You can get out of the hole

I normally start with a 7km walk and then transition to a 7km jog (truth be told, at a slower pace than the younger version of myself was able to manage). There is no science behind the distance. Simply just the optimal route for me. I call it wogging. I find that the walking and jogging respectively serve different needs. I do a lot more thinking and sorting things in my head while I am walking. It is therefore not uncommon to find me deep in thought in the walking phase, either reflecting on things that have happened (including slaying some proverbial dragons) or teasing out a new idea, totally oblivious to my surroundings.

I normally stay on the main roads, mostly for safety reasons. The unfortunate reality for women is that we always have to first think about ensuring that we are safe. On this particular day I was, as usual, deep in thought and paid scant attention to the roadworks in progress. I reached a stretch where the side of the road was partly cordoned off with a number of holes dug a few metres apart. I have no idea why the holes were there, but suspect they were busy installing fibre. This forced me to step onto the road, which had already started to become busy although it was still fairly early for a Saturday morning. Like a good wogger, I was on the side facing oncoming traffic so that I could keep an eye on the cars. Occasionally I stepped off the road onto the curb whenever the position of an oncoming car did not give me the confidence that the driver would stay clear of me.

On one such occasion, when I stepped onto the curb to get out of the way of an oncoming taxi[1], I misjudged the distance and stepped a little too far. I was at the edge of one of the holes, which were each roughly about one meter[2] deep, less than a meter wide and about three meters long. I could feel myself slipping and it was clear that there was no way in hell that I was going to escape falling into the hole. At that point my only concern was to minimise the impact. Thank goodness I survived to tell the tale.

As I started to slip, I could feel my core jumping into action. I was a little taken aback by the ease with which my body stabilised itself. I suspect that is to be attributed to the religious adherence to performing the exercises the physiotherapist insisted must be part of my exercise regime, after I hurt my back a few years ago. What seemed to be an inevitable fall, was more me half-deftly stepping into the hole as if intentionally so. The only part of my body that felt a bit of a scratch is my elbow. By the time I started my jog, which was about 800 metres later, I had already forgotten the little sting on the elbow. I had no bruise as evidence that the incident did indeed occur and wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.

I stood in the hole for a good few seconds, trying to get over the shock of what had just happened to me. The first thought while I was standing there was: “Bleep! Thank goodness, I broke no bones”. The second thought was: “Goodness, who saw me disappearing into the hole?” Not exactly my finest moment. There is nothing regal about falling into a hole. The third thought was: “I’d better get out of here before anyone thinks I got hurt”. A quick look around, and I ascertained that there was absolutely nobody running to rescue me. I wasn’t sure what was worse. The embarrassment of falling or knowing that nobody ran to check whether I was ok.

As soon as I resumed walking, the one thought my mind occupied itself with is that this is such a great analogy for what sometimes happen to us in life. The following day I was wogging along the same route again. When I reached that stretch, now being more conscious of the setup, as one would expect of someone who had a near-injury experience the previous day, I noticed a few things that escaped me the day before. Firstly all the holes had some sort of mesh around them with chevron tape, which clearly were intended to serve as a safety measure. So how did I manage to step into one? By the time I got to the culprit, I realised what had happened. The mesh was held together in place by four pieces of wood on each of the four corners of the hole. My hole had a broken piece of wood in the one corner, which left the hole exposed. The other thing I noticed was that each of the holes had a sign on the mesh, clearly warning of danger and very specifically had this written on the sign: “Deep excavation”. Not sure that I agree that it could be classified as deep excavation, but I can’t say that I wasn’t warned.

Here are some lessons I thought are embedded in the analogy:

  1. The fact that you have travelled a road before does not mean that it will not present new obstacles. Sometimes people will dig holes around you which can be tricky to navigate around. Expect the unexpected.
  2. The stronger your core, the better your chances of stabilising yourself in the fall and landing on your feet. For me the core represents your inner strength, be it mental strength, adversity intelligence or spiritual intelligence.
  3. If you are overly concerned about what people think of your fall, the embarrassment may end up being a sort of prison for you. Sometimes we become obsessed with feeling embarrassed. Life happens. Shrug it off and move on. Everyone trips at some point.
  4. Don’t expect people to notice when you fall, or consider the possibility that you may have gotten hurt in the process, or to care enough to run to your rescue. Sometimes we expect people to notice and out of their own volition do something, and then feel disappointed when they don’t. Everyone is preoccupied with their own issues. Unless you alert them, don’t always expect an automatic rescue mission to materialise out of nowhere.
  5. Sometimes a fall can be so serious that it necessitates you calling for help. It would not serve you if stay in the hole and don’t reach out because you are either too embarrassed about others seeing you in the hole or you too proud to ask for help. We all need a helping hand from time to time. Self-sufficiency is only a virtue to a certain point. Sometimes you have to open your mouth and ask for help. Most people are willing to help once they know someone is in trouble.
  6. Don’t play the victim game. Sometimes the piece of wood will break because of external forces and not intentionally by the hand of those who dug the hole. The hole being exposed doesn’t mean that whoever dug the hole intended for you to get hurt. Instead of spending energy on wanting revenge, focus on the lessons and move on.
  7. Take responsibility for the role you played in finding yourself in the hole. Sometimes the danger signs were there in plain sight, but you were to preoccupied with your own thoughts to notice and get yourself out of harm’s way. I find that it is much easier to get over something bad happening to you when you don’t feel that you were a victim who were attacked completely unaware with no warning.
  8. Sometimes the stepping into the hole is inevitable. If you have to choose between the oncoming taxi and the hole, you have to choose the lesser of two evils. Especially if crossing the road is not an option at that point in time. For example, you may not be able to leave the organisation and have to choose between standing on a principle with significant ethical implications, and being victimised by a narcissist whose interest you are affecting, or losing your sense of self by giving up on your principle.
  9. While getting out of the hole focus on yourself not on other people, be it because we are worried about who will see that you are in a hole or because you care about the needs of others more than your own predicament. The deeper the hole, the more you need to redirect energy to yourself to get yourself out and recover. You’re no good to anyone if you stay in the hole longer than you need to or die there.

Life presents us with challenges all the time. You can get out of the hole. Don’t die there.

[1] For non-South African readers. These are minibuses that are the main mode of transport, generally only used by black people who still make up the bulk of the poorer class. They are notorious for not adhering to the rules of the road.

[2] About 3feet or just under a yard

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