Get Off The Fence

Should I make a decision or stay on the fence?

When I was in high school my friends and I used to sneak out to a swimming spot in one of the old iron ore pits just outside of town. To get to this spot, which I see SO clearly now we never should have gone to, we had to turn off the highway onto a short dirt road and climb a chain link fence. This adventure was part of the allure of this secret place. That was until one fateful day when I was climbing over the fence, eager to swim, when the metal at the top of the fence encompassed the cotton from my shorts. As I tried to swing my trailing leg over, I realized I was stuck. I sat there frozen. I was scared to continue on and push myself over the fence and risk ripping my shorts or worse, but at the same time equally as scared to wait for one of my friends, who were at this point laughing hysterically, to come and save me in fear of being spotted by someone driving by on the highway who would surely report our escapades to my parents. So, there I was. Sprawled over the top of the fence, stuck and not knowing what to do next.

For the past couple of months, I have found myself back on that fence as I have tried to determine my next career move. Not a literal fence this time, but it is the vision that I continually have flashing in my brain. I can see myself. I’m right there sprawled over the middle of the fence, one leg on both sides. The metal triangles at the top are poking into me enough to cause some discomfort, but they are just blunt enough to not force me off in fits of pain.

This is where I sit contemplating the decision of what to do next. And to be honest, being on this fence isn’t terrible. I keep myself plenty busy consumed in my thoughts and running scenarios through my mind. Looking from side to side, trying to see deep into the future. However, I know I can’t stay here forever and the discomfort of remaining here grows the longer I stay. The questions, memories and hypothetical circumstances run through my mind on the fence.

Do I continue on teaching or is it time to move on?

Teaching is a career I have been in for 17 years. It is a career that I have loved, and hated, and struggled with, and thrived in. When my husband and I first married he would often remark how he envied my passion and love for what I did. My love for my job inspired him to push himself to find his calling. However, my once calling, now feels more like a whisper. I haven’t lost the passion for kids, or education, or books. These all remain a deep love. I just don’t want to be doing the teaching anymore. At least I don’t think I do. I may want to do something else, but what? Is it worth it? It’s so expensive to continue your education. I have a really great gig. I’m good at this job. All these thoughts, and more, constantly consume my thoughts as I cling to the top of my fence wondering how and when I will decide to get off.

It took me a while to realize that what was keeping me straddled to the fence was fear. Just as I did not know if I should rip my shorts or risk being seen back in high school, I am afraid of making the wrong choice. I am trying desperately to evade any feeling of regret. I have given this decision so much power that it has grabbed hold of me and pinned me to that fence.

It is true, I hate making mistakes. I always have. I beat myself up over any of my wrongdoings big or small. I recognize that but will also quote author Daniel Pink in a heartbeat about the power of regret and learning and growing from your mistakes. I am either a hypocrite or else not treating myself with the same amount of love, affection and support I would give a friend, or a mere acquaintance. I choose to think the latter.

So how do I unhinge myself and get off that fence?

I allow myself to think and worry. I work hard to convince myself to trust myself. I remind myself that even if this isn’t the perfect choice or even the right choice, that I will be OK. I remind myself of my power. That I am writing my own story and if when I get off this fence and start this next chapter of life, even if it’s not the best one, I still own the pen and can get to work on the next. I am patient with my indecisiveness and convince myself that it is as a strength rather than the weakness it feels like. I tell myself; I will decide, I will get off the fence when I am ready. And eventually, I am. I keep coming back to the feeling that I need to make a change, and I trust that feeling. It isn’t an impassioned leap. I inch my way off, slowly, carefully, without a lot of confidence. But eventually, I make my way down.

So here I am. Back in graduate school and off my proverbial fence. It feels right, but I wouldn’t be being truthful if I said I’m 100% sure I made the right choice. I know I will look over to the other side of the fence occasionally and long for the other side, but right now I’m off the fence and it feels good to be back on my feet.

I wish I were the kind of person who could offer you “three easy steps to making big decisions”; it would certainly limit the amount of time I spend on the fence too. But I can’t, so I won’t. What I will offer you is the reminder that decisions are hard. So, the next time you are on the fence and living in the fear and discomfort of having to make a big decision about a career, a move, a relationship, whatever you may be grappling with, but please be patient and kind to yourself. Support yourself as you would support a dear friend, and trust that you will climb down when you are ready and that is good enough.