If you are suddenly charged with landing a plane after the pilot collapses, and you are talked through the process by air traffic control, I’ll bet those fast-learned skills will be permanently burned into your psyche. Not to mention, a successful landing would give you a tremendous confidence. Well, alright, maybe you’d have to throw out your pants and never fly again. (Boy, extreme metaphors can get you into trouble!) At any rate, this would be an example of learning on ‘the Edge’, where you learn by doing, jumping in, getting your feet (and probably most of your body) wet.
Step a little closer… closer…
‘The Edge’ is a situation where you barely know enough to make it by. It’s where you are trying to keep up and learn from those vastly better, faster, smarter, and more advanced than you. The Edge is jumping in the deep end of the pool, sink or swim. These can be situations find yourself in, but even better, situations you cultivate and covet.
In some ways, you are requiring yourself to move faster than thought. You don’t have time for self-doubt – roadblocks and restrictions have to be lifted by necessity, and sometimes, you just have to drive right through them. You take chances without over-thinking outcomes – there is no choice, and you ignore fears which might hold you back because fear is not a luxury you can entertain. Your brain can operate in some surprising ways when forced to, where no other option exists.
Okay, brain. You don’t like me, and I don’t like you, but let’s get through this thing and …
I have a story of my own that illustrates this idea. I’m a guitar player, and as the cliche goes, a horrible sight reader (I’m in a 12 step program). I was invited, last minute, to sit in on a recording session where the bass player was suddenly unavailable. I figured they knew me and my shortcomings (and this was on bass, not my main instrument!) and I thought it would be a session with simple charts and improvisation – no problem. The “charts” turned out to be quick grand-staff print off’s from a sequencer, and required me to sight-read in the bass clef (WHAT?). I was surrounded by some incredible musicians, true veteran session players – it was a nightmare situation! Because it was on a tight deadline for a TV show, there was no time to ‘figure it out’… it just had to get done, now! I tried to stay calm, but I felt like a dump truck had parked on my chest. At some point, I realized I was either going to play, or run out of the studio screaming, wreck any reputation I had, and forget a career in music. The choice was not really a choice after all – I grimly focused on the sheet music sitting on the stand before me and accepted my fate. It was pretty embarrassing, but something quite remarkable happened after a few cues – I just ‘started’ reading in the bass clef. It was as if by accepting and letting go, my brain said ‘Ok, let’s just learn this bloody fast then!’. It was by no means a heroic turn, but once I was able to think back on the event without cringing so hard I’d hurt myself, I marveled at this sudden ‘ability’.
I’m sure we’ve all been in situations where we were on the Edge. We committed to doing something that we perhaps weren’t quite ready for, where you had to learn on your feet, where you got by just by the skin of your teeth.
And now for a contradiction…
Sometimes, you want to avoid the Edge. There are times when you have to perform perfectly, and where a mistep could result in disaster. However, the one thing the Edge makes you prepare for is – anything. You get good at being agile, flexible, adaptable. Thinking creatively on your feet, making hard decisions fast. It also makes you build and maintain your ‘lifelines’ – those you can call on when you know you are up against the wall and you need saving.
This is perhaps the best lesson you can get from the Edge – that you need to prepare for the Moment. If you arrive somewhere and your big chance arrives unexpectedly, and you aren’t ready, that might be the last chance you get. Imagine yourself at the place you want to be, and that place being the Edge – will you survive? Succeed?