not the first in the process that led to our working together. They decided to seek me out. That was the first time. Few people are truly comfortable discussing their apprehensions about their future and whether they are making the best out of their lives with complete strangers. It takes an inordinate amount of courage to take that step and I always honor it.

For some, the vertigo is simply too much the first time around. We have an initial conversation, they are excited by the possibility of our working together and then get cold feet. They sink back into their comfort zone and I wait until the next crisis forces them to seek another way. Over the years, I have learned not to push people at this point. A half-made decision, no matter how confidently it is proclaimed, is a half-unmade decision as well. If they are going to do the heavy lifting required, it’s going to take throwing themselves into the process and not looking back.

There is an almost uniform sigh of relief when the Rubicon is finally crossed. The remorse has appeared and been dealt with. The sense of shame is dissipating. The focus now is enthusiastically on the future and, to that end, progress is being made. Now our work together is forward-focused.

The point of all of this is that everyone who decides to seek out a mentor must first overcome the inertia that keeps them within their comfort zone. Without that first act of courage, all of what might follow will not occur. Without rising and walking out of the shade and into the sunlight, you will never feel the warmth on your face. It’s important that you do that for, after it is all over, the opportunity to feel will be gone.

One of the principal reasons that I use Zen concepts in my mentoring work is that the entire Buddhist project is focused on a journey towards the true self. The active self-discovery we that journey opens the possibility has proven, repeatedly, to be a door through which we can go – out of the shade and into the warming sunlight. If you are ready to make a journey, I can help.

© Dr Earl R Smith II

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