Take the leap and grow, even if you fail

leap_net‘Leap and the net will appear’ – John Burroughs

Do you ever feel like you’re standing on the edge of something great but you can’t for the life of you just jump in and go for it? You’re filled with the spark of inspiration, you know it’s a cool idea; every fibre of your being is humming in tune and when you think or speak about this idea your eyes light up, your heart beats faster and your passion is clear.

But. You. Just. Can’t. Leap.

You can’t afford it. You don’t have time. You’ve already got too much on your plate. What if you fail? What if people don’t like it? You’re not good enough at it. Someone else would do it better. Someone else has already done it better. It’s not clever enough. It’s not exciting enough. No one else cares about it. It’s too big a risk. People will laugh.

Everyone has these anxieties, except maybe sociopaths. It’s completely normal, because it’s so commonplace. What’s happening here is our amygdala, a tiny but crucial part of our brain, is sensing our anxiety and sending us signals to RUN AWAY FAST, while the left side of our brain is articulately describing our fears to us in full technicolour (‘I will fail!’ – ‘I’m not good enough!’ – ‘People will judge me!’).

So we don’t leap, and we certainly don’t strain our eyes looking for a seemingly invisible net to catch us. Inspiration and motivation fade, and we never quite get around to doing that really amazing thing.

Why on earth would our brains do this to us? It’s not like we’re about to jump in front of a train – we’re talking about potentially starting a new creative project, or leaving a soul-sucking job, or moving cities, right? These aren’t life-ending decisions.

The problem is that even just thinking about doing something new arouses feelings of uncertainty and this is what triggers the amygdala. Back when we were cave people, uncertainty was something to avoid at all costs. Uncertainty meant potentially being eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger, or squashed by a woolly mammoth. So our amygdala developed this clever, highly sensitive radar for uncertainty and as soon as it sensed it – BAM – anxiety attack!

Back then we retreated to our safe places: the well-trodden paths, the warm caves. We stepped back, away from the edge, and our anxieties settled down. Crisis averted.

The problem with this pattern is that the more you do it, the stronger those neural pathways become. When you focus on something, such as how anxious you feel, or how badly you’re going to fail, that activates neural firing. This then creates neural pathways that determine how we respond to and interact with our world. The more we strengthen these pathways, the more automatic and entrenched those responses and reactions become. We go around fearing the proverbial woolly mammoth for most of our lives.

There’s also another kind of fear that prevents us from leaping: the fear of success. It is strange to be afraid of winning, but it actually masquerades as a fear of failure. It’s the voice that whispers to us, ‘What if it’s really good and takes up all your spare time? What if it’s really popular and suddenly you can’t keep doing things the way you have been? How will you fit it all in!?’ Oh, the horror.

The Jonah Complex is the name given to this fear of success, which prevents you from realising your dreams. Interestingly, the fear of success can be triggered by exactly the same challenges that trigger the fear of failure: big decisions that result in change. And it’s this change that we really fear, because we fear the losses that potentially come with change – loss of freedom, of reputation, of the status quo. Regardless of whether you believe you’ll succeed or fail, when you start to consider change the fears that crop up are endless.

You can project into the future as much as you want, but you can’t get a clear picture of what’s truly going to unfold unless you take that leap. You might be wildly successful and have to revisit your core values and priorities again and again, constantly refining your idea of what’s most important in your life and shedding things that are not. Or you might fail, in the sense that what you try doesn’t work out and you either go back to what you were doing before or you try something new.

Either way, the not knowing is scary! But have faith in this: if you do leap, the net will appear. It may not be the net you were expecting, but it will still be there to catch you if you fall. You will emerge from your leap a different person, changed by the experience of having tried something new and of stepping outside your comfort zone. This will be a good thing!

You will be able to say with authority, ‘I tried that, and it didn’t quite work, but now I’ve thought of a better way.’ Or you might even exclaim with relish, ‘Eureka! I tried it, and it worked!’ Don’t let your fears about what might happen in the future stop you from creating that future. It’s much more satisfying to be able to say you actually tried something than to regret never giving it a go.

Each time you try something new you learn fresh lessons and grow from the experience, whether you win or lose. You forge new neural pathways and strengthen old ones that will enable you to do even better next time.

So harness your enthusiasm, follow your current passion, and take that leap! Try the new thing and learn from the experience regardless of the outcome. Know that by doing so you are growing and evolving, and becoming a deeper, more multi-faceted and interesting person in the process.


Moovember – turning the spotlight on cows’ milk allergy

After The Rain

Photo of me I look grumpy here…probably because I’m wearing a knitted swimming costume.

