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  • Michelle Kitsmiller

To Trapeze or Not Trapeze

That is the question...well, that's the metaphor for the question and also the very real predicament I found myself in. Because I am terrified of heights, and I want to try new things and face challenges. So I often find myself in this predicament: how do I know that a challenge is being presented as an obstacle to push through/overcome, versus a challenge being presented to steer me in an alternate direction? Is the rose seed I planted going to be challenged by a drought because I'm watering in the wrong place, or simply by the heavy fertile soil that it must push through regardless to bloom in its full beauty?

For instance, when I was in my early 20’s I was in an intense relationship, by intense I mean toxic and abusive. Everything about it was a struggle that led to suffering. Yet, in my mind I had this story that things would get better, and felt it was obviously something I was doing wrong that made it this way. For me, it wasn’t even about changing the other person, it was about what I needed to change about myself to overcome the challenges. The key words in this are “mind” and “story”. It takes a little digging, but trust me, the deeper problem was being raised in a belief system (the story) that was steeped in shame and shaped me to live a life that someone else felt was worthy of who I should be. And my mind fell for it, hook, line, and sinker (not sure why I’m using a fishing metaphor).

Anyway, while I was in it, the challenge of that relationship seemed to be, how can I be different to make someone else happy. What do I need to do differently to be accepted? For this person to see me for who I am, to love, appreciate, and respect me? Now, in retrospect, it’s a lot easier to see how I was coming to these challenges from a place of shame, of trying to live up to someone else’s version of who I should be.

While that might seem obvious now in the context of a shitty relationship, the truth is, we do this all the time in everyday life. At work to fit in, with the habits we create to stay safe, even in daily relationships where we avoid being vulnerable because we don’t want to be judged. We are watering in the wrong direction.

In that relationship, because I was still trying to win someone’s love it occurred to me too late that I was looking at the wrong challenges. The actual challenges of that space and time for me turned out to be, how do I stand up for myself, how do I own everything I am and show up fully in that without worrying about how someone else will take it? How do I love myself enough to make the hard choices, even when I know it will impact someone else in a way I wouldn’t truly want for them? In other words, this challenge wasn’t put there as a mechanism for me to change to make the relationship work, but as a mechanism for me to affirm my own worth by changing course (i.e.. Getting the hell out of there). It was me pushing through the fertile soil to fully bloom in my sacred authenticity. 

Another example, as some of you may have seen, I recently took a trapeze class. I learned so much in that one-hour class, and yes, it does have something to do with this story. What I saw on a microcosmic level was that I was willing to face my terror of heights, to learn and experience something for myself. Not to prove something to someone else. Not worried about letting someone else down if I didn’t follow through. Just simply seeing something in front of me and truly desiring to get to the accomplishment, experience, and exhilaration (for me personally) that overcoming that fear provided.

The difference in those challenges was that the first one made me thoroughly miserable, inside and out. The second was frightening and scary as hell, but on the other side I knew there was something waiting for me that I truly wanted to experience.

Navigating challenges is not meant to be easy. However, it also isn’t meant to make you miserable. If you’re struggling with a particular challenge, and not sure what your path is through it, I invite you to ask the following questions:

  1. Are the challenges, as you see them currently, asking you to sacrifice something important of yourself, or offering you an opportunity to feel stronger, braver, more capable, more purposeful?

  2. What perspective are you looking at the challenge from? Am I looking for something or someone outside of myself to fill me   up/validate me? Am I still seeking to overcome shame and win  someone’s love? Am I trying to make someone else happy at my own expense? Am I looking to learn/expand/discover something for or about myself?

  3. In another vein, are the challenges you face in service to a Higher Good? Are you doing this because it’s impactful to others in a way that feels valuable, fulfilling, and purposeful? Is it your calling and doesn’t matter what else is drawing your attention, you know this important

  4. Play out the scenarios: You can’t predict the future and you don’t have to. Take away the pressure of making the “right” decision “right” now. Allow yourself to pivot, change direction, and show up differently even if it’s hard. If your initial course of action isn’t working for your highest good, don’t be afraid to revisit decisions and make changes.

May you all face and embrace the challenges that bring you to internal fulfillment!


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