Do you have a motto—words that you try to live by, or words that express the way you live your life? I know many people who use pieces of scripture for that purpose (although I have to say, those pieces of scripture are often pulled out of context and don’t actually say what they would seem to.)
My own motto is more secular in nature, though it does have a lot to do with faith.
The words I try to live by come from the low-budget film Joe vs. The Volcano. It’s one of Tom Hanks’ lesser-known early movies. It’s one of those movies people either love or hate. Mike and I used to joke that it was our friendship test: if you like Joe, we like you. For the most part, that test served us well.
I won’t summarize the whole plot of the film here, because it’s fairly convoluted. The relevant scene, in which my motto appears, takes place at the very end. Joe, as the title suggests, is preparing to jump into a volcano and make of himself a human sacrifice. His companion (played by Meg Ryan) isn’t so sure this is a great idea. In the end, though, she decides that if he’s going to jump, she is too. She’ll have to trust that his decision is the right one.
“We’ll jump, and we’ll see,” she says.
I’ve simplified these words a little bit in making them my motto: Jump and see.
There are points in our lives when we have to stop thinking and start doing. At certain moments, you have to take the leap and deal with what may come. Ever heard someone say something like There’s no perfect time to have a baby? That’s another way of saying jump and see.
If you’re a person who tends to think a lot before acting—in other words, a person like Mike and me—then jump and see is much, much easier said than done. Mike and I are notorious for talking things to death. We spent years trying to decide whether to replace the carpeting in our house with wood or tile. Then we went to a party and admired our host’s polished concrete floors, which introduced a third option into the discussion and prolonged the decision-making process even more.
And that’s a small-beans decision! Whatever we decided to do, we understood, could be undone if we hated it. But other decisions—like the choice to have a child—don’t include that option. We were married for six years before we decided that having a baby made sense, and the only thing that tipped the scales was the fact that we had good health insurance for the first time in our adult lives. We weren’t sure how long that would last, so we took the leap. We had a baby in spite of our uncertain financial future.
I’ve had to make that leap over and over again throughout my life: sometimes on my own, like when I moved from Idaho to Kansas for graduate school, and sometimes with a partner. In many ways, having a partner makes it easier to jump. As in the film, having someone’s hand to hold makes the leap a little less scary, and you know you won’t be alone to deal with the consequences when (or if) you land.
But bringing a partner along creates its own consequences. When the leap turns out to have been a bad idea, you might have to deal with the fallout and a disgruntled partner. Losing that person in the aftermath of a difficult decision isn’t unheard of. It’s another risk you take, when you make that leap.
But jump and see is still my motto. That’s because, while I believe in thinking things through, I also believe we can’t know everything. Science explains a lot, but it doesn’t explain why some seeds sprout after planting and some don’t—even when those seeds are planted in the same spot and treated the same way. History has plenty to teach us, but no one has all the information that was available at every moment in the past.
The best we can do is educate ourselves and then move forward in good faith–whether that faith is in humanity, God, or something else. We can never really know. The best we can do is think.
Does that mean being fearless? Churning stomach and anxious insomnia aside, I think it does. I don’t believe being fearless means operating completely without fear; I think it means feeling fear and jumping anyway. It means not letting the fear of making a mistake hold you back from taking a leap.
My motto won’t work for everyone. I have friends who can’t make a move without feeling absolute confidence in a decision. I know myself well enough to recognize that if I waited to feel that kind of certainty, I’d be standing on the lip of that volcano for the rest of my life. Meanwhile, I’d be missing out on some really wonderful stuff.
Instead, I try to remind myself that jump and see has served me pretty well. I’ve made some bad choices, of course, but I’ve learned a lot from each of them. And that’s the part of jumping no one ever talks about: it’s really scary, but it’s the only way to see what actually happens next.