August 24 , 2019 /


Many people refer to stepping into the unknown as a leap of faith.  It’s true that to jump you need to believe you will either be caught or have a soft landing.  Letting go of the known for the unknown requires courage, confidence and for many people a belief that there is indeed a greater power at work that we may not understand but which we have experienced previously.  Fear knocked at the door, faith answered. No one was there.

When we were young it was blind ignorance that led us into the unknown, whether adolescent invincibility or young adults doing what was next because it was just what we did without much thought or careful planning.  We dated people in high school and/or college, then got married and then had kids, all of which was done without knowing what in the world we were doing. We were doing it because that is what we saw others doing and it seemed to be what was expected of us.   We had no idea about what we didn’t know about being married, bringing children into this world, getting a job, so we just stepped into the unknown and figured it out as we went along our merry way, until one day, we didn’t.  Almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation. Researchers estimate that 41 percent of all first marriages end in divorce.  And for first-time divorces, that was also stepping into the unknown.

When I lived with my parents for my first 21 years, I had their counsel, warnings, back-up, support, encouragement and wisdom, They invited me to try new things whether in work or travel or in learning.  They provided me with opportunities I would not have had on my own.  They gave me the freedom to explore and discover, to occasionally fail and learn from that as well.  I owe them a debt of gratitude for setting me on a course of confidence and courage.  I dedicated one of my books to them and other family members as a way of thanking them for all they gave to me, even beyond those 21 years.

Starting in 1959 my personal and professional unknowns multiplied from some rather small, uncomplicated choices and risks to some rather large ones which required more thought, consideration and weighing various pros and cons before taking that proverbial leap. The amount of time, energy and angst that accompanied those decisions cannot be measured except perhaps by the risk reward ratio. In human terms, which often include financial variables, that ratio is calculated by dividing what we stand to lose if the decision goes in an unexpected direction (the risk) by the amount of success we expect when the decision is in our favor (the reward).

Some might say it’s a bet and how much you want to place on that bet in order to achieve what you believe you want.  I tell my friends that gambling and fishing are exactly the same from a psychological point of view.  They are intermittent reinforcement on a variable ratio.  You have enough success to keep you coming back.  You win some, you lose some and such is life.  When the choice doesn’t work out as you had hoped, it is good to either have a back-up plan or be able to gather resources together when they’re needed to go in a different direction.

Here’s one approach.  Get however much reliable information you need and decide what criteria you are going to use to evaluate whether or not you are going to take the leap to leave the known for the unknown.  It may sound easier than it is when making a big life, work or relationship decision. Knowing how much “security” you have to have to be comfortable will help enormously. Or you can step outside your comfort zone and risk not knowing or being too concerned about the outcome.   It boils down to the admonition from Socrates to know yourself.  Self-knowledge in terms of who you are and what you want to be about will in large measure determine what you choose and which direction you go.  I rather like this response. When you come to a fork in the road, take it.




Comments (2)

  1. Definitely on the same page, Gary. That leap… it’s usually not the leap that’s so painful but all of the thinking about it and wondering and crazy stuff that maybe-someday-who-knows-could-happen. When it comes to leaps, I figure you can determine desired results, hypothesize, take action, reflect, and adjust. I know that’s the way it’s been with my parenting, career, moves etc. Some leaps I’ve landed like a pro and others have been, um, less graceful. The good news is I’ve always survived.

    PS. This parenting stuff is much harder than I imagined. Definitely making it up as I go. Luckily had some great role models to learn from (who I now know were making up as they went too)


    1. Alli,
      I think I used “stepping” in the title because “leap” sounds too dramatic and actually thought of a riff on stepping into shit sometimes and what a mess that is. I could detail so many steps or leaps I’ve taken, like you, and most were very good and a few weren’t at all. That’s life as we know it. As for parenting, it is learning on the fly, designing and changing as you go along which is why your pinned tweet makes such good sense as you do. Those role models including our own parents were helpful and now I see my kids as parent making some of the same mistakes I did. Yikes! So it really is my fault! No, they are taking responsibility as parents, and we have some rich conversations about parenting which was actually one of my “specialties” in graduate school. And then I was on a speakers tour for “parent education” which was a lot of fun. Now I tell parents they can regard me as one of their parents’ good friends. Take care, good luck with the kitchen redo.

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