Imagine walking barefoot on an I-beam at the top of a skyscraper undergoing construction. You’re walking out to the end, your attention fixed to that point where steel stops and sky starts.
You place one foot at a time on the cold metal, not daring to look away. Your entire focus is on that steel lifeline beneath your feet. Electric fear raises the hairs on your skin and you hope neither dust nor dew turns the next step into a slip.
The world floats in your peripheral vision, but you don’t dare look. The infinite sky expands above you — its weight presses down and around your fragile body. The earth waits below, the city’s concrete and asphalt promising instant death. But sky and earth are not the source of your fear.
It’s not falling that fuels the fear, either, though that seems the most obvious.
It’s your balance, or lack thereof. Your balance is what determines whether you careen off the edge or reach your goal. You hope you’ve trained and schooled enough to maintain an even keel, instilled enough discipline in yourself to keep walking and not lose sight of the end.
But maintaining that focus is difficult – and exhausting. One moment you’re sweating and your foot trembles as it seeks a stable grip. The next is filled with elation at your success, giving you a boost of confidence that you are going to make it.
Something flies by and your eyes are drawn to it against your will. Your body wobbles and you take a sharp breath and stop.
But you can’t stop when you’re walking an I-beam, because to stop is to risk becoming frozen by fear – the fear of starting again and taking the next step. And so you stand there, the world spinning at your feet, and try to summon the courage to begin again. You will your leg to move, to relax the deathgrip your foot has on the steel and seek a new resting spot ahead. And it does, and the other foot follows, and you are once again on your way.
The end is in sight and you drive on toward it. You become aware of voices below, some shouting encouragement, others screaming that you’ll fall. But you can’t give them your attention, because you must keep it on the steel beneath your feet.
The end of the beam becomes everything. You hope that when you reach it, wings will sprout from your back and you can launch into a welcoming sky – a sky that will open up a whole new world and way of living.
The life of a writer seeking to become published is like walking that I-beam. Work and family vie for attention, and it must be given. The trick is to find the balance between the demands of others and the demands of self.
How do you find it?