Back in 1993, I decided to make a career change that required a return to school. Now, for some, that in itself is a “growing edge”, but I’ve been blessed in that school has never been a problem for me. However, this particular education experience brought me to one of my most difficult and challenging “growing edges.” I entered the internship at Phoenix Interfaith where, in addition to the class work, and in addition to seeing clients, I would get to experience having my work observed and evaluated by supervisors and peers. AAAAHHHH!
It was in this supervision group that I first heard the term “growing edge” and it was in this context that I discovered that my current “growing edge” was taking the risk of being critically evaluated (as opposed to always trying to be perfect to avoid just this). In my experience, this meant risking exposure of all my perceived inadequacies and others knowing, what I thought was true, that I would never measure up. On the other hand, it also meant risking finding out that I really am pretty good at what I do and very well accepted by my professional colleagues.
The “growing edge” is where we stand at the threshold between what we know and are familiar with (even if it is not particularly comfortable, healthy or life affirming) and the unknown and unfamiliar. It is where we are called upon to discover new strengths within us or possibly, learn new ways to act and react in our lives. I believe it is called an edge because it often feels like a cliff. My friends and colleagues have heard me refer to my “growing edge” as “the precipice” because, for me, taking the next step forward often feels like a step into oblivion.
So, why would anyone want to take the step off the edge? I’m reminded of an essay by Emmet Fox, a spiritual writer of the early 20th century.
“To me the butterfly reaches the most important lesson that we human beings ever have to learn. You all know his story. He lived what seemed to him a very long time as a worm – what we call the humble caterpillar. Now the life of a caterpillar could be taken as the very type and symbol of restriction. He lives on a green leaf in the forest and that is about all he knows (though it is familiar if limited or uncomfortable).
Then one day the little caterpillar finds certain strange stirrings going on within himself. The old green leaf, for some reason, no longer seems sufficient. He becomes moody and discontented but – and this is a vital point – it is a divine discontent. He feels the need for a bigger, finer and more interesting life. His instincts (that part of him that knows he can be more than he is) tell him that where there is true desire, there must be fulfillment. So, a wonderful thing happens: the butterfly emerges – beautiful, graceful, now endowed with wings, and instead of crawling about on a restricted leaf, he soars above the trees, in fact, above the forest itself – free, unrestricted and the greatest expression of his own True Self.”
The caterpillar, upon acknowledging the inner stirrings for more, must go to his “growing edge” and decide whether or not to enter the cocoon where the transformation takes place. This is where the wings get strengthened, the body develops and, most importantly, the caterpillar accesses the inner, innate resources to know that he can fly, even soar. I entered my cocoon of the Phoenix Interfaith internship and residency programs.
For three years, I learned my craft, I strengthened my wings, and I learned that I can be a competent, intuitive and compassionate therapist. I do measure up. At the beginning of the program I felt like I was taking a step off of a cliff. By the end, not only was I able to confidently present my work, I was doing live sessions in front of a two-way mirror and about seven pairs of watching eyes.
Not only was I able to openly hear critique of my work, I was even able to challenge my supervisors from a place of confidence. I’m flying a little higher today and, when the occasional wind current challenges me, I know that it is just another “growing edge” to be overcome.
What is your “growing edge?” Where are you challenged today? What is your “divine discontent” urging you to explore?
Step One, face the edge and identify your challenge.
Step Two, find a safe and appropriate cocoon, whether it is family, friends, a minister or a counselor.
Step Three, do your work, stay with it; it will take the time it takes.
Step Four… step out and fly.
This article appeared in the Phoenix Interfaith Counseling Newsletter, 2002…and is still pertinent today!