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Yesterday my young son and I learned about the moment cave explorers dug through 3-4 feet of dirt and rock, and broke through into something that would change the way we see this world.
Originally known as “Misery Hole”, the site of the discovery was considered insignificant, containing a number of dead-end branches in the back country of a park. But in the 50’s cavers heard what sounded like wind coming up from the hole, and guessed there may passages beyond. Decades later a group of cave explorers gained permission to investigate, and spent two, long years, toiling, hoping and seeking. Two years of chipping away at at a dry, dusty and difficult pile of rocks. And then one day, their incredible perseverance was rewarded and they discovered something that changed the history of caving for ever.
Beyond the dust and dirt, they found untold, never-before-seen treasures. Incredible glittering gems of gypsum, spun delicately into glittering caverns. They opened up a glorious, beautiful natural treasure, and discovered what is now known as one of the most spectacular caves known to humankind. This cave, was named Lechugilla, and was found to stretch at least 140 miles (more than 200 kilometers). But it is most famous for it’s stunning beauty, just like Aladdin’s cave it is full of glittering natural treasures.
That got me thinking – what lies beyond? Is it possible that today, you are facing a set of challenges that seems insurmountable? Something that feels just like a big pile of rocks and dirt you need to chip through with no obvious end in sight? Perhaps it is a difficult conversation about an under-performing employee, a long-shot request for proposal or a paper you are struggling to finish, or another mound of dirty washing that waits for you at home.
The truth is we never know what lies beyond, and every now and then, the very thing that you have been chipping away for years, may be the path to something unexpected and magical.
Picture: Peter and Ann Bosted, www.cavepics.com
With this in mind, and facing a few of my own giant hurdles at the moment (including the washing!), I spent some time to catalog some of my past successes, noting what immediately preceded them. Inevitably the moment before the success was tinged with failure, some disappointment, a moment when despair surrounded me. I realized that there was a pattern. Just before each breakthrough, I found myself frustrated, wondering what do I have to offer this world? Why am I doing this? I felt I was making no progress, wasting my time, stuck. I felt hopeless. And yet eventually, even in the midst of that despair, a new path opened up. A new job, a new country, a new client, a new friend. This exercise of cataloging my ‘successes’ and what came before reminded me that we do not know what is around the corner. It is not up to me (or to you!) to determine that the future is grim.
If you are ever feeling overwhelmed or low, I encourage you to take a moment and do the same thing. I know you have already accomplished things you once thought daunting. Perhaps you learned to swim, to ride a bike, to face up to a a bully, to survive a job interview, to speak up in a meeting, launched an enterprise? Did those tasks once seem insurmountable?
What are you proud of now? What preceded it? Were there moments of panic, had you lost hope? I ask you then, why should it be different today? Perhaps the mountain of rock and dirt you are chipping through holds all kind of magic yet to be unveiled. What lies beyond for you? What wondrous gift may you have yet to discover, to share with the world?
If what is on your plate today seems dull, difficult or impossible, then just for a moment consider the glorious moment when those explorers chipped through and shone a light into the darkness, when they breathed a collective sharp intake of breath. When they knew, that this moment had changed everything, and have hope.
If you are interested in learning more about Lechugilla check out Peter and Ann Bosted’s website www.cavepics.com, in addition to their kind permission to use their stunning pictures for this post, Peter recommended the following books: Elusive Majesty and Lechugilla: Jewel of the Underground
If you are a public or social sector leader interested in learning more about how to thrive and drive impact feel free to connect @ldandassociates or email email@example.com
Liana Downey is an experienced management consultant, who has consistently delivered results for clients on critical topics around the world. Liana is an expert advisor to the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Prior to establishing Liana Downey & Associates, she led McKinsey & Company’s Australian government and social-sector practices, and holds an MBA (Public Management) from Stanford University.