Every year my office has a staff development day and this year we participated in a ropes course, which (according to Wiki) is a series of challenging outdoor personal development and team building activities consisting of high and/or low elements. Low elements are challenges/activities take place on the ground or only a few feet above the ground, and high elements are much higher off the ground and require a harness and belay for safety.
We spent the morning doing team building activities on the ground, one of which was an exercise in understanding personality types. After answering a series of questions, each of us was directed to stand in one of four corners. Our facilitator informed me and my fellow Type A’s in my corner that we are “The Drivers” or “The Warriors.” Driver (read: Control Freak) I could see…but Warrior? Not so much.
The morning continued with low ropes team building activities which were equal parts challenging and fun; I was definitely in my comfort zone. After lunch was the high ropes course.
The whole day was “challenge by choice” and I had already decided there was no way in hell I was going to do any of the high ropes activities because I have a terrible, horrible, close to paralyzing fear of heights that only gets worse each day I age. My co-worker Sarah is also super scared of heights so at the beginning of the day we made a pact to “stick together” and agreed that if one of us decided to challenge ourselves the other one would as well. I was 100% confident she was keeping her feet firmly on the ground so I wasn’t too concerned.
The first high ropes activity involved climbing up a telephone pole, and believe me when I tell you that just typing that has me shaking. We split up into four teams and whoever wanted to challenge themselves to climb the pole could, while all the others stayed on the ground and helped with the belay.
I kept my ass on the ground.
After the first round of people went I looked over at the team across from us and saw SARAH GETTING STRAPPED INTO A BELAY!! I couldn’t believe she was going for it! Again, it was challenge by choice, and she chose to climb about halfway up the ladder that was leaning against the telephone pole. (That’s how you got started–you had to climb this extension ladder first and then hop on the telephone pole and climb the rest of the way using brackets that were stapled into the pole.) I couldn’t believe Sarah gave it a try and I was SO proud of her!
But then of course, I was remembering that damn pact we made, and I knew that if I didn’t at least try I’d regret it forever.
So I went for it.
I decided before I even got started that my personal goal was just getting to the top of the ladder and then I’d come down. Once I made it to the top of that ladder though, something in me just told me to keep going – so I hugged that pole and started climbing. I made it all the way to the top and later my friend Jill told me (she was on the ground watching) that I looked so effortless doing it that one of my coworkers asked, “Is she even nervous?” To which Jill laughed and replied, “I guarantee you she is scared out of her mind right now.”
I was utterly terrified, but I just kept my eyes focused straight ahead on that pole. I never once looked down. Not once. It was like my brain wouldn’t let my eyes look down. I honestly think if I had I would have fainted right there in my harness which could have made for a very dangerous situation.
When I got to the top of the pole, there was, of course, an added challenge. Screwed into the top of the telephone pole is a 12″x12″ piece of wood, and the added challenge is to pull yourself up onto that piece of wood…and then stand on it. Just free-standing. Nothing to hold onto.
So I did it.
I actually did it.
Oh, and did I mention that when it came time for me to pull myself up onto this 12 INCH X 12 INCH piece of wood, that there were already TWO OTHER PEOPLE STANDING ON IT?!?!
Yeah, that’s right.
I honestly don’t know how I did it. I couldn’t tell you. But I got up on there and the three of us stood on it together. Three adults (three pairs of shoes!) standing IDON’TEVENWANTTOGUESSHOWHIGH up in the air on a little square just slightly larger than a piece of notebook paper–on top of a fricking telephone pole!! Can you just try to picture that? Without puking??
Once I was up there I clung to my other two coworkers for dear life as my whole body trembled like crazy. I remember my right foot was mostly all on the wood and my left foot was only on by my tip-toe. The whole time I was up there I stayed focused on the horizon and never looked down.
It also wasn’t until I was up there that I realized my only way off this thing was to either jump or fall; climbing back down was not option.
Once all three of us were up there the ropes course facilitator yelled up to us about an added challenge we could try, and all I’m thinking is: Added challenge? Are you fucking kidding me?!? “Hold each others’ hands,” the facilitator says, “and then lean backwards as far as you can, using only each other’s support to stay on the board.”
S. and N. (my fellow coworkers up there with me) were ready to give it a go. I was terrified, but also realized that I’d come this far, so let’s just do it. Let’s go all the way.
We had our arms around each other, like one great big bear hug, which is pretty much the only way the three of us could fit up there, so letting go of that embrace terrified me. I took N’s hand first, she took S’s hand, and then I was the last to have to let go to grab S’s hand. I refused to look down to see what I was doing so it was a total leap of faith. Right before I started moving to grab his hand, N. lost her balance and fell off the pole, nearly taking both of us with her. As terrified as I was of falling off that pole, my knee-jerk reaction was to try to go after her – like I could perform some kind of mid-air save or something! Right. (She was fine, of course, in her harness, and her belay team then helped her safely to the ground.)
Meanwhile I’m still scared shitless on the top of the pole, clinging to my boss. (Did I mention S. is my boss? Yeah.) I wanted to just burst into tears, give up, and go home…but again, I knew I’d regret it. So instead, I took a shaky breathe and said, “Let’s try to do the hand thing with just the two of us.”
If I had the ability to look down I would’ve seen S’s jaw on the ground as he looked at me with disbelief and asked, “Are you serious?”
We grabbed hands, and leaned back, and then nothing was keeping me on that pole but my grip with S. We stayed like that for a handful of seconds before I broke my grip and fell backwards off the pole.
It was incredible. It was exhilarating. And it was the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever done in my life.
I nearly had a panic attack once I made it back down to the ground before they unclipped my rope because I WANTED THAT DAMN THING OFF. I didn’t want anything connecting me to that pole any longer!
When I finally managed to stop shaking, I looked up at that telephone pole and couldn’t believe that just twenty minutes earlier I had been standing on top of it.
Fear is a strong feeling – but not as strong as regret. I was so proud of myself for pushing my limits, seeing how far I could go, and never having to think back and wonder if I had it in me. I know now that I do.
I am a Warrior.