I stood there, on the edge of a cliff, my legs shaking, my palms sweaty, staring at the crystal blue ocean of Waimea Bay over 30 feet below. Time stretched on. Children scuttled past me, leaping gleefully over the edge as I stood, paralyzed, staring at something I knew I was ready to do.
It was my first time in Hawaii, and I was having the adventure of a lifetime. The North Shore of Oahu is a hotbed of beach activity, with tranquil, soothing waters in the summer and some of the best surfing (and biggest waves) in the world in the winter. There's a substantial rock off to the side of the beach which is famous for cliff jumping, and it's certainly a "thing." When you go to Waimea Bay, you leap off the cliff.
Eventually, I got there. I somehow convinced my mind to hurl my shaky legs and paralyzed body into the beautiful aqua abyss, and afterward I kicked myself for waiting so long.
I had a similar feeling of palpitation in May of this year when I decided to go freelance for my work after we shut down our company. There was so much work to do, I didn't have time to stop and think, but I knew I was jumping over a cliff, and I didn't know how far down it was. Leaving the safety of a company after 6 years certainly gave me sweaty palms and shaky legs. Adrenaline kicked in. How will I do this? Can I solve all these problems? Will I be able to get work? Where is my next paycheck coming from?
At this stage in life, I see many of my friends making similar leaps, or wondering if they should. I see friends struggling with similar fears to my own. Why do we stay in positions that don't serve us? How do we move away from them? Sometimes, the notion seems paralyzingly scary, peering into the unknown. But change is *almost* always good. You see, there comes a time in our lives in which we're offered a choice: seek safety, or seek potential.
The choice is often obvious, yet we hesitate. Why should I make a change when I'm *pretty happy* right here? And we convince ourselves that we are content in our current life and don't really want a change. And that's when we miss our mark and the potential we can truly reach. After all, not moving is also a choice.
Today I'd like to confront three reasons why we often don't take the leaps we know we need to to make ourselves more successful and happier.
1. We don't think we can
This is perhaps the most obvious reason: self-doubt in our own abilities. Can I do it? Do I have what it takes? We often see this addressed in the hero's journey. The hero begins optimistic, then goes through a phase of doubt or crisis where their faith is tested, then comes back stronger and more confident than ever to win a huge victory. They had it in them the whole time -- WOW! We will probably never get tired of this story, because it resonates deep within our psyche somewhere.
But the real world is often far less optimistic and clean cut, and maybe that's why we love it so much. The reality is that unless we get our hands dirty, we often don't know what we're cable of. Our doubts and fears are a normal part of our growth and learning process. After all, you don't know what you don't know, and if you've never done something before, your mind naturally fears the unknown. The trick is to ask yourself not "can" I do this, but "how will I do this?"
2. We're loss averse
This one is getting into behavioral economics a bit more. We humans are loss averse, and we would rather avoid a perceived loss than receive a gain of an equal amount.
In economics and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people's tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains: it's better to not lose $5 than to find $5. (Wikipedia)
This holds us back in a number of ways. The main one is that we prefer safety to risk. We would rather sit in a role of being somewhat happy and successful than take a risky leap into a role where we might have the potential to be very happy and successful. In studies, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, the researchers who discovered this effect, found that a potential gain often has to be TWICE the value of the potential or perceived loss in order for most of us to take the risk. (Wikipedia)
What this looks like in practical terms is that we are afraid to take a potential setback in our situation or standard of living. We become accustomed to a certain lifestyle and are afraid we can't operate at a level below that. This happens in the workplace, too. Many of the mistakes I made at OVS involved an inability to accept a setback in our situation or standard of operations, even if our current situation clearly wasn't sustainable and a change would have set us up for greater success in the future.
3. We don't know what we're worth
This one hits home for me. When I first started working in video, I was a recent college grad. I thought $30,000 a year sounded like a lot of money. I was 25 at the time, not paying for my own insurance, and had never had a *real* job before. I went to school for education, and part of the reason I wanted to try something new was to test my boundaries and know what I was worth.
As it turns out, I had a lot of valuable skills. In fact, everyone does. Even so, at the time I didn't know what my skills were worth. I'm embarrassed by the amount we billed for work in those days. We could have doubled our rates, then doubled them again, and we would have been a lot closer to a market rate. In fact, for one particular type of project, I bill 5 1/2 times today what I did then, and it's a fair price for my work and experience level. Undervaluing ourselves is bad for everyone, because it means people in our industry can't live sustainably because they're too busy undercutting each other.
After I went freelance, I was offered jobs or to join on with specific companies (and for those offers, I am very grateful!), but I knew it wasn't where I needed to go. And perhaps that's the second part of the hero's journey: facing self-doubts. I know my goals - to get involved in the film community, to elevate the work, and to have the freedom and independence to take on projects that I cared about. While I didn't have a choice as to whether or not our company was finished, the choice to stick with freelance afterward was an active one. And it was the right one. Today, I'm beholden to no one but myself.
The truth is, even (or especially) in the creative field, there are plenty of employers who will offer you job security and just enough perks that you feel like you're doing pretty good. Outside the creative field, maybe even more so - after all, retirement and benefits are often an effective carrot on a string, especially if you have a family or high fixed expenses. But maybe you're not growing. Maybe you're not being challenged. Maybe there is no upward momentum or future dividend. And *maybe* they are brokering out your skills in a way that you're not *really* getting paid what you're truly worth.
If that's the case, it's time to make a leap.
The bottom line? Leaping is not just what we need in our careers. It's part of self-love and self-care. It's what our economy needs. It's what those who love us need for us. Our world is growing and changing every day, and we can choose to grow with it, develop more skills, and be more productive, or to be content and stagnant, and eventually be left behind. We have to always be ready to leap.
To all my friends who are ready to leap or have just made one, this is for you.