Hanging On By A Thread

Hanging On By A Thread

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Happy Father’s Day 2024!

My dad enjoying the sunshine
My dad enjoying the sunshine

The what was crystal clear.

The how was no where in sight.

Casey Neistat is the OG of YouTube, vlogging and social media creation. He’s associated with New York, but it wasn’t always so. Casey set his sights on NYC knowing he wanted to make it there. Without any idea or plan on how to do it. But he’d grown up hanging on by a thread so he was comfortable.

Casey had two qualities that drove him, gratitude and optimism. A little boy with absentee parents. No restraints. No security. Hanging on by a thread.

One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.

The desperation and despair drove him. Created him. Forged him.

Watching Casey for years and knowing his story got me thinking about mastering the hang. The hanging by a thread. Handling risk and failure. Hanging on. Even by a thread because even a thread provides suspension above failure. And despair. In the thread we find hope. Enough hope to continue.

Patience vs. impatience.

A willingness to hang on by that thread for however long it’ll take.

Casey describes his early life as a life without any plan B. He was working 60 hours a week making $7.25 an hour working in a restaurant kitchen. What was he going to do? Move back to southeastern Connecticut where he’d grown up in despair? Optimism drove him to declare – both to himself and others – “I’ll figure it out.”

Said Casey: “I was running from a pack of wolves. I knew if I slowed down or stopped, I’d be eaten.”

Thinking of Casey’s story and how he described the early part of his journey to find success, I began thinking for the umpteenth time about how life circumstances impact us. It’s remarkable how for some it becomes crippling baggage providing a million excuses. For others, like Casey, it’s the catalyst that drives them to rise above all the tragedy and despair. That old meme remains true. Hot water makes the egg hard, but it softens the potato. I suppose it’s the hot water that shows us what we truly are, but I’m still puzzled about the choices we make – and I do believe we choose what we become, unlike the egg or potato.

When working with a group in my coaching practice I often deploy a number of strategies to create closer bonds. Trust, vulnerability, safety – these are all critical when we’re trying to develop high-performing teams (or groups). Seeing each other as something other than a position or title serves all of us well. At work we rarely are able to show our full humanity, which is a shame because that’s where our deepest connections are made.

It’s interesting to watch it happen. A group of people enter a room. They know each other. They have some context for one another. But many of them don’t really know each other very well. Over an hour, or two, they begin to see other differently. They understand the past pain, suffering and struggle. We can all relate. Our story specifics may differ, but at a macro level – we’re mostly similar.

It’s apparent that we all had many opportunities to decide, will we be an egg or a potato? Will the circumstances of our life – especially the ones we had little control over – harden us or soften us? And will that hardness manifest itself in a resolve to rise above it or will it be a hardness that drives us deeper into excuse-making, and blaming? Will it soften us in ways that cripple us and rob us of the confidence and resolve needed to succeed? Or will it soften us so we can be more compassionate and grow into better humans?

Choice. Making up our mind.

Will we hang by the thread with optimism? “Hey, look…I’m still hanging on!” versus “Oh, man. I’m just a thread away from falling.”

Hanging on by a thread is still hanging on. Just like “by the skin of your teeth” is still getting by.

Sure, the margin is thin but it’s a bit binary – you’re either hanging on or not. Whether it’s by a thread or a strand of threads.

It’s congruent with the theme of last week’s episode. There’s pressure on the situation. Maybe it’s do or die. Maybe not. But in this moment we feel the urgency, importance and seriousness of the situation. Or maybe we *think* we know.



Innate talent.





What’s the goal of hanging…whether by a thread or a strand? Is the object to continue to hang or is there something else?

I’ve never wanted to just hang indefinitely. As kids we had monkey bars. The goal was to move from one end of the contraption to the other by way of a dozen or so bars from which you had to hang. The point was to swing from one bar to the next until you completed it…all without letting go. Hanging was the conveyance to get from one end to the other.

For me, hanging has a purpose. Maybe it’s waiting for what’s next. Maybe it’s moving toward what’s next. But hanging is a moment in time and I guess the question is, “How long do I need to hang on until that next thing occurs?” It’s a game of endurance. Which makes that thread part of it seem dangerous. Maybe it is dangerous. Maybe it’s more dangerous in our head based on our fear that the thread won’t last long enough.

How long is long enough?

There’s the rub. We don’t often know.

Enter fear.

Fear of falling.

Fear of the thread breaking.

Fear we won’t survive the fall.

Does that make us paranoid? Or delusional? Or pessimistic?

It could. But not necessarily.

All of us are afraid of failing…falling. Some of us are afraid of hanging on, too. Perhaps we’re afraid of even grabbing the rope, no matter how strong it may appear.

