Fear-of-HeightsI’m not afraid of heights. Not really. I mean, I can easily do Ferris wheels and tall buildings. I’ve stood on the thick plexi-glass floor on the top level of the Sears tower. I’ve been to the top of the Space Needle. Had drinks at the Metropolitan Museum rooftop bar in New York.

I’m not afraid.

But watching my children maneuver when they are somewhere high up where they could possibly fall? That terrifies me.

It’s a good metaphor for life, I guess.

The general advice for people afraid of heights is don’t look down.  Of course you know down is there but if you look, you could get dizzy and that increases the risk of the very thing you fear, stumbling, falling, jumping.

Life isn’t a vertical journey, though. We have what’s up ahead and we have what is behind us. Often people will tell you not to look back, leave the past in the past, soldier on, move forward. That’s all good and fine but I have a different view. I think the equivalent to the person afraid of heights looking down is the person unsure about the future looking ahead. It can cause dizziness and fear.

And looking back doesn’t have to mean holding onto that which you must move past. You can look in the rear-view mirror simply to see the progress you’ve made.

Back when I had a team of people reporting into me, this was a mantra of mine. Often, we were so busy, spending so much time seemingly banging our heads against the wall, feeling like it was impossible to get anything done, I would often say “Look back and see what we did.” Because your progress is easily visible when you look back. And if we can look back and see progress we’ve already made, even in tough circumstances, then it’s logical that we can expect more progress in our futures, even if it seems impossible in the moment, dizzying, head-bangingly frustrating.

That’s my life right now. I get dizzy looking ahead. Things still have not settled down. I have that horizontal fear of heights regarding my future. I’m anxious for everything to be orderly, and yet right now I’m still unsure of how it will all come out. But when I look in my rear-view mirror, I know there is progress. Adjusting, adapting, coming to terms with the new reality of my life. I’m working. I’m sleeping at night. I go out socially with good friends. I grocery shop on Wednesdays. I have a routine, a brand new routine that now includes mowing the lawn and repairing lamps. I bought a drill. And if I have an occasional day where I barely get out of bed (ahem, yesterday I binge-watched The Newsroom all day), it’s because I choose not to, not because I just can’t.

If looking forward makes you dizzy, just don’t. Don’t look down.  Look back to see how far you’ve come and let that give you assurance that you will continue to move forward, even if things are still unsettled. Even if you’re still trying to work out some really big stuff. It’ll be OK. You’ll get through it. Life’s gravity will pull you forward.  Just do your best, it’s almost always good enough.


Talking to Myself