Live Between the Tens

Recently, I was talking to my therapist, Rachel, about a big decision I had to make. I had to decide whether to take a safe path that I knew would be okay, but just that and nothing more, or head down a path that had the potential to be incredible, but also had the potential to be incredibly painful if it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. (And I had to choose – there was no middle way, no compromise.) This was a decision in my personal life, but what she told me resonated, and made me think about how I approach business decisions, too.

Her advice to me was simple. She said that I had a choice to live either between a -2 and a 2, or between a -10 and a 10. If I picked the twos, I probably wouldn’t feel gut-wrenching pain that often, if at all. But my joy would hit a limit, too. If I chose the tens, I might feel some serious hurt at some point – heartbreak, even. But I needed to balance that against the good I would get to experience. I can’t get to that positive 10 without being vulnerable to the -10.

That perspective rocked me back on my heels, because it is so true. Put simply, you never get major rewards in life without major risk. Any entrepreneur knows that. We risk everything – our personal credit, our life savings, our reputations, our family stability, our health – to create something that we believe, in our heart of hearts, is going to pay out huge rewards. We trust that the positive 10 exists and it is ours to take.

As I thought more about what Rachel said, I had to think hard about who I am as a person and how I identify. Was I going to be a person who was comfortable living between -2 and 2? Was I suddenly a woman who built a wall and hid behind it because it was comfortable there in the shade? Was I someone who tiptoes around the margins of life, quietly wondering what it might be like to take a leap and see if I could fly? Or was I truly the person I’ve always professed to be – a fearless leader who jumps in freezing cold water with a full-throated yell or starts a business in her basement with only a phone and a computer or moves to a strange city because she thinks she might like a boy enough to have a future with him?

I laid awake two nights, turning those thoughts over and over in my mind. The thing about courage, they say, is that it’s not a lack of fear, but a willingness to overcome that fear. I asked myself if I had the courage to choose the path that could lead to heartbreak and pain, but was also the only way to experience true joy? Or was I going to turn away from that and be content with a life lived between the twos?

Tuesday, I made my decision. I was going to dig deep, find my courage, and head down the path of the tens. And just to be sure I wouldn’t change my mind, I threw several metaphorical hand grenades down the path of the twos. That path is so destroyed now that I couldn’t change my mind, even if I wanted to.

The funny thing is, though, that I don’t want to change my mind. Now that I’m sprinting down the road toward that positive 10 joy, the thought of -10 pain doesn’t scare me anymore. I know I’m going to feel deeply. And that, for me, is infinitely better than tiptoeing around the margins.

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