The sun was lazily dipping beneath the tree tops, reflecting its last fragments of light against my wine glass as I sat on my back porch, my fingers absently tracing the stem. It was a particularly steamy summer evening in June and my mother was embarking on one of her usual narratives: reflecting on the days when I was a pint-sized human and not a full-sized, city-bound college graduate.
“I remember when you learned how to use the stairs,” she said, laughing. “You’d grip onto the handrail with both hands, turn sideways and take each step so carefully— one at a time. It would take you a full ten minutes to descend three steps.”
“Meanwhile your sister would charge down them at full speed,” my Dad chimed in from the chair opposite mine.
“You’ve always been so cautious, Katy,” my Mom added. “So methodical.”
As I collapsed into bed that night, my parents’ words replayed in my head.
“Cautious,” I repeated to the blackness of my bedroom, the word leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
In recent years, I’ve found myself analyzing every single element of my life under a microscope, poking and prodding at parts of myself that I couldn’t change even if I wanted to. I carefully consider how every life decision— even as simple as what I’d be eating for lunch that day— would affect me in the grand scheme of things.
Sometimes I even distract myself from pursuing the things that I want to, deep down, because there might be some risk involved. Better safe and free of disappointment or embarrassment than happy.
I’ve drafted more pro’s and con’s lists than I can count, plaguing my journals with question marks. I overthink to the point of exhaustion, despite the number of ways I’ve attempted to distract myself from doing so. Sucking down vodka sodas on Friday nights, I’d pray for some relief, but my restless mind has held its own.
If you’ve ever befriended me, dated me, or even spoken to me— the chances that I’ve critically analyzed every word you’ve said to me are high. (ie: “Hmmm what does she really mean by that?” “He’s bored of me, isn’t he?”)
Put simply: I don’t think I ever truly let go of the handrail that I first grasped white-knuckled as a toddler. I’m still grasping onto it to this day, squinting to examine each step below in detail.
I’m the human definition of “look before you leap,” dipping my toe in the pool of life and deciding it's much too cold to dive in right now.
"Perhaps tomorrow," I'd say to myself. I'm no quitter, per say, I just have to think about it a bit longer.
Jonathan Safran Foer of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” penned: “sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”
In a similar regard, I live my life straining under the weight of two people— the person I am and the person I would be if I let myself leap before looking.
The truth is, you can’t protect yourself from all of life’s demons without also protecting yourself from happiness as well. The urge that we feel to control life has a tendency of controlling us right back.
Certainly I’ve tried to think a little less. It just seems that every time I’ve ‘lept before looking’ has resulted in a hangover or the sensation of squeezing my eyes shut, thinking to myself: “why the fuck am I like this.”
The more I overthink about my life, the less I understand.
Why can’t I find a happy medium between thinking too much and not at all?
One of the lessons that college taught me, I continuously pull out of the depths of my mind like a cherished photograph, tattered at the edges from being handled so often.
No one truly has it all “together.”
And even if it seems like they do, people never believe that they are truly finished masterpieces. Even the most established individuals wish they were taller, shorter, richer or smarter, and in fact, the majority of those who outwardly seem like they have their lives fully together and tied with a neat bow, are the biggest culprits of overthinking.
Looking before you leap is a feasible concept when it comes to jumping off cliffs or shoe-shopping, but it cannot be applied to everything.
Sometimes you must leap before you talk yourself out of it. Before you uncap your pen to draft a pro’s and con’s list. Before you take into account the possible consequences and question if you’re “ready.”
By overthinking and overanalyzing, I’m creating nonexistent problems out of thin air. Sometimes it’s not possible to understand everything that happens to you. All of life is not meant to be deeply processed. With some elements, we can only accept— not understand.
“Life is really simple,” Confucius says, “but we insist on making it complicated.”
So here's to more spontaneous moments. Here's to sometimes leaping before we have a chance to peer down at the rushing water below. Let's squeeze our eyes shut, leap through the air and feel the warmth of the sun on our faces, giving our restless minds a much-needed hiatus.
"If you must look back, do so forgivingly. If you must look forward, do so prayerfully. However, the wisest thing you can do is be present in the present. Gratefully."
(above) image source: na-kim, via lalunagogh, tumblr.
Featured image In Gedanken, by Félix Armand Heullant