“The man is obviously crazy. Are we just here to watch him die?”
That’s what his friends asked themselves. The man is Philippe Petit.
On August 7th, 1974, he and his crew raised a steel cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center and then…he walked on it. For 45 minutes, 1,300 feet in the air. It was extremely dangerous and highly illegal.
But today, he is a legend. An idol. An inspiration to millions.
Uncertainty sucks. Big time. We hate it. Hate it. But we also know it’s what stands between us and the things that make life worth living. That’s why we celebrate those who conquer it. Who persist in the face of uncertainty.
Philippe withstood an incomprehensible amount of uncertainty, compressed into 45 minutes of life or death. That’s why he’s a hero. But most of us aren’t meant for such crazy dares — and it’s a good thing we aren’t. Yet, the same principle applies.
What about his friends, for example? What about their uncertainty? For months, they helped him plan the coup, not knowing if he’d survive. That’s terrifying too, and equally worth commending.
The longer uncertainty is drawn out, the harder each next day becomes.
Maybe you’ve been waiting for important test results for months. Approaching the birth of a child, not knowing if it’ll go okay. Working towards an important deadline, unsure whether the judges will like the result.
When the mountain is high, every day is a new chance to let it get to you. You look up, see the peak and think, “My god, how am I supposed to move this?” Of course, our only job is to carry away small stones. But it’s easy to forget.
To focus on the smallness of the true task — the first date, the first case, the first page — it helps to trust your gut. But you have to take time to listen to it.
Let the clock run. Allow other matters to fly by. Direct your attention to what’s in front of you. And let your gut figure out the rest. If you feel tired, sleep. If a coffee sounds refreshing, go get one. And if you crave air, take a walk outside.
Sometimes, it takes a while to know what’s what. To tell what’s necessary from what’s ego and desire. So tune in to your gut. Don’t rush. Listen. Separate duty and surrender. Hack away the inessential. And keep doing it every day.
For each impulse, ask: “Will this help me return to the mountain? Is it the next step to carry away another stone? Or just a distraction? Am I shielding my eyes because I glanced at the peak?”
It is better to sit with these questions than to choose a path in haste. Wait. Let the answers trickle in. Don’t act before you feel strong enough to lift the weight. All of this is training. Learning to remain calm despite instability.
You won’t always nail this balancing act. Some days, you’ll fall. But you can get better. And before you know it, the mountain shrinks. A glacier turns into a peak. A pike becomes a hill. A hill turns into a plateau and, eventually, you’ll be walking through a valley, surrounded by creeks and meadows.
Sooner or later, the deadline comes, the test is returned, the man walks on the wire — and balance is restored. The uncertainty fades away.
Philippe Petit had an incredibly strong gut. Deep down, he always knew he had to walk up there. There was no alternative. So he learned to deal with the unease. Until it faded away.
Your gut may not point you to such lofty feats, but it still knows what you need. Whatever mountain you’ve set out to climb, it can help you reach the highest heights. But only if you take the time to let it speak.