Change is difficult. We fear moving forward. We fear remaining stuck where we are. It’s fear all the way around.  Working with fear remains a vital part of being alive. 

As a boy, I was a very good swimmer.  When I was nine or ten, I took my first deepwater test.  It occurred in a lovely lake that contained a shallow pool for small children.  This pool was surrounded by large boulders that prevented young swimmers from venturing into the deeper water beyond the rocks.  The lake had a cement border, on top of which was a small sandy beach.  People would dive into the lake or use one of two ladders to step down into it.

The lifeguard asked if I was ready.  She taught me to swim and was confident I would pass the test.  I stood on one of the boulders. The test involved swimming from the boulder to a far ladder and back again.  It was probably fifty yards total.  The lifeguard stood on the beach holding a long bamboo pole.  She would keep it in front of me.  I could grab it if I experienced any difficulty.   

I gazed out over the water and looked up at the lifeguard.  She smiled and nodded her head encouragingly.  A few minutes went by.  I remained on the rock.  Several more minutes went by.  And still no movement.  An adult woman approached in the water.  She offered to swim alongside me if that would help.  I smiled back at her but did nothing. 

I was paralyzed by fear.  What was I afraid of?  Drowning?  That was unlikely.  Failing the test and feeling ashamed?  Perhaps.  But I was a pretty good swimmer.  It was the unknown that beckoned.  I had never been in deep water.  I stood on a threshold peering into an unfamiliar room.  And I could not move.  

Sometime later, a person gently pushed me from behind.  I fell into the water and swam for dear life.  I passed the test that day, proud of my achievement.  It changed my life.  But I always remembered standing on the boulder.  That was excruciating. 

Standing at a threshold can be extremely challenging and exhausting.  Where are the thresholds in your life?  What will enable you to risk a courageous leap into the unknown?  What will allow you to venture into the deepwater?

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Neal Aponte

Neal Aponte is a licensed clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience providing psychotherapy for adults, adolescents and children. Read more here.