Earlier this week I found myself 20 feet in the air, strapped into a harness, perched on the edge of an 18″ square of wooden planks. Several yards ahead of me loomed an identical square upon which I was to find my footing next. But between me and that next wooden square? Nothing but a view of the earth below.
Cue abject panic.
The phrase “I seriously can’t do this” ran on continuous loop in my brain. I giggled a little, nervously. Then the tears came. I was stuck – and no matter how fervently I tried to convince my feet to move, they remained planted. All logic fell by the wayside as my brain shifted into Protective Hero gear, keeping me safely ensconced in my 18″ square nest.
Let’s back this up a bit. I am not and have never been particularly attracted to daring pursuits. I’m not into thrill rides or scary movies. I basically even avoid mundane risks like jaywalking and eating chicken that has been left out too long. I have a primal need for safety, security and a hot shower every morning.
And yet, I am married to a man who has lately been drawn to adventure. This means I’m doing my level best to say yes to a few of these adrenaline-fueled activities. (And in this case, my episode of outdoor adventure was sandwiched between a night in a luxury hotel and a spa appointment, so we can all agree that the man has some selling skills!)
As it turns out, I did eventually cross that open chasm, 20 feet in the air, but the story of how it happened might surprise you.
A fellow ropes course participant began to struggle on an obstacle still ahead of me. As I instinctively called out words of encouragement to her, my heart willing her wires to stabilize and her panic to subside, my eyes fixed on her destination, I literally just hopped across the expanse that had paralyzed me only moments before. I did it without even thinking. I actually made it look easy.
If you saw the video, you’d question the notion that I was scared at all. But despite how it looked in the end, I had been scared. In fact, I’d been paralyzed with fear.
As I moved past this obstacle and on to the others on the course, ending with a zip line (did I mention that I am a really good wife?), the parallels to my entrepreneurial life were not lost on me.
It made me wonder if a ropes course could reveal valuable lessons for an aspiring entrepreneur.
Here are a few lessons I gleaned from my day on the ropes:
1. They don’t call it a Leap of Faith for nothing. Taking a step with nothing visibly linking you to the other side is way scarier than walking on even the narrowest of connectors. Some of the obstacles sent me teetering across thin little wires, one foot at a time, but that was far easier than crossing an open expanse. There’s only one way to take a step when you’re not sure your foot will reach the other side, and that’s to leap. Entrepreneurs face these leaps routinely, often beginning with the decision to start the venture in the first place, leaving the security of a paycheck and the routines of an established company. Get used to it. But anytime you can find something familiar to connect you to where you’re headed, use it. It will make your mental journey so much easier.
2. A good guide is worth her weight in gold. Several times on the course, I wasn’t sure how best to approach an obstacle, but our guide made sure I knew the ideal way to tackle each one. Having someone invested in your success who can teach you a proven approach to solve the problem you’re facing is everything. Don’t waste time doing it the hard way. Find a coach or a mentor who can save you time and effort in your journey.
3. “I can’t” is a paralyzing brain trick. The words running through my brain as I stood on that platform were a repeat chorus of I can’t, but in truth, I could. Train yourself to say “I can” and get your energy working with you instead of against you. It sounds like a little thing, but it’s not. The only thing stopping my legs was my brain. The power of our mental chatter is immense.
4. Get out of your own way by helping someone else. When I shifted my attention to the other panicked climber, I released the gear in my brain that was stuck on “I can’t” and my legs unlocked. This works wonders when we are feeling stuck. Turn your attention to helping someone else – there is always someone you can encourage, teach, or support. Seek out those people and watch what happens to your own efforts. There is near-magical power in this – harness it.
5. Keep your focus on where you’re headed, not on what could go wrong. When I kept my eyes focused on the finish line of any obstacle on the course, I noticed how I was moving toward it. When I looked down, and thought about the possibility of falling, fear set in. As an entrepreneur, if you focus on what could go wrong, you’ll never get there. Stay focused on your goals and on your movement toward them.
6. Forget about who’s watching. Before we started the course, I was worried (a lot) about what I’d look like up there, strapped into the stupid harness and wobbling across the wires. I scanned the area for spectators and wondered what they’d think of my ropes debut. Once I climbed the 20 feet to the platform, I never thought about them again. Listen, this is your race. Get your head fully in the game and you’ll forget about how it looks to the people watching from the sidelines.
7. Choose your partners carefully. You know who does matter? The people at your side. Having my husband close by made a world of difference on the course – just as it has in my entrepreneurial journey. He was my encourager-in-chief and he made me laugh when I wanted to cry. And let’s not forget that he was the one who got me up there in the first place.