Living on the Edge


“Once a man has made a commitment to a way of life, he puts the greatest strength in the world behind him. It’s something we call heart power. Once a man has made this commitment, nothing will stop him short of success.”

— Vince Lombardi*

Three men stood at the edge of a glacier cliff in weather torn clothing. They were the last hope of the twenty-two men stranded on Elephant Island across the Drake Passage, nearly 650 nautical miles to the South West. Three other shipmates were left halfway across the antarctic island of South Georgia. They too awaited their fate as the final three adventurers attempted to cross an island that had never been successfully traversed.[1]

A fog was rolling in and with it darkness that would leave the men stranded. Death was a certainty unless they made a move and fast. The leader had two choices; continue to carve out steps down the cliff and freeze to death within the hour — or — tempt fate and slide the rest of the way down the bluff and hope the bottom flattened out gradually. Life had taken them literally to the edge of death’s canyon — what would you choose?

Life’s Edges

Life can bring several do or die moments that force us to make a choice. Ernest Shackleton, leader of the famed Imperial Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914–1917 faced the literal example described above but we all will meet the edge at some point in our lives. Understanding what edges we face and how they may hurt or help us is paramount.

Living on the Edge... of Burnout

If there was ever a year that screamed burnout at us it has been 2020. I have seen it in my kids, family, coworkers and myself. We’ve pushed ourselves to a new edge with an over-abundance of Zoom calls, “virtual learning” and toxic news cycles. Burnout used to be for the workaholics and not for you and me right? Not any more.

So what got us here? One description comes from author, and leadership podcast host Carey Nieuwhof who says that “the problem with most leaders is not how we spend our time off. It's how we spend our time on.”[2] While most of us are counting the days before vacation or hours until Fri-yay, how we spend our time during the day will directly impact our chances of burnout.

Is the early morning Zoom followed by emergency work email taking the place of your morning walk? Does the urgent message that lights up your phone at the dinner table take you away from key family time? Are you constantly feeling like you are on the clock regardless of the time of day? If so you may need to find ways to cut back and block out time for life restoration each day rather than on your future staycation.

You can also use a second weapon against burnout. Being compassionate. Dr. Stephen Trzeciak, author of Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence That Caring Makes a Difference shares that simply spending an additional forty-seconds to empathize with patients can not only provide better outcomes but can also significantly reduce physician burnout over time. Facing his own burnout edge, Dr Trzeciak put this to work himself and shared that he, “connected more, not less; cared more, not less; leaned in rather than pulled back. And that was when the fog of burnout began to lift."[3] Use love, empathy and compassion to defeat the edge of burnout.

Living on the Edge... of Who God Created You to Be

What if the edge you face is frightening but beyond it is something greater than you could imagine? Several years ago I faced the edge of choosing success as it is defined by the world rather than by God. As I began to feel called to know Jesus through the guidance of a great mentor I still kept one leg over the ridge in the world of self-driven happiness.

As the fog came in within my life, it was hard to make out what was on the other side that God was beckoning me to. It was easy to get lulled to sleep, forgetting that the bitter cold of worldly success would numb me to the reality of something eternal and so much greater. I’m glad to say I took the leap of faith and entrusted my life to a Savior who brought me out of the deep valley. He has led me to a world of grace, mercy and heavenly affection so much greater than the other side of the edge ever could have provided.

Make the Leap

As the three men began their decent down the icy cliff their hearts paused as they seemed to hang in the air momentarily. Instantly the wind howled in their ears as they descended faster and faster. Before they could stop themselves from screaming they were propelled onto level ground at top speed and eventually began to slow as they encountered a snowbank. As Alfred Lansing describes it:

“The three men picked themselves up. They were breathless and their hearts were beating wildly. But they found themselves laughing uncontrollably. What had been a terrifying prospect possibly a hundred seconds before had turned into breathtaking triumph.”[4]

Only you will know what kind of edge is set before you. If it is burnout, use each day to regain yourself and begin to care more deeply for those around you with compassion. If it is God’s calling you to His side of the ridge maybe it’s time to make that great leap of faith once and for all.

Shackleton did make it across the island of South Georgia and not only rescued his men there but also the other twenty-two back on Elephant Island. That heroic leap of faith was one of many he had to take in leading them out of certain death and toward survival. Maybe we will stop living on the edge and lead those around us to something greater too? I hope you’ll take the leap to find out with me.

*This quote was taken from “The Coaches Bible”, July 23rd devotional “Overcoming Obstacles” on page 914

[1] Most of the anecdotes regarding this exploration story have come from Alfred Lansing’s book “Endurance”

[2] https://www.biblicalleadership.com/blogs/why-your-time-off-will-never-be-enough-to-truly-de-stress-you/

[3] https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/04/26/717272708/does-taking-time-for-compassion-make-doctors-better-at-their-jobs

[4] Alfred Lansing’s “Endurance”, pg. 339

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© 2017 by Brian Catanella. 

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