Some years ago one of our grandsons would not jump into the swimming pool. All the other kids would run and jump in, but he’d stand on the edge hesitating. Followed by more hesitation. And more stalling. Then he’d back up, start to run toward the edge, then stop. This would go on for many minutes until he’d finally just take a step and drop into the pool. He never would jump.

I spent many minutes with him every time this happened…trying to understand what he was feeling. “What are you afraid might happen?” I’d ask. He couldn’t tell me. “Look at the other kids who are jumping in. Have you ever seen them get hurt, or cry after they jump in?” I’d ask. He hadn’t, but he still couldn’t bring himself to jump.

Until one day he did…and that was that. Fear conquered in a single swoop.

But until he did it he was too afraid to grab the rope of jumping.

I’ve thought long and often of my own fears. Considering the ropes of my life that I’ve neglected to grab…or the ropes I grabbed, but failed to hold onto long enough. I’ve thought of the times I may have quit too soon. Stopping short of success that might have been.

What might have been…

It’s not helpful though. To dwell on choices we didn’t make. We know the outcome of our life because of the choices we did make. If those choices have taken us to the thread when we could have avoided the thread, we should learn. We should repent – change our mind, change our direction, do better. Become more wise. If those choices can be fixed, we should pursue figuring out how. Whatever we do, we must face our present reality.

Now What?

We are where we are because it’s where we’ve chosen to be. Not that we chose to be sick, or unemployed or whatever other bad things may have happened to us, but we chose our reactions to the hardness of our lives. Those choices put us here. Right here. Right now.

What are we going to do now?

Will we hang in there by doing what we’ve always done to put us in this precarious state? Or…

Will we hang in there by growing, improving and figuring out our missteps?

In short, will we fix what ails us or just complain about our lot in life? We are, after all, trying to lean toward wisdom, which includes reducing or eliminating our cowardice and excuse-making.

What does the hanging by a thread represent to you? I think mostly we associate it with barely hanging on. To which I’d say, but we’re still hanging. In my life, I just don’t want it to be passive. It needs to be active — an intentional effort to gain a better position. That means, at some point I’m going to have to let go of the current position. To remain holding on by a thread seems like a bad strategy. Unsafe even. But I don’t want to let go until I feel I’ve bettered myself. I need something better to grab onto.

I recently read about the Palmar Grasp Reflex, noticeable in new born babies. We know how strong their grip can be. I never understood why until now. The Palmar Grasp develops around week 28 of gestation. It lasts until a child is about 6 months old. It’s involuntary. The baby isn’t behaving intentionally…yet. Put your finger or any object in their open palm and they’ll grab it more tightly than you’d think they’d be able. I read that it’s almost strong enough to hold the baby’s weight (not advisable). Sometime between 4-6 months babies start deliberating reaching for things. Scientists think the Palmar Grasp Reflex is the same neural pathway needed later for the baby to choose to grasp things.

So, if you’re older than 6 months old you get to decide what to grab. Be careful, but brave.

Recklessness is never a wise choice. Too much caution though can rob us of opportunities to advance and grow. Or have fun, as illustrated by my fearful grandson refusing to jump into the pool.

Casey Neistat endured a childhood he described as “hanging by a thread.” Still, he had something to hang onto until he figured out something else to grab. I suppose we all have to grab onto something. Something to which we can hang onto for however long it seems to serve us. For teenage Casey it meant diving headlong in filmmaking. It meant moving to New York City without any connections. It meant letting go of home because that wasn’t working well enough for him and grabbing onto himself to chase his dreams.

We know his story because it worked out well for him. But I propose it would have worked out well for him no matter what. Leaving a place where he was hanging by a thread to grab something better was surely going to happen because Casey first did the hard thing. He made up his mind to find something he could grab, then he let go.

I know people who were not hanging by a thread, but by a solid strand who let go without having any valuable hand or foot hold to go to. People let go all the time because they’ve convinced themselves their unhappiness is somebody else’s fault. Stuck in blaming the world for their poor behavior and poor choices they find themselves miserable. Misery drives them to full speed selfishness where misery gives way to despair.

Rather than doing what young Casey did – making up his mind that he wasn’t going to live hanging by a thread – they just let go of the little good they may have. Nobody free falls their way to a better life. Nobody falls into growth, improvement and wisdom. It requires a wise decision. That wise decision can be just momentarily where we refuse one thing to grab something else. It may be a short period where we do the right thing, which may lead to longer periods of doing the right thing. No matter the time frame, it always demands a mind made up.

So if you’re hanging by a thread keep hanging. Diligently look for a better hold. Analyze the prospective future hold and make the best decision you can. Be brave and reach for it. Grab it like a newborn baby. Then let go of the thread.

Randy Cantrell

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