Have you ever started doing something that was against your better judgement but you kept going, somehow hoping that things would turn around eventually but instead you hit a cliff? I’m afraid of heights and at 1.92 I find my head is already far enough off the ground. The area where I grew up is a popular spot for paragliding and from a distance it always seemed like a really cool thing to do. So one summer I decided to take a five-day paragliding course. The first day was fun but I had this gnawing reminder of my fear of heights. I figured I would just get over it. We learned how to put on the harness, lay out the suspension lines, and practiced some forward launches that consisted of short sprints with the wind behind so that the air pressure generated inflates the wing. The second day was much the same. The third day we went on a small hill and my fear of heights quickly came back even though some of our practice runs took us only a few feet off the ground. The fourth day we practiced forward and reverse launches and landings and some of the more daring participants launched further up the hill. I wasn’t one of them. I felt this whole course was a bad idea but on the other hand I had already passed more than half and wanted to get my money’s worth. I felt that if I quit now I would simply waste the time and money that I had already invested. I felt I was simply in a dip in my learning experience.
On graduation day we practiced a few launches on flat ground and our instructor reminded us of what to do if our chute didn’t open or if a corner folded in. I felt reassured. Then we got into a van and drove up into the mountains. We found a nice spot to launch and readied the equipment. I figured that since the small launches hadn’t been too bad, I should be okay. Deep down I really wondered how it would be. I launched my chute and ran down the fill for a few feet before taking off. Within seconds I passed the edge of a cliff and was now over 2,000 feet off the ground and on my own. As you can imagine, I was really glad when I landed in one piece. I graduated from the course but haven’t gone back since.
In his helpful little book “The Dip,” Seth Godin challenges the saying, “quitters never win and winners never quit.” Instead, Godin encourages his readers to quit the wrong stuff and to stick with the right stuff. He defines the dip as the long slog between starting and mastering. The cliff, in comparison, is exciting for a while but leads to failure. In going through my paragliding course I kept thinking that I was experiencing a dip, when in fact I was approaching a cliff. Paragliding was not for me. Coping, which is what I chose, or diversifying is what people do when they try to muddle through. Instead, it’s helpful to write down under what circumstances I’m willing to quit. And when. And then stick with it. It takes wisdom and discernment to know whether I’m in a dip or approaching a cliff in a given project, ministry assignment, etc. Community can be helpful in providing perspective on whether I’m in a dip or really approaching a cliff.
Daniel Beutler grew up in Switzerland. He came to Canada to learn English some 25 years ago. Daniel says “As a slow learner, I’m still here!” He and his wife Maureen have two children and live in Calgary. Daniel has a DMin in leadership and spiritual formation from MBBS in Langley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paragliding photo by Leo Seta via Flickr Creative Commons