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Reach Hard For Your Best Life

Editor's Note: Carolyn Highlands–writer, teacher, TGR Stash member–wrote this awesome meditation on giving up something comfortable for the hopes of something great, and why we should all be sure to do so in our own lives. Thanks for sharing, Carolyn!

Packed up for the long haul. Carolyn Highland photo. 

I remember the feeling in my stomach when the bus pulled out of the station and I turned to look at Portland, knowing it would be the last time it would feel like I lived there. It was the weighted version of bittersweet, this heaviness and lightness at the same time. Heaviness of what I was leaving behind, so real and palpable, and the lightness of what I was moving toward, nebulous and unknown. The moment of letting go had arrived.

I had crammed my belongings into my Subaru and driven across the country six months before,  but after coming back for Christmas, it really felt over.  It would be a year before I would even return to visit my home state. It would be a year in which my old life would give way to a different one, with new faces and kitchens and trail systems and drives home. And though I could not know it then, what that bus was taking me toward was bigger and grander and fuller than what it was driving away from.

It is necessary to do this sometimes, to leave the concreteness of something good for the hopes of something great.

It is necessary to do this sometimes, to leave the concreteness of something good for the hopes of something great. Each time you do so, there is a storm of panic and dread and backpedaling and wishing things could go back to a way they will never be again. But then there comes a sort of calm. Relief, even. The moment of separation you feared has passed, and you now launch forward into the abyss, waiting for the new order to take shape. Waiting to land.

Towards something bigger. Carolyn Highland photo.

I had  been stuck, in a way, though I was only vaguely aware of it. Stuck in a life that was too small, and that even though I loved, I knew would never fully satisfy me. It had become the worn and outgrown fleece you eventually have to give away because it’s not keeping you warm anymore.

Thousands of miles away from Maine, I have started bouldering at a gym in a warehouse near the inner-city elementary school where I now teach fourth grade. Heights make me nervous and falling from them even more so— one of the reasons I make myself go once a week.

RELATED: Carolyn on leaning in and charging fear and freshies

One day I stalled on a new route about halfway up the wall, secure in my current spot but hesitant to make the move to reach the next hold. Where I was, I was safe. Where I was, I wasn’t going to fall off the wall. But I wasn’t going to get up it either. To continue the climb, to push myself higher, I had to expose myself to that moment of instability, of uncertainty. I could stay where I was, clinging to the wall, safe but stuck— or I could reach toward what lay ahead.

Reaching. Caitlin Weaver photo. 

I contemplated the move for longer than my muscles wanted to cling onto the wall, considering how I could twist my hips or rearrange my footing to best position myself to get my left hand up to a hold high up above my reach. Each time I reached the moment of truth, I froze, clutching my comfortable position.

The safeness you feel is a trap— it is keeping you in place when you must push off from your holds and withstand the uncertainty of whether you will meet your objective or fall flat on your back. There will always be that moment where you don’t know, where you aren’t sure about anything, and where it feels like maybe letting go of what you were sure of was the craziest, stupidest thing you’ve ever done.

There will always be that moment where you don’t know, where you aren’t sure about anything, and where it feels like maybe letting go of what you were sure of was the craziest, stupidest thing you’ve ever done.

I knew my arms had a finite amount of strength in them, and I could use that strength to cling in place, or I could use it to climb. So I hurled myself up toward the next hold, stretching out my fingers and grasping hard. And suddenly, I was there. The panic and dread and backpedaling were gone, and I was on the other side.

You must try to live a life that is expansive, that spreads you into the tiniest corners of yourself, that fills you to the brim. If you are feeling small, it is time to go.

The things I left behind in Maine would always be a part of me. They would always mean something. You cannot reach the top of the wall without putting your fingers and toes on all the holds at the beginning and in the middle. But leaving meant something too.

On the shortlist of things missed. Jim Highland photo. 

My childhood room in my parents’ home would be replaced by a house tucked in the foothills. My BA would be joined by an MA. A cubicle and a headset would become the faces and minds and hearts of twenty-four tiny humans. Small love would give way to big love. Rounded, tree covered mountains would fade into jagged, snow capped peaks.

You must not settle for halfway up the wall. You must reach. Even if that reach involves you springing bravely off your solid footholds and hoping like hell your arms can get you where you need to be. Don’t wait too long. Don’t overthink it. Go. 

The perks of reaching. Julie Highland photo. 

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