I promise not to turn this into a blog that posts heartfelt soliloquies on inspirational sayings artfully presented in pretty fonts. But right now I have a lot of things going on at work such that I need to be reminded of the above: the best way out is always through.
The funny thing is that when I think about it, I don’t really believe that in all situations. Whitewater rafting, sure. But if you have reached some kind of impasse with a knitting project, and you’ve realized that you hate the yarn/stitch pattern/design/whatever, the best way out isn’t through – it’s frogging the whole thing and starting over. If you’re in a terrible relationship, or job, there is no virtue in pushing through – it makes much more sense to get out of there at the first opportunity. Sometimes bailing on something is exactly what you should do.
But the above is a mantra I need when I’m facing things that scare me – in particular, things that I don’t know how to do and am afraid that I will fail at. I need to remind myself that I can’t simply avoid things that I’m afraid I will do badly or do wrong, because they won’t magically go away, and the only way to learn to do them correctly is to push through.
It also reminds me that that pushing through is the best way to get out, get past whatever’s worrying you, so that your anxiety about what you don’t know or might do wrong doesn’t take over your headspace and crowd out everything else.
James Herriot, who was a country vet in Yorkshire for many years, has a lovely story about being called to look at a horse, when his confidence about treating horses was not very high (and horses, he claims, know when you’re not a horse person: “It is quite different with cows; they don’t care either way; if a cow feels like kicking you she will kick you; she doesn’t give a damn whether you are an expert or not. But horses know.”). The horse turned out to be especially difficult, large, strong, and hostile, and also needed surgery to remove a tumor from his stomach (given that this was rural Yorkshire in the 1930s, such a surgery involved hard labor and some risk of injury). He was able to put off the procedure for some time, for various reasons, but it didn’t help:
I found it wonderfully easy to forget about the stallion over the days and weeks that followed; except when my defences were down. At least once a night it thundered through my dreams with gaping nostrils and flying mane and I developed an uncomfortable habit of coming bolt awake at five o’clock in the morning and starting immediately to operate on the horse. On an average, I took that tumour off twenty times before breakfast each morning.
The day of reckoning finally came, and he returned to the farm, where the farm hands brought his patient to him:
The noise was coming nearer; then the stable doors flew open and the great horse catapulted out into the yard, dragging two big fellows along on the end of the halter shank. The cobbles struck sparks from the men’s boots as they slithered about but they were unable to stop the stallion backing and plunging. I imagined I could feel the ground shudder under my feet as the hooves crashed down.
He approached the horse to administer a local anesthetic:
Walking up to the horse was like watching an action from a film. It wasn’t really me doing this—the whole thing was unreal. The near-side eye flickered dangerously at me as I raised my left hand and passed it over the muscles of the neck, down the smooth, quivering flank and along the abdomen till I was able to grasp the tumour. I had the thing in my hand now, the lobulations firm and lumpy under my fingers. I pulled gently downwards, stretching the brown skin joining the growth to the body. I would put the local in there—a few good weals. It wasn’t going to be so bad. The stallion laid back his ears and gave a warning whicker.
I took a long, careful breath, brought up the syringe with my right hand, placed the needle against the skin then thrust it in.
The result was exactly what he’d been dreading:
The kick was so explosively quick that at first I felt only surprise that such a huge animal could move so swiftly. It was a lightning outward slash that I never even saw and the hoof struck the inside of my right thigh, spinning me round helplessly. When I hit the ground I lay still, feeling only a curious numbness. Then I tried to move and a stab of pain went through my leg.
But there was another result as well:
When I opened my eyes Mr. Wilkinson was bending over me. “Are you all right, Mr. Herriot?” The voice was anxious.
“I don’t think so.” I was astonished at the matter-of-fact sound of my own words; but stranger still was the feeling of being at peace with myself for the first time for weeks. I was calm and completely in charge of the situation….
My leg wasn’t broken but it developed a massive haematoma at the point of impact and then the whole limb blossomed into an unbelievable range of colours from delicate orange to deepest black. I was still hobbling like a Crimean veteran when, a fortnight later, Siegfried and I with a small army of helpers went back and roped the stallion, chloroformed him and removed that little growth.
I have a cavity in the muscle of my thigh to remind me of that day, but some good came out of the incident. I found that the fear is worse than the reality and horse work has never worried me as much since then.
The fear is worse than the reality.
The best way out is through.
Robert Frost and James Herriot help me remember these things.
Quotes from James Herriot, All Creatures Great and Small, Open Road Integrated Media e-edition; originally published 1972.