Today I challenged myself to do something I wouldn’t normally do and start to face fears I’ve had all of my life: heights and not having control in most situations. Now, I know that having a sense of control is an illusion—so smart people say—but there has always been something to it for me and my comfort in life.
I know I’m not alone in this; hence why I’m writing this article today. Maybe you will read this and, at the very least, be able to relate or, at the most, want to push past your comfortable boundaries
Today, I buddied up with a friend and fellow coach who seems to be able to reach me and help me tackle fears that are firmly based in needing control. Because she can do this in a very emotionally supportive way, I trust her … implicitly. She’s the only one with whom I would do this. We went to Summit, an indoor, suspended ropes course. (Originally we were going to go kayaking on the Potomac River, but the weather simply wasn’t cooperating. Believe it or not, for this not-so-outdoorsy woman, kayaking was more in my comfort zone.)
I’ve been through ropes courses before in leadership training, but I’ve never been too far off the ground. Never have I needed a helmet or a liability waiver!
My feelings before this challenge included thoughts of:
“What if I freeze?” I remember retrieving the Frisbee on the roof of our one-story house and freezing once I got onto the roof and relying on my father to rescue me.
“What if I’m so slow that I hold everyone up behind me?”
“What if I fall?”
“What if I irritate my friend or make it so much about me and my fears that it’s not fun for her?”
“How can I use this personal experience to help others?”
“Man, what if I enjoy it?”
I did myself the favor of not researching too much about this ropes course prior to my reservation. I didn’t want increase the fear and anxiety unnecessarily. I’ve learned this skill from past coaching sessions.
Once in our safety harnesses and helmets, we were off to explore the lower regions of the course before moving to the more challenging and higher, suspended ropes. This was a great way for me to get my feet wet and to start to understand where my fears reigned true. Once I was more comfortable, my friend and I decided to go to the higher levels. To do this, we had to climb a rope ladder up and over a chimneyed rock platform. Honestly, what seemed so simple to the nascent eye became my nemesis and a definite turning point in the activity.
Now from the comfort of my couch where I’m sure my muscles are sure to seize, I can share with you what I learned from conquering the ropes course:
• Just like in life, there’s the easy way, a way that offers some challenges, and the “what-the-hell-was-I-thinking?” path. At this particular course, we learned about the red, brown, and black rope challenges, respectively. Ironically, we learned about it after we had conquered a number of black rope challenges. But that’s the sweet part … just when you find yourself saying “Now you tell me!” you find that everything else feels very simple because you already experienced and conquered the hardest parts.
• Sometimes what seems simple, like climbing the rope ladder to the higher, suspended section of ropes, isn’t. In fact, sometimes life challenges you in ways you have never experienced before. So how do you regroup? Or in my case, when reality hit that I was not going about this climb in the smartest way – even with a coach next to me and one on the ground – what did I rely on? In my case, I froze in fear, suspended in an isometric hold, sweating buckets from pure fear and exhaustion. My coach on the ground was telling me to control my breathing (because he knew I was starting to have a panic attack) and the other coach was physically giving me her hand to haul me over the edge. Another man said, “You can come down and take the stairs.” I shut that thought down immediately and said, “That’s not why I came here.” At that moment in my mental state, none of the help was working as well as it should have. I knew it was time to submit and I asked for help. And help came immediately in a very supportive way. And my coaches got me over the precipice so that I could keep going, just like we occasionally need in life.
• Sometimes life calls for tears from fear and frustration and sometimes you have to “buck up, Buttercup” and keep going. I was so proud that despite my raw physical challenge and exhaustion, mental pissed-offness, and emotional wall of fear, that I did NOT cry. I came close, but I didn’t let the anxiety and emotion win. I told myself today that I was going to face fears … and I did. Fear did not win. In fact, once I got to the platform and got my bearings, I laughed … laughed at the craziness of it all. Laughed at my friend for cracking jokes when I needed them. Laughed at what I must have looked like suspended and hanging on for dear life (despite wearing a safety harness). Laughed over the relief I felt being on safer ground. Laughed because … well that’s who I am. I laugh and I emote.
• Despite (wearing a safety net), what you know in your head, what you have learned in books, and what is logical, fear is VERY REAL and sometimes it IS all in your head. But don’t underestimate its power over someone. My friend and I sat together after our climbs and deconstructed the afternoon. She pointed out where I repeated patterns of fear, where I especially needed control, and where I struggled to trust. And despite having conquered similar challenges, such as stepping off the platform onto a moving or less secure or narrow object, I faced and had to get over the fear over and over again. I put myself through the mental process each time. Finally my friend, who I trust implicitly said, “One … two … three” and I went. Sometimes we just have to trust and go. Ironically, I trust outside of myself.
• Challenging yourself is exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally. But, as I sat there reviewing our time on the ropes, I smiled a “man, that felt good” smile. And maybe it’s because I’m coming up on my 42nd birthday and I needed this additional sense of accomplishment. Maybe… Mostly, these days I really get a kick out of doing something I didn’t think I could do. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. In the end, I looked at my friend and said, “I can’t wait to come back and bring my nephews next time.”
A special thank you and hug to my dear friend and coach. I needed you and you didn’t let me down. Thank you for being my additional safety harness .