In the 1970’s Philippe Petit walked a high wire strung between the Twin Towers in New York City. It was an amazing feat that was a result of a slow but steady progression of skill and daring over years. The film “Man On Wire” is a great documentary about the planning and execution of his walk. A slight warning that if you are afraid of heights, you may feel uneasy. Even though you are safe from any imminent danger, you may feel dizzy or tingly based on the images. I cannot imagine how Philippe Petit felt during the walk, over one thousand feet in the air without a net! Sure, he had years of experience and successful walks but the scale of this endeavor dwarfed everything else. It is easy to look at Philippe and say that he is special, talented or even crazy. Closer to the truth is probably that he was passionate about pursuing something to an extreme level. The use of a net negates the entire reason that he was walking in the first place. Under no circumstances and am I suggesting that a tight rope walk from dizzying height should be be in anyone’s future (I’m one of those people who tingles just seeing the photos). I am suggesting that the intersection of passion and stakes is a place of power. It’s someplace that we need to become more comfortable going to.
Unfortunately at the moment, we seem to be faced in the opposite direction. The formative years of youth and adolescence are spent with nothing but safety nets around. Whether it is literal foam padding to avoid injury or systems that are meant to insulate young people from failure, responsibility or any other stakes that could injure physically or emotionally. The dichotomy of these systems are interesting because they protect in the short term and potentially injure in the long term. Finding the balance of those two extremes is the name of the game. Philippe did not start out on the roof of the World Trade Center. Those stakes would have been overwhelming. His passion for walking the tight rope also would not have grown if he never went higher than six inches off the ground.
For each one of us, we have things that could grow into passions but we are afraid to raise the stakes. Failing, looking foolish and uncertainty are being trained out of our young people. We have given many young people a “safe space” but the counterweight needs to be put into place as well otherwise we do not have a creative space. All creation is messy, uncertain and possibly even dangerous. We are born from a series of chances taken with an element of risk. So to protect our future generations from that risk is robbing them of what is to be human.
As I often say to my players, “to be a leader, you need to go first”. So if you have young people in your life, be a model of a balance in both passion and risk. Perhaps you also need to break out of the foam rubber because comfort and security are things that many of us desire. Unfortunately they also allow for little emotional intensity which is what passion is all about. Go! Take a chance! Maybe even a small one and be an example for those onlookers who need someone to show them what is possible!
Philippe didn’t leap but he had to take a step off the edge and you can too!