The first time I had ever seen a slackline, I was instantly mesmerized. The webbing, stretched between two trees, bounced the walker up and down and swayed him from side to side, as he made his way down its length. I knew after only moments of watching it was something I had to master; a task easier said than done. Although my body was physically able, my mind had to be trained to overcome itself. Something I was able to accomplish through deep introspection. The act of which brought to light that if I acknowledge my emotions so that they can be confronted with reason, believe in myself, and eliminate distractions through intense focus, then I can accomplish nearly anything, including the difficult task of becoming a nurse.
When my friend Austin first showed me his new slackline, he made it look so easy. He hopped on, like it was nothing, and began to walk. Then after a short while, he lost his footing and was tossed from the line. I remember thinking that it couldn’t be too hard, as I reflected on his demonstration. From the outside, however, things always look easy. From the outside, the path to success is clear-cut and do-able. Then you attempt it, and suddenly the once simple task starts to take on an indescribable form of complexity. That’s when the feelings of defeat make their first appearance.
I walked up to the line, which rested just below my sternum, and placed my hand upon it as he had done. I stretched it downward just enough so that my foot could reach. Then, preparing to stand, I tested it with a small amount of weight. Impossible. The webbing shook from side to side with such intensity that I couldn’t imagine applying any more. Fear sank in as I felt the vinyl threads beneath my foot threatening to hurtle me face first into the ground, if I dare attempt to stand. The grass, which had once seemed lush and forgiving, began to transform in my mind as the fear penetrated deeper. No longer was I attempting to walk over the grass that reality presented; I was now attempting to walk over concrete and rocks that had taken on a grass like façade. Fear was causing my imagination to get the better of me.
Taking my foot off the line, I looked over at Austin with an expression of pure defeat. Game-over. He had won. He was able to do something I was too petrified to even attempt. Clearly enjoying my failure, he took a moment to soak up the victory and a smug grin crept upon his face. But I wasn’t about to give up that easy and he knew it. Trying to hold back his enjoyment he called out, “you got this,” which in our language translated to a form of taunting.
I smiled back and with a nod replied, “Oh, yeah. I got this.” The tone of my voice alluded to the fact that the confident statement had been nothing more than empty words. I wanted to win and I didn’t want him to know that I doubted if I could. Our friendship had always revolved around our rivalry. Over the years we had developed a sort of understanding with each other, that competition is only fun when it’s competitive. If your opponent fails to keep up, the game is done, and you are crowned the victor. I couldn’t let that happen. I wouldn’t let the feelings of defeat take hold. I had to win, but first I had to believe that I could.
Pushing down on the line with my foot, it shook with the same intensity as before and once again I was struck with fear. Only this time, the fear was accompanied by an epiphany. To face my fear of injury I would have to fall, and to face my fear of failure I would have to fail. Intuitively I knew it was all or nothing. There was no way to slowly step-up. You just had to do it. And you had to do it with the confidence that comes from knowing that you’re attempting something you know you can do. I had to acknowledge my emotions and confront them. I took a deep breath and said to myself, “I got this,” only this time, it was as if the words, which left my lips as more or less a whisper, commanded that I believe them. They commanded that I believe in myself.
I took another breath and switched my gaze from my shaking foot to the tree, to which the line was attached. Locking in a trance like stare, I began to focus on the task at hand. I began to silence my mind to all the distractions that surrounded me, first the cars and the children in the field at play, and then the birds and all the other sounds, until it was silent. Now, all that existed was me, the line, and the wind. I inhaled once more and in one strong, smooth motion put the weight of my body on the line and stood.
It shook me left, then right. Instantly, my arms stretched out like the wings of an eagle and swayed to counter in response. But I was no match. Within moments I was tossed. I flailed through the air like Icarus, before landing palms, then shoulder, into a sort of lopsided summersault. I too had fulfilled my fate. Unlike Icarus, however, I was fine. Looking up at Austin from the ground, we both burst into laughter. No longer was I afraid. The next day, with my new found confidence, I went out and bought a slackline of my own and now walking the line is second nature to me. Something I hope nursing will also soon become.
The lessons I learned while trying to slackline for the first time, are lessons I’ll never forget. They’re lessons that are impossible to forget, because I use them every day. For the past few years I have been pursing my bachelor’s degree in nursing. There are times when I fear I won’t be successful, or that I won’t get hired, or that I won’t be good at my job and I’ll make a lot of mistakes; my imagination runs ramped with what-ifs. But then I think back to my slack line experience and the role that introspection played. I look inward and I remind myself that the best way to conquer my fear is to confront it. I remind myself to believe in myself and my abilities. Then I focus. I drown out the distractions that surround me and I tackle each task as it presents itself. I’ve realized you can’t wait for conditions to be perfect, or waste your time trying to make them that way. You just have to go for it and acknowledge that sometimes, in order to stand you have to accept the fact that you’re going to fall. So I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the time being and hopefully, when it comes to nursing, I’ll land gracefully.