Lessons Learned on a Ledge

January 16th 2014

When you’re afraid of heights, it makes no sense at all to slide down the side of a five- story building. But I am afraid of heights, and I did it, anyway. 

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The Great Leap of 2013, as I will forever call it, was a fantastic closing of a year-long project that I co-facilitated. It was a leadership workshop designed to build deep relationships and increase understanding of leadership strategies and tactics. Certainly rappelling contributed to those goals.

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Here are some of the things I observed and learned:

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1.The first steps are the scariest. That’s the time to keep pushing in the face of fear: when your feet are edging toward what feels like oblivion. Whether you are launching a new service, creating a new position, or handling a fierce conversation, the beginning is the toughest part. Get through that, and you can keep going.

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2.Whatever narrative you repeat, you will believe. If you stand at the ledge and tell yourself you can continue, then you will.

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3.When things get scary, focus on what’s right in front of you. For me, looking down was not an option, especially at the start. So I just looked straight ahead. It kept everything in perspective and lessened the fear. The same applies to working on a complex project with uncertain outcomes.

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4. Break big tasks into small steps that you can control. When I thought about the fact that I was about to crawl down the side of a building, my entire being screamed, “What are you, nuts? Stop this!” But when I told myself to take the first step up to the edge, then hold the ropes, then lean back, then take small steps down, it was doable. 

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5.Stress can bring people together if you handle it right. In our case, we handled it with humor. Each of us who rappelled was scared. All of us had knocking knees. But we kept laughing, joking, and hugging each other — before and after going over the edge.

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6.Doing scary things is exhilarating, and worth celebrating. The sense of accomplishment that results from facing a lifelong fear is huge. Our team earned bragging rights for at least the rest of the year. It gives us a reason to celebrate success. When you and your team achieve something challenging or overcome a difficulty, don’t be humble. Be proud. Jump for joy. High five each other. Let the moment of victory linger.

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When we push our boundaries, we make our world a little bigger and our spirits a little stronger. When we do that as a team, the whole group bonds and grows. I hope my experience will encourage you to take a big step off of a very high ledge...with proper ropes and guidance, of course.

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