Learning to Leap


“Leap and the net will appear.” I read this Zen saying several years ago on a card while waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. I bought the card and came home and put it on my refrigerator where it remains today. And like the food in my refrigerator, this message provides me with the sustenance I need to feel alive.

Our lives are full of leaps or risks. Some are financial in nature, like purchasing a home or switching careers or starting a new business. Others may involve athleticism like rock climbing, cliff diving or even cycling on Loop 360 during rush hour (that takes a brave soul!). And then there are those leaps where our emotions get involved, like when we decide to start a new relationship or risk conflict with the one we are attached to. Coming out to one’s family and friends can also be enormously risky.

Letting go is leaping, too. The patients I work with who struggle with eating disorders will often ask me, “What will I do without my disorder?” terrified of not having their disorder to catch them, they struggle to let go and leap into a life where healthier nets certainly exist. For others, their risk rests in letting go of a less than fulfilling relationship or an addiction or a stale and sterile job.

Risks, whether major or mundane, move us from the security of the known into the shadows of the unknown. And it is the loss of this security that stirs our anxieties when it comes to taking a risk. But it is the hope of the net–owning your own business or having a meaningful relationship or excelling at a physical challenge–that gives us the courage to actually leap.

Not all risks are created equal, however. Having unprotected sex with the guy you just met. Taking drugs and excessive partying. Driving after a night of drinking. These, too, are risks, of a much more dangerous form. These impulsive, high-risk behaviors are leaps into self-destruction, not self-expansion.

But for those who engage in more appropriate risks, what sets them apart from the rest of the pack? For starters, genetics. Research shows that more risk takers are male then female. This may have a lot to do with our ancient caveman ancestors who were the explorers and hunters and were forced to take all kinds of risks in the wild to gather the food for survival. Brain chemistry also plays a part. Risk takers have brains that are wired to respond more strongly to chemicals that are released during times of stress.

Personality traits make a difference, too. Experts believe that risk takers tend to be more “fickle, exploratory, extravagant and excitable.” (Those who tend to shy away from risks are more “stoic, thoughtful, frugal, and loyal.”) And where you fit in your family of origin can also be an influence. Studies show that later-born siblings tend to be the risk takers in our society. Children who are born after the first child have to carve out their own way in an already established system. And doing so helps shape them into a type of person who is more apt to push the envelope and challenge the status quo.

Of course, like any other behavior, risk taking can occur on a spectrum, with some people needing more excitability than others. Or someone may be more comfortable taking a risk in one area (e.g., financial) and not in another (e.g., emotional). Some researchers believe that risk takers actually have a strong need for control in most aspects of their lives. It is theorized that the risk taking actually brings a welcome relief to individuals who have trouble letting life just unfold. I am reminded of a guy I used to know who was quite comfortable jumping out of a plane or from a bungee platform. But ask him to ease into an emotional situation where he had to be the least bit vulnerable and you would get this vacuous stare like you had just asked him to recite the Greek alphabet backwards, that classic deer-caught- in-headlights look. Risking his physical safety was just fine. But risking his emotional safety was asking way too much!

There are also times when life invites us to leap and the net that finally catches us is the net we never expected to find. Several years ago I was settling in as the newest member of a group practice, when I was asked by a health care company from the West coast to serve as the director of a start-up treatment facility they were opening just north of Austin. I gave the offer some thought, then decided to leave the security of the practice and take the leap and trust that the net would appear. It did….for awhile. The net and the young facility that I worked so hard to get off the ground lasted until the stock market tanked and credit evaporated, forcing the company to close a number of their facilities around the country–including the one here. Deeply disappointed, discouraged and disoriented, I decided to take a few months off to catch my breath, collect my thoughts and consider my options. After my short breather, I started my own private practice. My practice had not been open very long when another group, this one from the Midwest, asked me to lead a treatment facility they had recently opened locally. The risk felt all too familiar. But with little hesitation I said “yes” to the new offer and chose to leap–again, and again the net appeared. i can- not help but think that this second net was the one I was always supposed to find, but it took hat first leap to position me for the second one.

During the last L Style G Style release party, I watched as the Blue Lapis Light performers gracefully danced and dangled in midair through their ribbons and thought how their performance symbolized risks in that the dancers were both suspended and supported. When we leap and take a risk, we also move into a place of suspension, a place of not knowing how it will all turn out. Will the new business turn a profit in time? Will this relationship turn out differently than the last one? Will he feel the same way about me as I do him? Will my family accept me when I come out? And as you leap, hopefully you are also supported. Who or what supports you in life’s ventures and risks? Some find support in their friends or partner. Some have a supportive family. Or you may be the type of person who is supported by the strong belief that somehow, somewhere and in some way that net, the one you have always hoped for but do not see just yet, will eventually appear.


Did You Know?

Studies show that those who engage in impulsive, high risk behaviors have brains that release higher levels
of dopamine, the “feel good” chemical, during certain exciting activities.

Researchers have found that high risk-takers score high in the following personality characteristics: impulsive sensation-seeking, aggression-hostility and sociability (Zuckerman, et al).