Go to your edge

by Jack on February 2010

Perhaps you are comfortable with your life, and you fear the lifestyle change that might accompany a change in career, even though the new career will be closer to what you really want to do with your life. Some men fear the feeling of fear and therefore don’t even approach their edge. They choose a job they know they can do well and easily, and don’t even approach the fullest giving of their gift. Their lives are relatively secure and comfortable, but dead. They lack the aliveness, the depth, and the inspirational energy that is the sign of a man living at his edge. If you are this kind of man who is hanging back, working hard perhaps, but not at your real edge, other men will not be able to trust that you can and will help them live at their edge and give their fullest gift. (David Deida)

A secret of greatness is to do the things that make you feel uncomfortable and play out on the jagged edges of your life. (Robin Sharma)

Where is your edge? Are you there now? Do you visit it once in a while? Or is it a remote vision, distant and unfamiliar like the “Here Be Dragons” warning on the edge of some hand-painted medieval map?

Do you live at your edge every day? Do you finish each day drained and exhausted from the chaos, but fired up with life energy, grateful for the opportunity to share your gift with the world? Or do you do safe, respectable work, something that the current social consensus has decided is a “good, stable job”?

This isn’t about the external impact that your work has on the world, although it’s pretty much given that people who really take themselves to their edge have a much greater likelihood of making a bigger impact. (That kind of thing tends to happen when you find a calling that you enjoy sharing with the world more than you like doing anything else – enthusiasm and drive are infectious.) More than anything, this is about your internal state as you are doing your work, and making your contribution to the world.

In other words, it is almost always best to change yourself from the inside first – your attitudes, your mindset, your beliefs, your boundaries – before manifesting the external change and going to your edge in the “real world”. This initial change could involve, for example, the essential internal shift of exploring your edge inside your head, through visualization, brainstorming, and journaling, and getting comfortable with the potential changes that may happen.

Be careful, though – thinking and ruminating are not the same as action. There’s a danger of becoming a perpetual mental explorer, always thinking and waiting for the right time, and never quite taking the leap. Don’t become that person who gets really talented at putting bait on hooks, but never actually drops the line in the water to catch the fish. 😉

So where are you right now? It’s fine if you’re not at your edge – no need to feel shame or self-judgment. The important thing is that you recognize the truth and reality of where you are. Are you content with where that is?

There’s no problem if you truly don’t want to be at your edge, have no interest in it, and like your comfort zone quite well, thank you. Many people live long, happy, contented lives, residing squarely within the middle of their comfort zone. If that’s you, no worries – this whole concept probably doesn’t stir up much feeling within you, either positive or negative.

If you’re truly living at your edge, this concept probably resonates with you significantly. At the same time, you may feel like you know all this already, and may wonder why I am restating the obvious. At the very least, you are likely to feel the truth of it within yourself at some level, even if you can’t put it into words.

Finally, if you’re not living at your edge, but you wish you were, then reading and thinking about this may feel a little bit uncomfortable, as though this kind of thing were somehow forbidden or unrealistic. You may feel a surge of indignation or resistance – perhaps something like, “this kind of idea is fine for idealistic college kids who have Mom and Dad pay for everything, but some of us have to live out here in the real world you know”.

If this feeling – or something like it – comes up, pay attention. Sit with it a little while. Explore the texture and weight of the feeling, where it resides in your body, the sensations that it activates within you. That feeling isn’t going to go away.

As Po Bronson wrote in What Should I Do with My Life?:

if you don’t like The Inevitable Cocktail-Party Question, maybe it’s partly because you don’t like your answer [1]

Could this be what’s going on with you? Be kind to yourself – don’t force an answer to arise before you are ready. But if you’re curious what else might be out there, you already have access to many simple ways to look into your heart, to figure out where your edge might lie, and develop a plan to get there.

Journaling is a time-tested way to explore your thoughts, to get them out on paper or on screen, and sift through them for repeated patterns and emerging themes. Of course, it typically takes at least a few weeks to develop enough material to be able to extract an overall arc and theme to your writing. Your writing can create signposts that lead the way toward your edge. Be patient and develop a regular habit, and the clarity of mind that journaling will provide you will prove to be well worth the investment of time.

A fun way to go looking for your edge is suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. She recommends going into a bookstore and looking for the section and the books that draw you to them the most. Not the books that you feel you “ought” to read for school or work or self-improvement, or the ones that you think will impress others, but the ones that speak to you in a quiet, insistent voice, demanding to be noticed and read, if you would only take the time to pay attention. Browsing for books this way is almost always going to take you in an interesting direction.

You don’t need to perform the search for your edge alone – in fact, the help of others can be essential in reflecting back to you the “obvious” things that you can’t see because you’re trapped inside your own head. Talk to close friends, either one-on-one, or in small groups, and ask them for insight and guidance based on their honest impression of you and the path you are on. In their view, are you following the life path you are truly meant to be on? What do they think you are most passionate about? What do they think your greatest gift to the world might be?

The counsel of others, while invaluable, can only take you so far. Ultimately, the search for your edge must be performed alone, within your own heart and mind. In some respects, it is the most important goal you will ever answer, since it centers on the construction of your purpose for living, the expression and contribution to the world of your unique gift.

It’s not all as serious as it may sound, though – it’s a search that can be performed with great excitement and joy. After all, what could be more fun than tracking down your life purpose – your edge – and figuring out the best way to contribute your gift to the world? It’s a wonderful opportunity – enjoy it for the adventure that it is!

[1] Also see: What Should I Do With My Life?, Po Bronson http://www.fastcompany.com/node/45909/print. If you can’t guess what “The Inevitable Cocktail Party Question” is, check out “Where does your identity come from?”. 😉


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby February 19, 2010 at 11:49

And because that’s how I process all information … I immediately relate this post to yoga. 🙂

Joel Kramer coined the phrase “playing your edge” as it relates to a personal yoga practice back in the 1970s (http://www.joeldiana.com/about_us.html). I hear yoga teachers say that all the time when coming into a challenging pose like half pigeon, warrior II or headstand. When taught it class, it means come into the pose until you find that edge, that moment where it is almost unsustainable. Then, with a deep breath, back off just a smidge. For the duration of the hold, using the deep, meditative breathing to test your limits. Love using this concept with my own yoga students and in my own practice — it’s unbelievable how strong, emotionally and physically, we really are when we choose to test our limits.


Jack February 19, 2010 at 12:23

It’s not a real stretch to connect this idea to yoga. In many classes I’ve heard my teachers bring up the idea of “finding / exploring / playing with your edge”.

Meanwhile, David Deida, in The Way of The Superior Man (source of the quote above), interprets this concept in a whole-life way with most of the emphasis on work, spirituality, and sexuality. But the (limited) yoga texts that I have read suggest that in some sense all of life is a yoga practice of one form or another… so it’s really all connected 🙂


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Willis Sao February 21, 2016 at 06:32

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