I’ve been working my way through Jonathan Fields’ fantastic book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance. It's full of accounts of individuals who held fast to their vision and learned to live through doubt on the path to the genesis of remarkable ideas and creations. What struck me today was an interesting analogy that Jonathan uses to explain that point of the creative process where you are faced with the choice of taking pivotal action amidst huge risk and uncertainty, or deciding to play it safe, which also entails risk in the form of mediocrity.
Fields explains that in rock climbing, each climb is rated from 4.0 or lower (known as the nontechnical ascents) to 5.0 or higher (those requiring more equipment, skill, and agility). Fields goes on to say: “The interesting thing about these ratings is that they aren’t based so much on the difficulty of the entire climb as on a set of moves known as the crux. Crux moves are the most challenging moments of the entire route; they often require you to push physically, emotionally, and intellectually, to take big and often blind risks in a way no other part of the climb does. There may be multiple crux moves along a single route.”
In Jonathan’s book, he uses this “crux analogy” to describe turning points in the creative process specifically, but I started thinking about how crux moments have appeared at different points in my life in general. There is no shortage of expressions that articulate the same philosophy, as I’m sure you’re all familiar with “No pain, no gain”, “Something worth doing, is worth doing well”, and “If you want to make an omelet, you have to crack a few eggs.”
Whenever crux moments appear in our life, they are steeped in fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. Being exposed to uncertainty, we admit to ourselves that we may not have all the answers. This leaves us open to new possibility and new directions we might otherwise have ignored. It’s as if we need to let go of the reins so that we can quiet our mind long enough to gain perspective. I always know I’m at a crux moment when the fluttering of butterflies in my stomach turns into a full-blown stampede. My fingertips tingle, and I’m almost incapacitated by fear. If I’m completely honest with you, I have to admit that I’ve lived most of life leaning away from crux moments, and being left with a lot of “what ifs” and “what could have beens”. Lately, I’ve been conscious of staying positive and moving forward, so I don’t want to dwell on the missed opportunities in my life, but rather on the crux moments that I took advantage of that led to pivotal personal transformation.
What first comes to mind is asking my wife to marry me, and how vulnerable I felt laying it all out there on the line. Looking back on that experience, I realize how young we were, and how crazy that idea was, but something inside me made me quiet those butterflies in my stomach and jump into the unknown. Another crux moment for me came when I was in the trenches of a heated argument with our then teenage son. I remember trying to force my will on him, and how my son stared me directly in the eyes and said “no” he wasn’t going to do it. Everything inside me wanted to scream, throw things, and lock him in his bedroom, but that’s not what happened. I realize now that this was a crux moment in our father-son relationship. We had always raised our son to be fiercely independent and self-expressive, and now the chickens were coming home to roost. Five months ago I disclosed to my wife, family, and close friends that I had been sexually abused as a child. That disclosure in itself was not a crux moment. That moment came when I made the decision to enter a treatment program for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Sitting in the parking lot outside the treatment centre before climbing the three steps up to the front door and then walking down the hall to the councilor’s office felt as though I were standing on the precipice of a huge abyss. Recently, I’ve come face-to-face with another crux moment, deciding whether, or not to pursue my passion for writing. The old me would have given into the butterflies and filled myself with self-doubt in the form of a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t waste energy pursuing my dream. The new me has decided to fearlessly take one hand off the rock face and blindly trust that the next place I land will be a place of sheer beauty and transformation. Watch me climb…