What are you most afraid of? What about it scares you?
One of my fears is the fear of heights. Even watching a television show or movie where the actor is precariously perched on a high ledge or walking a tightrope makes my palms begin to sweat. (In fact, my palms just got a little sweaty even writing that!)
I wasn’t always afraid of heights…when I was 8 years old, we lived in St. Louis. I visited the Arch several times. On one visit, after riding the rickety elevator up to the top with my dad, I climbed up to the little window and leaned my head up against it.
“Look, Daddy! If you lean way over you can see the bottom of the Arch!”
My dad didn’t join me in my discovery. It was enough for him just to hear me say it!
I’ve learned that babies are born with just two fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. All other fears are learned. So whether I learned my fear of heights from falling out of a tree or from my dad warning me not to get too close to the edge of a platform, I learned it. It’s not a bad fear, as fears go. I can see how it can be protective.
However, I am also very stubborn. I don’t like to be held back by things, and I don’t like chickening out of a good challenge. So several years ago, when my team at work when out to a ropes course, I tried everything. Most of the exercises were “team building” — different activities to get us to work together and succeed as a team. But one of the final, optional exercises was individual. I volunteered.
The goal was to climb up a telephone pole (standard height, which is WAY high). Once you reached the top, you had to stand on top of it. (FYI, telephone poles aren’t that wide, so my size 9 feet were hanging off both the front and back a little.) Hold on…have to wipe my palms….okay, so once you’re standing at the top of this pole, you have to jump and grab a trapeze bar. It’s not close. You really have to push and jump for it.
It took me several minutes to get to the standing position. And then I had to contemplate and really screw up every vestige of courage I had, and then plan a bit more. Finally, I jumped with all my might and reached for the bar.
My fingers JUST touched the bar, and I saw the bar swing out of reach as I felt myself falling. I began screaming.
Now, yes, they did have all the safety gear on me, and although I felt the falling, I didn’t hit the ground like a sack of flour. They eased me down. But by that time, I was hysterical. Crying. Gulping for air. Repeating, “I missed the bar! I missed the bar! I missed the bar!”
My coworkers tried to reassure me, telling me I was safe.
Oh, God. My coworkers are seeing me go absolutely crazy hysterical.
I was in full fight-or-flight mode, though, and there was no graceful way out.
Looking back at it now, it’s certainly not one of my finer moments. Not nearly as sweet as my triumph at finishing the triathlon, family and friends (and strangers) cheering me on as I cross the finish line. But it taught me nearly as much as completing that tri did. From this hellish telephone pole experience I learned:
1. I shouldn’t pursue work as a telephone repair person. I also probably shouldn’t try for a job in a trapeze act.
2. I didn’t die. While I FELT like I was going to several times (at the top of the pole, just missing the trapeze bar, falling, and even riding the panic attack on the ground), I didn’t. Our brains are really good at catastrophizing — imagining the worst outcomes — but they are just as capable of opportunity mining. We just have to focus our incredibly powerful brains in that direction.
3. I have courage. Maybe even more than I thought I did. I’m glad I tested it, because knowing I did this crazy stunt (or attempted to), I was better able to make other leaps, to different jobs, to different cities, to new relationships.
So, I wonder, what are you afraid of? Where in your life do you need to make a leap?
(And no, that picture isn’t of me. Although someone WAS taking pictures that day, I have completely forgotten where I stashed them.)