December 18, 2017

The Life Lesson found in (almost) Falling to my Death.

When I was 15, I went to a sort of “self-enlightenment” camp in Squaw Valley, California with a bunch of utterly unenlightened teenagers.

I didn’t go because I was progressive in my thinking at that age. I went because my spiritually enthusiastic mother made me.

On day five of our nine-day enlightenment adventure, we were scheduled to do activities that would confront our fears. Personally, I would’ve preferred public speaking or fashion shaming, but I got rappelling off a 350-foot mountain.

At 8 a.m., we began our hike up the hill in the blazing sun and were greeted at the top by eager instructors who gave us our gear and training. It would be a “controlled descent” they said. I sure as hell hoped so! Those out of control descents aren’t much fun!

When it was my turn to go, I put on my gear, checked my safety harness, and thought really hard about what I’d just learned. The only thing between me and a barrel of rappelling fun was stepping off that cliff. Backward. 

Do you know what it feels like to step off a cliff backward toward a 350-foot drop? It doesn’t feel good! It feels like you should call someone and say goodbye. “Nice to know you. Would’ve enjoyed getting past the suck-filled, teenage-angst portion of my life, but maybe next time.”

I stood there on the edge of that mountain with my legs trembling uncontrollably. Loose rocks and dirt gave way beneath my feet as the instructors tried to sweet talk me into stepping off.

Deep breath. “One, two, three. Wait a minute, let me get a better grip on this rope. Okay, one, two, three. Hold up, I think my helmet’s crooked. One, two, three. Are you sure this thing is safe? One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three. Yeeeeeoooooooow!”

I jumped off backward a little too “jerky” and ended up falling farther than I’d intended.

“What are you doing?! Get your feet below your head! Feet below your head!” they shouted.

In order to stop myself from sliding down the mountain and casually falling to my death, I had lodged my foot in a crevice. I was stuck. Upside down and stuck.

“You need to pull your foot out and get upright!” they barked.

“Really?! No sh*t Sherlock!” I muttered to myself—and then the bargaining with God began.

Flash forward 40-plus years, and here I am. God took the bargain. I finally managed to dislodge my foot from that crevice and bounced my way down the mountain without further incident. It was fun and exhilarating, and I felt like a total badass when my feet hit the ground.

The memory of that experience has served me well over the years when I’ve been scared to do something new. It’s also served as a fantastic metaphor for creating change in my life.

Sometimes you read the books, you listen to the instructions, you get the gear, and you know exactly what you’re supposed to do, but that first step off the cliff is a doozy! It’s a blind move. Letting go of familiar ground and trusting that all your knowledge and preparation will carry you safely to your destination takes a whole lot of faith and courage.

You understand in your head, but your body and heart resist the move. What if you fall? What if you lose the rope? What if you end up upside down with your foot stuck in a damn crevice?! What then?!

In my case, you flail a little, muster up the strength to pull your foot out, and regain your balance. Then you take the next step.

There are times when we want to create something new in our lives by changing our behaviors and pushing our self-imposed limits, but it feels like we’re jumping off a cliff. It’s high and scary, and we have no idea if we’ll make it down without hurting ourselves. We’re afraid to lose control, so we stay on the edge, frozen. One, two, three. One, two, three. One, two, three.

None of us know for sure how something’s going to turn out until we try. We can’t see what the journey is going to look like until we take that first step, and then the next, and the next. All we can do is prepare, put on our hard hats, and be brave enough to jump.

Don’t miss the exhilaration of conquering your mountain. Take a deep breath and get a grip on your rope.

One, two, three.


Author: Tancie Leroux 
Image: taquiman/Flickr 
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis

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