Being scared of putting yourself out there isn’t a new concept to most people. Whether it’s romantically, professionally, or socially, among relatives, classmates, coworkers, or strangers, taking a step forward is difficult for everyone at some point. Here’s a visualization I created for myself when explaining to others what I’m feeling.
I’m standing at the mouth of a cave on a fairly deep beach (deep as in distance from waterline to said cave, as opposed to wide as in distance running along the water). Enjoying my time on the beach is where I want to be, not necessarily at the waterline the whole time, but out of the dim, musty cave that I’m currently standing in. I take a couple steps out and feel the breeze across my toes, but as I get farther into the beach, the sand gets a little too hot and I retreat back to my cave.
Unbeknownst to me at that moment, I’ve entered the cave a few feet in from where I started. The cold sand feels good on my feet, and although I can see the light on the sand, it’s comfortable to sit in the cave that whistles to me while it holds me.
After a bit I gather a bit of courage and take some bold steps onto the sand, exiting the cave on my own willpower and desire to be on the warm beach. The warmth feels good on my back. The sun rejuvenates my love for the beach that I knew I wanted to be on. Life is good.
Taking a few more steps towards the water, the calm crashes of the waves shows me a serenity that I did not know was there. The sand beneath my feet, the breeze rushing through my hair, the warm sun on my face, and the rushing symphony of the crashing waves fills me with energy and passion that I knew I wanted in some form but did not know how to harness.
Until a wave knocks me on my back and the seemingly calm water has now taken my over and dragged me chest deep with my toes barely touching.
I panic, become disoriented, and with eyes closed and erratic breaths, find the sand with my feet and hands and crawl back up to the waterline, shaking the water out of my ears, wiping my face, and spitting the salty ambush from my mouth as I run back towards the cave.
I stop running when it gets dark and the water still dripping down my body is starting to make me cold in the dim rock shelter so I collapse to my knees and hug myself to keep warm.
My breath stabilizes and I can’t distinguish between tears and ocean, but I bury my face in my hands atop my knees and sit in silence in the cave that I did not know was this deep.
I feel like I’m being punished for my bold steps onto the warm sand. Distracted by the elation of the symphony of peace, I let my guard down and trusted the world. For a brief moment I forgot my fear of drowning and total disorientation, and in that seemingly perfect moment I lost myself. When I finally gathered myself I ran as fast as I could on solid ground until I knew I was safely away from the grip of the rushing waves.
And just like life, the cycle continues, the desire for the beach keeps me coming out, and whenever I am beaten by the waves, sunburn, or sand in my eyes (all things I know are possibilities of being on the beach) I retreat further back into the cave. Sometimes I run so far back that the outside is but a tiny pinpoint of light. Occasionally, someone comes into the cave with a torch to show me the way out. But the more they approach, the more I recoil. If I trust them enough I may come forward to join them. Depending on what I see up ahead, I may come barreling forward knowing that whatever is motivating me is worth the risk of being knocked on my back by the waves.
There have been times when I stand at the waterline with a friend. There have been other times when I’ve shut my eyes in the cave and stayed there until I’m too cold, and I’m forced to come out onto the sand just to stay alive, but I don’t step too far out, and the light is painful to my eyes that have adjusted to the darkness.
Obviously, this visualization is perfect for me since I love the beach, the sun, and can’t swim. For you, your beach may be a forest. Or your cave may be the ocean as you look for trees and land. Wherever you end up, you make the decision to step towards the light or retreat further back into your cave. Sometimes you run forward, and sometimes you crawl back. Maybe what you think is the sun glimmering into your dark prison is someone’s smile, and that’s all you need to open your eyes. I can’t answer that for you. All I can do is decide how far out onto the beach my feet take me, and if I get knocked down, I can rinse off in the water, and curl up at the mouth of my cave when high tide comes in to rest—until the next day when I step out onto the sand again.