From the book Stuck or Positioned; It’s Your Choice by Gail McWilliams
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Do you have any phobias? I do. Mine is getting something stuck over my head. Though I know I can, in time, maneuver out of that uncomfortable place, it still causes me to panic. Nothing is more confining than feeling stuck. When fear is added to the equation the mounting pressure can feel unbearable.
One evening two of our daughters, Holly and Lydia, were in our large master closet, scavenging for some outfits among a section of my seasonal garments. There they discovered the dress I wore for their sister’s wedding years before. They convinced me to try it on. At first all seemed fun and games as the dress fit surprisingly well. Putting on the dress was easy, but taking it off was a nightmare. My arms got stuck and the bodice of the dress began to choke.
Unfortunately, my feelings of claustrophobia were perfectly synchronized with the girls’ hysterical laughter. It did not help my predicament. Panic set in as I struggled desperately to get free. I was stuck with no one who would take me seriously. Eventually the girls helped me, though still laughing at my reaction. I escaped, but I was sweating profusely and determined to cut that beautiful dress into rags. The struggle for freedom in many of life’s situations is actually an important catalyst for development.
Tony and I were once part of a team outreach in a women’s correctional facility in Pennsylvania. A talented group of singers, comedians, speakers, and a sound crew joined forces to encourage the incarcerated women. Our group made multiple presentations over two days. It was held in December and snow lay everywhere as we were escorted to the prison auditorium by armed guards. I started to feel ill about fifteen minutes before the inmates were expected to arrive. I’m not sure if it was nerves or low blood sugar, but I asked a female team member to go with me to the restroom. The guard escorted us to a door that was wedged open for the convenience of the team that otherwise was kept locked, due to prison protocol. However, when the door closed the wedge had inadvertently dislodged. The lock was on the outside and the guard had moved on. Immediately, a sense of panic set in for both of us. My new friend, Anna, frantically pounded on the door, but there was no response. The more she pounded the more desperate she became. Realizing one of us needed to stay calm, I paced the floor while she cried for help. To calm my own growing panic I consoled myself that eventually someone would realize I was missing since I was one of the speakers.
After an uncomfortable amount of time had passed I walked over to the wall and felt its cold, concrete blocks. I discovered a welcomed bit of fresh air and immediately searched for its source. I found a small crack in the wall and pressed my nose into it in order to smell freedom. It helped calm my fears, as Anna relentlessly called for help. Soon, a prison guard freed us. I walked into the prison auditorium excited to see everyone—actually, to see anyone. The expectant audience of women made up for all of my anxieties. They were the best audience ever, laughing, crying, and singing. I knew I would never take my freedom for granted again.
Sometimes when you find yourself in a tight place, stuck and alone, you must apply resourcefulness. Just ask my mother. One day after everyone had left the house, Mom decided to fix the dryer vent in our basement laundry area. She climbed up onto the dryer to reach behind it in hopes of reconnecting the hose. But she stretched too far and got stuck between the wall and the dryer, standing on her head. There was no one to help her get out. Trying not to panic, she could feel the blood rushing to her head. With little room in which to maneuver, Mom reached to the side of the dryer in search of anything she might use to wiggle her way up the wall. Thankfully, her hands latched onto something familiar: an old laundry stick my grandmother had often used with her antique wringer washer. Back in the old days, the stick was used to lift clothing out of hot, sudsy water before it went through the wringer. Mom had kept it. I doubt my grandmother ever considered the timely rescue this old stick would one day provide for her daughter. A piece of history gave my mom the leverage she needed to push her way up and over to freedom. In a pinch, resourcefulness and sheer determination can push us through to a safer place.
Yet, not all stories of confinement tell of a temporary status. Many times in our prevailing sense of panic we oddly settle for confinement. We are tempted to allow past failures to morph into passivity and unbelief. This kind of temptation intends for us to lose sight of creative problem solving. If we forget to apply the extra effort required to break free, the entrapping effects of old habits and deep rooted thought patterns will continue to hold us in their tight grasp.
Have you forgotten that you can help yourself reach for more? Settling never satisfies. Why not explore what you need to free yourself from, such as the recurring sense of limitations and narrow thinking? You may have to change your habits. You may have to shake up your daily routine. You may even have to struggle. Don’t fear the notion of new possibilities. Don’t fear what it takes to move on and move up. That is where you will find your higher sense of purpose.
