I just finished reading Robyn Davidson’s excellent book Tracks, a bitingly candid account of Davidson’s mostly solo camel trek across 1,700 miles of Australian desert.
Davidson’s inner landscape understandably shifts considerably during her arduous journey. At one point, she falls into a deep depression and arrives at an observation that I think holds value for how we handle moments of despondency in our own lives:
In the past, my bouts of gloom and despair had led, like widdershins [water-worn gulleys] to the same place. And it seemed that at that place was a signpost saying, “Here it is,” here is the thing you must push through, leap free of, before you can learn any more. It was as if the self brought me constantly to this place — took every opportunity to show it to me. It was as if there was a button there which I could push if I only had the courage. If I could only just remember. Ah, but we always forget. Or are too lazy. Or too frightened. Or too certain we have all the time in the world. And so back up the ravines to the comfortable places . . . where we don’t have to think too much. Where life is, after all, just “getting by” and where we survive, half asleep.
What I take from Davidson’s words is this: life’s low moments often point us directly to the issues, challenges or shifts that really matter — the ones that we must, at some point, overcome or address in order to grow as people. To ignore these “signposts” and hightail it back behind the safety barriers does us no good in the long run. We grow through discomfort, not ease, and we must tackle discomfort head on in order to realize our full potential as human beings.
In this way, adversity becomes our ally — a partner and collaborator in the exercise of stretching our lives and our selves to new heights. We’d never get to the point of having to choose “leap or retreat” (“grow or stagnate”) if not for adversity constantly forcing us down the road upon which that choice lies.
The next time you are confronted with a “signpost” in your life, what will you do? Will you muster the courage to stride past it into the unknown, knowing that the true value of your life ultimately lies in this direction? Or will you quail, turn tail and scramble back to safety, mumbling excuses all the way? The direction is clear, but the choice is yours to make.