The way my mum tells it, I cried non-stop for the first 12 months of my life.

I say cry but she describes it as more of a series of never ending ear-splitting screams – to the point where I gave myself a hernia and spent my first birthday in hospital having it repaired.

It seems everyone tried to comfort me but to no avail and so they went into survival mode. My dad still talks of turning up the radio to drown me out while there is also a story of me being wheeled in my pram to the end of the, admittedly not very long, garden and being left to wail on my own – though neither of them will admit to being the one who did this.

When they used to tell me those stories, long before I had…

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Toddler vs duck pond

So it’s finally happened. My toddler has fallen into a duck pond.

I used to be a huge ball of anxiety, so even going near the duck pond would once have been a very stressful outing for me. Unbidden would rise images of my children falling in, contracting some rare, hideous disease and consequently dying slowly and painfully. Lovely!

On this occasion, it was a brilliant idea to wander down to the duck pond with two toddlers who had just been strapped into their car seats for the four hour journey back from Nanny and John Pop’s house. They were desperate for some fresh air and exercise and being spring it was likely there’d be ducklings.

On the way there, N couldn’t contain her excitement at the prospect of seeing baby ducks so she ran ahead. Meanwhile A was enjoying forensically examining every blade of grass and snail shell she encountered. It got to a situation where I was standing half way between a toddler near a large body of water and a toddler near a busy road.

At this point the thought briefly crossed my mind, ‘what would I do if…?’ But I barely had time to dismiss the horrifying thought before my eyes beheld one very excited toddler dashing headlong into the duck pond!

I screamed a very loud expletive, checked to make sure that A wasn’t too close to the road, and then literally flew on my terrified mother wings down to the duck pond to save my little girl.

As I was running, I could see that N had turned herself around in the water and had paddled back to the edge to hold on. It was at this point that I realised that months of swimming lessons had paid for themselves.

I hauled one dripping wet, hysterical toddler out (not forgetting to also retrieve all three of her drenched ‘babies’) and then ran back up the path to collect A. She was furious at the change of plans but as I had to get N back home as quickly as possible I couldn’t afford to put her down to dawdle.

I then stoically walked the 500 metres back to our house clutching one furious toddler howling and slapping in utter indignation while the other sobbed hysterically, festooned with pond weed and duck detritus. A fun day out for all.

Postnatal (postpartum) depression

I did not think I was depressed. I thought it was normal to feel incredibly sad all the time – especially since I was having trouble breastfeeding and it was something I really wanted to do. I thought it was normal to feel incredibly anxious all the time – I mean, who doesn’t think that every car driving the other way down the road is about to swerve and crash into you, right?

There was no one I could talk to about how I was feeling apart from my husband, because I barely knew the women in my mother’s group and I felt like if I told my family I would just be unnecessarily whinging and burdening them. I thought I just needed to suck it up and get over it. Everyone else is doing it tough. You’re just facing first world problems. Shut up.

But I couldn’t get over it. On a daily basis I was drowning in the cacophony of inner voices that shouted at me:

you’re a shithouse mother! you don’t deserve to have a baby! stop feeling sorry for yourself! you’re not trying hard enough! you’re useless! no wonder you don’t have any friends! you’re pathetic! nobody loves you!’ and so on and so on…

In addition to this incredibly unpleasant mental peanut gallery I also had an overwhelming sense of foreboding about EVERYTHING. I thought the house was going to burn down at any moment. That I would crash my car. That someone close to me would die of cancer/an aneurysm/a stroke/insert unlikely disease here.

If you’re reading this and thinking it sounds familiar, please rest assured that it is NOT NORMAL.

I went and saw my GP because my husband was getting quite concerned and begged me to go and talk to someone. My GP explained that I was suffering from postnatal depression and generalised anxiety disorder, and referred me to a psychologist. She also recommended a book called The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris.

The sessions with the psychologist were transformative. We worked on a number of strategies including mindfulness, making time for myself and defusing the negative thoughts that assailed me. The psychologist also recommended The Happiness Trap – I didn’t read it then, but I have since started it and will write a separate post about its awesomeness.

I was lucky in that I was able to overcome my depression and anxiety, for the most part, after 6 sessions of talk therapy and no medical intervention. Other mamas are not let off so easily. If you’re feeling sad for days on end it’s so important that you go and seek professional help sooner rather than later. The sooner you get on to it the easier it will be to resolve.

Here are some excellent resources for anyone who is feeling like they might have depression or anxiety:

The Black Dog Institute

PANDA Post and Antenatal Depression Association

Beyond Blue


I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue so please leave a comment below xx