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A blog by Ryan Quinn, Robert Quinn, Shawn Quinn, and Amy Lemley

Why Do I Cross the Line?

By Schon Beechler

Sitting on the edge of a turquoise blue Caribbean Sea, as I have for the past nine days, opens up enough space to explore a few of the many questions that pile up but don’t get answered in the busyness of my everyday life.  As I sit quietly gazing at the brilliant fuchsia bougainvillea outside our room, sipping smooth, rich coffee early one morning, a question pops into my awareness: Why do I find it necessary to keep crossing the line? I find that I regularly cross the line by pushing myself beyond my limits in both my personal and my professional life. Predictably, every time I do, I am punished—always by myself, and usually others as well. The consequences vary—friends and family get annoyed, my work performance suffers, others’ evaluations of me fall, my confidence is shaken, and, oftentimes, my most important values end up being compromised. I inevitably feel lousy and spend untold hours analyzing what went wrong and why and vowing never to let it happen again. And yet it does, with surprising regularity.

Perhaps, I just can’t help getting myself into trouble for some deep psychological reason. Perhaps it’s because I’m too arrogant and/or narcissistic. Perhaps, I do know where the line is but I become blinded by overconfidence and I forget that I am headed straight for the cliffs …. Am I just a deeply flawed and doomed human being? Quietly, I ponder, as the rooster crows, the turtle doves coo their greetings, and the waves pound against the bright white beach. Looking deeper, I still can’t find the answer, increasingly frustrated with my inability to move forward.

Stuck, I change the question I am posing to myself: What benefits do I get from crossing the line? What might be the positive results from careening off the cliff? And here the answer is far easier. And within that answer, I find a deep truth: Only by crossing the line do I know where the line is. It seems so obvious. But it is just now, in this moment, that I realize this simple fact. I really never know whether I am a mile or an inch away from the line until I actually go too far. And like the edge of a cliff, there is usually no stepping back onto safe ground once I have crossed the line. So, predictably, I fall into the abyss, not knowing where bottom is until I hit it. Hard.

I realize, very clearly for the first time, that I must cross the line. I must fall. And not only must I fall, but I must get up again – if only to live to fall another day!  I get my wind back, and acknowledging, perhaps even congratulating myself on discovering where the line is, I ask myself two critical questions: “What did I learn from that?” and “How can I use that knowledge in the future?”

Along with a few shells and echoes of the waves against the beach, I bring home with me the insight that I have no choice, there really is no other path. I have to cross the line to learn and grow – to push myself to my limits and to know where those  limits really are. If I don’t cross the line, I am not finding my edge. And I have to find that edge, and to exceed it, to really know what I can do and what I can’t, who I can be, and who I cannot.  I was born to cross the line, to fall, and get up again wiser, if a bit bruised. And each time I do, I will know the terrain a bit more intimately, and hopefully, I won’t forget what I have learned and fall in the exact same spot again.

But there are always new territories, new lines to cross, and new cliffs to fall off. And I suspect that no matter how much ground or how many years of experience I have behind me, the best I’ll be able to do is to summon the grace to silence my scream of self-recrimination on my way down and enjoy the ride.

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6 Responses to “Why Do I Cross the Line?”

  1. Jason Yip says:

    What do you get when you know where the line is?

  2. The drive to get ahead which pushes most business leaders is deep within all of us, executives just exhibit it to a high degree. In their book Mean Genes (2001:115), Harvard and UCLA professors Burnham & Phelan describe this instinct as follows: “Lurking inside our hopes are genes that want us to work hard all the time. They prosper most when we run full tilt. Once we approach the point of promised bliss, the emotional football is moved again. In this manner we are motivated to do our best at every minute”. They go on to say that our instincts have short-term goals and do not mind running us into burn-out; they ride us like tough jockeys.

    I have been thinking about these issues for many years and I thank you for a new take on it, Schon. We do need to fall off or hit the wall to find out (again) where the line is! And it might sound so foolish, but in fact where the line is changes. It changes with our situation, our age, our energy levels and so on.

    So maybe this shared repeated foolish behavior makes sense after all? What a relief!

  3. Joel Karr says:

    Schon.
    As ever, insightful and helpful thoughts. My only comment is to add that, when not knowing where the line is, and careening off the cliff, since one also doesn’t know how far down the bottom is, the further down it lies, the greater the potential for learning and self-actualization. Having experienced the crossing of a gargantuan line at the edge of a precipice almost without a bottom, I have arrived at a complete reorientation of my values, hopes, dreams and serenity. I now need so much less than before that, oddly, I would almost even *recommend* a fall of the scale I have experienced. I would never have had the insight that I do today. I am grateful for that. The deeper the cliff, also though, the longer the recovery. Results of falling off small lines that we cross every day can be repaired easily, and with some growth too. But the big ones take a lot longer to recover from, and with a concomitant scale of growth as a result. The definition of a double edged sword.
    Thanks for sharing this with all of us.

  4. Rachel says:

    The shift you made from judgment to greater self-awareness and acceptance is powerful. This idea of the importance of how we frame a situation (“there is something wrong with me” to “this is who I am and how I grow and learn”) is so interesting.

  5. admin says:

    Rachel, I couldn’t agree more. Framing is everything… We are, ultimately, the stories we tell about ourselves and our experiences.

  6. admin says:

    As an epilogue to this blog, I wanted to bring up a point that a dear friend raised with me in an email after she read my blog. She asked about “the collateral damage” from this type of learning/discovery – what happens to the friends and family who get bruised by us in our journey? How do we reconcile that? I’m still pondering the question, which is a great one. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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