Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tight Spots and Good Babies

The fog swirled around them rendering sight impossible except for their immediate vicinity which was a steep slope covered with large rocks and scree. To the left and to the right were not options and they were stuck. The small ledge at 13,500 feet which was now their reality seemed to shrink as fear grew. The two men on a day trip up a 14’er in Colorado now found themselves trapped and desperate to get down to the safety and warmth of the car and then to the comforting embrace of home and family. But today that was not to be. Rain began and then hail soon after and as they got colder they thought more and more about how to get down. Finally one of them said, “forget it, let’s just try to hike down” but he was stopped by his partner who explained that it just seemed too dangerous. As the fog cleared they saw a Search and Rescue group at the bottom of the mountain and again they were compelled to climb down but did not because it seemed impossible. 

These two gentlemen were looking for a challenging day hike and chose to climb a 14’er whose trail started about 2 hours west of Denver, CO. They climbed hard and reached the summit with satisfaction and pride in their hard work. They had lunch and then using the clear cell phone reception they texted pictures of themselves with miles of mountains in the background. They left the peak to return to the car in high spirits but within 30 minutes of their departure they were lost. After climbing back and forth they realized that they needed help and eventually Search and Rescue reached them and helped them off the mountain. They did so by climbing with the two men back to the top and then having attained the trail, they followed it down, reaching the car at about 3:00am.
Photo Credit: Paul Kehrer

I had the opportunity to speak with one of the men who endured this adventure and he told me simply, “it never occurred to us to return to the top and try to find the trail”.

Tight spots are exactly that, “tight”. They feel limiting, narrow, and seemingly without options.

Often, however, the thing we need to do is the one thing we don’t consider and there are many reasons for this.

One reason is because it’s scary. I don’t consider all of my options, I only consider the options that feel safe or not scary to me. By limiting my considerations I have also limited my options because I might be throwing a potentially good “baby” option out with my bad “bathwater” options. By allowing myself to consider all options I can at least consider them and maintain some space in this tight spot.

Another reason I might not consider an option is because it doesn’t fit with my goals or my vision of what the future should look like. This was the case for our two friends on the mountain. They had a vision in their minds of being at the car. Naturally, the only way to do this was to figure out a way to go down. It never occurred to them that to go down they might have to go up again.

A final reason that an option may not occur to me is because it represents failure. Sebastian Junger, in his fascinating book, “The Perfect Storm”, postulates that one of the factors that led to the “Andrea Gail” being lost at sea was their compulsion to get in to a particular port so they could “set the market” on swordfish. One possible option was for them to stay where they were and wait for the storm to pass. If they had done so then the fish they had caught would rot and they would have returned as failures.

In order for success to occur, failure must always be an option.

We don’t have to be in the middle of an ocean or climbing a 14’er to feel boxed in. Tight spots exist in abundance in relationships with our partners, friends, children, bosses, etc. Tight spots can also easily be found in our own personal development journey.

I urge you, dear reader, when you next find yourself in a tight spot take a moment to step away and consider ALL of your options, even those ones you are scared to let in to your mind. You don’t have to do those options that seem wrong to you but it helps widen your spot on that ledge when you at least consider them.

As most of you know, I am a therapist. Part of my job is to identify ways that you can make your ledge a little wider and to help you find more options and possibilities in your personal and relational growth. Give me a call and we’ll talk about it.

Finally, I would bet that each of you knows at least one person who could benefit from reading this blogletter. Send it on to them, they’ll appreciate it and so will you.

Best wishes to you on considering all the possibilities,

Ari Hoffman MA, LPC

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