Last Wednesday afternoon, as I was getting ready to speak to a group of HR professionals in the Seattle area, I understood this quote in a new way. Invited there to share my experience and to inspire new kinds of thinking about leadership, learning and change, and just moments away from starting, I noticed a tremendous energy welling up in me. Part nervousness, part exhilaration, part confidence, part humility, it was an energy that could not and would not be ignored. I recognized it is a step towards the future I am creating with every new action that takes me toward the edge rather than back to the middle.
Dewitt Jones is a photographer, long with National Geographic magazine. When I heard him use this quote in the context of human achievement he was drawing on his experience of watching eagles ride the updraft of wind that races up the face of a cliff. If the eagle doesn’t position itself far enough out over the cliff it can’t take advantage of the upward current and reach heights where it can really soar. Now, I don’t need to remind you that eagles have specific physical advantages that make hanging out on cliff edges a little less risky for them. Namely, they can fly.
Eagles soar because that’s what they are built for. Their purpose in life is to get up nice and high so they can spot and hunt the food they need to feed themselves and their families. I also bet that they really like flying. How could you not? That said, it’s hard to imagine them having doubt or fear about the whole enterprise. I’m guessing you wouldn’t overhear things like: “Geez, Tom, this is awfully high!” or “Hey, uh, tell me again why we have to jump off this rock?” They do it because that’s all they know.
As for me, land dweller that I am, I know too much other stuff. I know that I can fall, that the ground is unforgiving and that when I hit it hard I remember it for a very long time. The thing is, most of that is fantasy. It’s a clever game of make-believe. Sure, I’ve failed and fallen but really not that often and always, always, it has been a powerful teacher at exactly the right time. More often, when I’ve moved toward the edge of experience I’ve flown just fine, even soared a time or two. And, yet, these are the moments I so easily forget when faced with another edge, another chance to fly.
Last week, I flew again. And, this time I will not forget it. I owe it to myself to turn the learning into knowledge and the knowledge into motivation for yet another chance to leap into the unknown and ride with humility on all that is there to hold me up.
© 2010 David Berry