Experienced tight-ropers, whether slackers or wire-walkers, know that the last three steps are the most dangerous. Once you have a certain level of technical proficiency, then walking a long line is merely a matter of sustained attention and focus.
More so, the line is most stable nearest the points of support, and least stable in the middle, when the wobble is the strongest. Starting a long walk, whether three feet off the ground or thirty feet above a swift river, provides you with a surge of adrenaline that keeps you alert: because you are going from the support to the wobble, the difficulty increases and you stay present to remain on the line. Once you pass the technical threshold of the middle wobble, then the walk becomes easier and less demanding as you approach the other support— but this is where the danger creeps in.
Your mind begins to wander. Your attention lapses. You think about how great it will feel to be done with the walk. You think about your friends cheering you on, their eyes locked onto your small frame in the distance, precariously balanced atop the line. You think about the future, rather than staying locked into the present.
And this is when mistakes are made— not when the line is the most difficult, in the middle with the wobble, but when the line is the easiest and you think you are done, when you still have three steps left.
The last three steps are what separate good walkers from great ones. The last three steps kill bold slackers who don’t have the attention and grit to maintain focus throughout the entire walk, down to the final step. The last three steps are the only three steps that truly matter.
As a medical student, I am approaching the end of the MS1 slackline. Things started off quite rocky, despite the support nearby, and smoothed out a bit before I hit the middle wobble. Now, with Course Four almost complete and the summer in sight, I am approaching the final three steps.
Instead of relaxing, I am forced to stay focused. I failed the first two exams of Course Four and am sitting with a 68% average, five points below the pass/fail mark. I have three exams remaining, the majority of the points that determine my overall grade, so it is more than possible to recover at this point. But the wobble is strong, despite being so close to the approaching support.
And it is not for lack of trying— I felt prepared for the previous exams, having reviewed more extensively and with more effort than in any previous course block. This line, MS1, truly tests my technical ability; things aren’t getting easier for me as the year finishes off, like some of my peers who are sitting easy and losing motivation with summer in sight.
In some ways, I am incredibly grateful for this wobble near the end and for these dangerous three steps. Were I sitting five points above the pass/fail mark, I might relax and spend my days focusing too much on Jiu-Jitsu and slacklining. I might go on too many weekend adventures at the cost of my studies. That lack of present-focus because of future-orientation could cost me dearly, perhaps failing Course Four and remediating classes over the summer.
So, I am embracing the wobble and the final steps. I thank the approaching support for giving me hope and for reminding me what is on the other side of this long ordeal, but I cannot focus on my summer plans when I have three exams barreling down upon me. And who knows— perhaps this stumble close to the end of MS1 will keep me sharp and focused so that when MS2 begins in July, I can hit the line running, rather than shaking off the cobwebs from a distracted and unfocused summer.
Failing the first two exams of Course Four have reminded me that my walk will not end in two weeks, when MS1 is in the books and behind me. My walk will continue for a very long time, and my walk is determined one step at a time— failing the first two exams can either deflate my drive or inspire my last three steps. I choose inspiration, not just for the next week of finals, but for the wobble and madness beyond; according to our academic advisor, MS2 starts with a bang and the previous year had “devastating” failures throughout the class.
I am determined to respect the line, both as I finish this walk and start the next. These last three steps are not where I fall, this much I know. The step ahead of me is the only step that matters, the only step that exists in the entire world: the lab practical. In the unimaginable future, there is C4T3, the cumulative Course Four final, and the MS1 final.
As I walk these three steps, the only three steps in the world, I will enjoy the wobble and forget everything else.
Long Form Sundays
- On the rhythms of life and riding the wobble (or the end of my CrossFit Gaspar journey and the start of Jiu Jitsu)
- On being alone versus being lonely (or coming to grips with the absence of invitations)
- On teaching a panda Kung Fu (or the dilemma of a medical education)