Another December I came close to confinement in a revolving door of a beautiful hotel in downtown Atlanta. I was scheduled to speak at a national women’s conference that evening. As I approached the entrance of the hotel I held the arm of my husband in one hand and in the other I juggled my purse and my carry-on. In my attempt to enter the revolving door my bag got caught in the motion. Fortunately, a quick tug was all that was required for my bag to rejoin me. While waiting for the door to finish its rotation, a life principle was etched onto my consciousness that is vivid to me and remains to this day. Many choose to live life in confining, repetitive circumstances, not unlike taking up residency within a revolving door. There, they can view life moving all around them, which accentuates their ongoing predicament. From their fixed vantage point, they can see those close to them moving unencumbered to their destinations of choice. Behind the door people are walking on the sidewalk, enjoying unrestricted access to destinations unknown. Beyond the door are more people enjoying every opportunity that comes their way. Yet, there they stand, in their own isolated world, waiting. It only takes a few pushes to move toward the open area where opportunities abound. But they have to push.
Perhaps you need to push to finish your degree or change careers. Push to improve your skills. When you add increased value to any position it is often rewarded with promotion and financial increase. Push away from the table and return to a weight that feels good and is healthier. Push past your fears. Push past the thought that you are too young or too old to live your passion and dream. Push your constant working to the side and re-introduce yourself to your family. Push through the crowd of skeptics and find people who believe in you. You still have room to push. You are not stuck. Push some more. You might ask, “What if I miss the window of opportunity and cannot make my entrance?” Then stay in the rotation. Your turn will come again. Just keep pushing. The biggest mistake is to stand still and do nothing. So push. Then, push a little more!
A little boy once discovered a cocoon. He wondered if a butterfly had formed and if it was ready to come out of its tight quarters. The boy decided he would use his pocketknife to cut open the cocoon and help the butterfly escape. Unfortunately, this resulted in killing the beautiful creature. In order to live free the butterfly needed the struggle of breaking out of the cocoon. The butterfly’s struggle to emerge as a new creature is a gift. It strengthens him for the days to come and for freedom’s flight. Likewise, our places of confinement may feel undesirable, yet something of beauty develops there. Do not begrudge the small places in life because they are merely temporary. Instead, embrace them as the birthplace of new discoveries and strength. A tight place creates a vantage point from which to gain fresh insights.
I walked with friends one day to the porch of our country home to bid them farewell. Once they were in their vehicle, I waved to them and said, “We’re glad you came. Thanks for coming to see us.” Suddenly, the man turned to look at me and said, “Gail, I wish you could see what I see.” I yelled back, “Tell me what you see.” “There’s a whirlwind of hundreds of butterflies all around you. It’s beautiful.” I promptly shouted, “The cocoon is open!”
Often the cocoons of our life have already opened and await us to take flight. Spread your wings and explore where they will take you. Courageously embrace the change. A metamorphosis, of any kind, is life changing and full of hope. Trust the process. You are not stuck. You are in transition to something better. Refuse the temptation to return to the cramped quarters you left behind. If the butterfly returned to his old cocoon he would discover maggots residing there, feasting on the leftovers of yesterday. The same is true in our lives whenever we slip back into old thought patterns and habits. Explore your newfound beauty and take flight to new possibilities.
The other familiar place of confinement is one which most have endured through natural childbirth. It is the confines of the human birth canal. Imagine a full-term baby refusing entrance into this tight passage. The birth canal seems too narrow with no wiggle room. The expectant mother on the other hand is eager to deliver her little one to a safe place so both can breathe with ease. Amazingly, a few of the benefits of passing through the birth canal include the fact that the pressure helps to expel amniotic fluid in the baby’s lungs and nasal areas. The baby also receives protective bacteria that contribute to a healthy immune system. In addition, the passage helps stimulate the cardiovascular system.
Just beyond the narrow constraints of life’s birth canal and of natural struggle awaits a harbor of unlimited potential and new life. That life—your life—is about expansion and increase. Don’t fear the transition and what is strangely new or narrow. In time you will adapt. Your life is a continuum, so keep going. Keep pushing. Keep transitioning. You have more to discover. You have a finish line to cross. The winner’s circle awaits you. Do an inventory of your life and discern what constricts your talents and potential. You may discover that your limitations are self-imposed. Then design a plan of action that moves you toward your desired end, even if it begins with baby steps. You can shed what once confined you and taste new freedom.
Just PUSH! You’re not stuck—you’ve been positioned.