By the time we reached the hike’s destination, darkness was beginning to fall.
From the viewpoint, I could see rows of streets ascending the mountain and the glow of city lights. This vista was our reward. I knew our time was running out. Soon it would be nightfall.
In my day job, I help people identify the work that makes them feel alive. The outcome is frequently about taking a leap of faith. Facing fears.
Little did I know when I started the hike that morning was how this experience would offer insights into the work I do.
Pulpit Rock in British Columbia, Canada is a popular hike. Located across the river from the city, it’s about a mile long with 300 yards of elevation. My sister, who was visiting me for three weeks, had walked up to Pulpit Rock daily. This time I joined her.
I can’t remember now why we started the climb so late in the day. What I do know is that if my sister calculated the time based on her experience, she underestimated how long it would take me.
So it was we began our descent as the light was fading. As soon as we entered the forest darkness enfolded us. Through the trees we had occasional glimpses of the city lights.
Single file, we followed the narrow path. My sister led. I couldn’t see my feet. To the left the mountain ascended upward. To the right it dropped off. We inched our way down, my sister calling out when she encountered a rock or root.
When we reached the first switchback, I saw the dark outline of a tree close to the path. I grasped it with one hand. What a relief. As I was walking, soon I realized I had to let go of my security. If I kept holding on, I would not be able to go further down the mountain. In that moment, I understood how fear keeps us clinging to an old idea, way of life or even life saver. There comes a time when it holds us back.
By the time we reached the next switchback, my quadriceps were rebelling. I made a decision. “I am done,” I told my sister. No more of this ridiculous escapade.
Then I had a thought. Was I going to sit and wait for the sun to rise in 10 hours? What would I do? Sleep? Probably not. Imagine every sound was a bear or a cougar? Probably. “I hate this,” I yelled. Once the echo had died, I said, “Let’s go.”
As I plodded silently behind my sister, I thought of how I embrace the idea that there’s always a choice. Spending a night on a mountainside with no gear was an option. But my real decision was how to deal with the situation. I could scream all I wanted, wish I were somewhere else, or consider how I might do it differently if I could start again.
What I understood profoundly in that moment was that anything that I wanted meant I had to go down the mountain first and look past my fear. I wish I could tell you the descent was smooth from that point on, but my legs continued to shake, and my steps were the tiniest I have ever taken. I still hated where I was.
Somehow, I ignored the fact that one wrong step would mean a tumble. Or that we could encounter a wild animal. I just kept moving one foot at a time.
When I think about how to deal with fear when making a big change, like a new career, the most manageable way to deal with it is doing one step at a time.
I remember that fear is a part of me that wants me to be safe. Fear is okay with moving forward, one step at a time.
The last section of the path was quite steep. I decided to turn around and descend like I was on a ladder. After my second step, I reached down with my hand. I felt something squishy. And then the odor hit. Dog sh*t. “Of course,” I said to myself.
Because sometimes that is what life gives you. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already had a lot of it or if you are too tired for it.
I clambered down the last few steps. And it was over. No longer was I on the mountain. No longer did I have to be on full alert. Years later, when I was asked about something I have done that took courage, I thought of that climb down the mountain.
What I learned is that courage is different than I imagined. It isn’t about fearlessness.
Courage is about showing up.
It’s knowing that any time I do something new, I can expect fear. I am hardwired for fear. It means moving even though fear is heavy on my heels. It means handling all the shit that gets in the way.
When I work with clients with their foot suspended in the air for fear of where it might land, I remind them, like Winnie the Pooh, they are braver than they believe.
If you are looking to make a big change in your life, like a career shift, ask yourself if you want fear to be in your driver’s seat.
Author: Patricia Rawson
Image: So Many Desks / Flickr
Editor: Sara Kärpänen