Don’t Look Down

 

Fear is a bad thing right? We tell children not to be afraid of the various things we know won’t hurt them, the dark or monsters under their beds. As adults we try to rid ourselves of fear like the fear of public speaking or the fear of failure. Some of us are afraid of spiders and other creepy crawlers, while others are afraid of heights, which is a fear of mine. You probably can’t tell from this picture however.

Climbing higherFear has its place as an important emotion, a reaction that can save us from a bad situation or from doing something stupid. Being confronted by a robber, fear is a natural response which heightens our senses so we can react fast enough to avoid a tragedy. The term healthy fear indicates that, in moderation, fear is good for us.

I often feel limited by my fear of heights as my wife Julie is able to walk to the edge of a cliff and see what I can’t because I’m standing twenty feet behind her, my knees weak. With enough time and a gradual increase in comfort, I’m able to get past the fear and do things like you see in the picture to the left. Believe it or not, however that is relatively simple compared to what I faced in the picture to the right.

I enjoy hiking and climbing, I don’t believe in obstacles and want to be able to go through or over them to discover new things, see new sights. I want to remove limits, especially self imposed limits. That’s why I’m up there climbing that sheer cliff, to face my fear (for any climbers out there that was only a 5.2 climb – for non-climbers that simple, relatively speaking).

Our climbing instructor, Robert, was great and understood the role fear plays as we challenged ourselves to push past the anxiety. “You can’t overcome fear,” said Robert, “you can only manage it.” And that’s when it struck me, the word manage is so crucial to everything we do. There is very little we can control but we can manage quite a bit.

As I climbed higher and higher, with only the slightest of footholds, the fear was there. I wanted to quit, to be lowered down by my belay partner, and wife, Julie, who had my life in her hands, but I pressed on. It reminds me of a story my father told me about the first time he ever water-skied, “I was too afraid to fall, so I didn’t” he said. I can completely relate to that now.

I was successful on that climb at managing my fear. On the second climb however I was not as good a manager and psyched myself out, opting to quit half way up. One step forward, one back. Next time, and that’s part of managing your fear, next time, I took two steps forward.

What fear are you willing to face so that you can learn to manage it?


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The Last Hike

 
DANGER

As we pulled into the parking area for the last hike of our vacation, most cars were leaving. It was 75 degrees at 8am and the day would only get hotter – Julie and I love the heat but it can be dangerous hiking in the desert in midday. We’re experienced and carry enough water or at least we think so. When we get back to the car with the last drops in the the last bottle it makes us think we cut it a little close.

There is a difference between risk and foolishness. Foolishness would be attempting a hike like this without the proper preparation, without knowing and respecting our own abilities. I see so many examples of bad preparation in daily life that it makes me wonder why people don’t approach such difficult and dangerous feats such as retirement planning with as much care as they would a hike in the desert.

COMFORT

The temperature was expected to reach 90 degrees but we’ve hiked on hotter days. The trail would be in direct sunlight the entire way there and back. The first mile would only get us as far as a picnic area used by people walking their dogs or looking for a spectacular lunch spot without much hiking effort. Once past the picnic area we head down into a wash – a dry, sandy riverbed that, during rains, can fill with water running off the mountains. After a mile or so in the wash we reach the beginning of the trail that will take us up and up and up and over until we reach an oasis.

This early part of the hike seems quite easy and can lull an inexperienced hiker into a false sense of confidence that may lead to disaster later if they push beyond their ability. People have needed to be rescued from this area because they ran out of water, misjudged the difficulty, overestimated their ability or all of the above. Life seems easy sometimes too and similarly lulls many people into feeling they can afford more than they really can or that they have more time than they actually have.

STRUGGLE

As the trail heads up we are at 117 feet above sea level and will climb to 2,331 feet in about 2.5 miles, a steep climb. The steepest parts are at the beginning with lots of switchbacks, winding sections of trail meant to alleviate the need to climb straight up. We stop often to admire the scenery, catch our breath, and drink water or Gatorade. When we begin moving again the familiar crunch, crunch, crunch of sand and rock beneath our feet is one of the only sounds we hear.

As we begin our adult lives, our careers, it sometimes seems like a slow climb to nowhere, twisting and turning from one job, one responsibility to another. It’s not a race but some of us linger a bit too long in one place as the sun sucks us dry. We can feel alone sometimes, the sound of our effort the only sound we hear.

DETERMINATION

On our entire hike we only see five people, four of which were going in the opposite direction back to their cars to get out of the heat, we continue on.

Persistence and perseverance may be good traits to have as we fight heat and fatigue, challenging ourselves, but we may be setting ourselves up for disaster. Knowing the difference between persistence and foolishness can mean the difference between life and death. In life, persistence and perseverance are also useful traits but maybe they keep you in a bad situation longer than you need to be, or blind you to a better option. Sometimes it’s not only acceptable but smart to stop, turn around and even quit.

PERCEPTION

Looking up, the landscape seems quite stark and barren but there is a surprising amount of greenery interspersed in the brown rocks. Cacti are blooming and the bright purple and yellow pops out at you, the red tips of the blooming ocotillo are another sign of survival in this harsh environment. Yellow flowers on the creosote bush brighten the brown tones of dirt and dust. The aroma as you pass the creosote bush is delightful invoking memories of camp fires and BBQ.

The desert is full of life as plants and animals uniquely suited to the extremes of heat and dryness not only survive but thrive. What one person views as an impossible situation, a mountain of debt they can’t emerge from, a marriage they can’t stay in, a job they can’t stand, others see or search for opportunity. Willing to give up enough lifestyle some among us will get out from under the debt, with enough confidence in themselves some will leave the bad marriage, with determination and drive some will find a new job or new career. In the desert that their life has become they find a way to survive and then they can thrive.

THE DESTINATION IS NOT THE END

Finally our destination emerges in the distance as we round one last peak and see the palm trees in the oasis. Though we can see it, there is still more hiking to be done. The reward will be shade from the sun and a cool place to eat our lunch. The goal however is not the end of the journey as we have to turn around and make our way back to our car. The time we spend in the oasis is a pleasure but there is still work to be done. We have managed our resources accordingly and didn’t drink more than half of our water supply and conserved enough energy for the return trip.

Too many people think of a goal as an end when it’s really only the middle. The goal of a new job or promotion is followed by more work, the goal of getting out of debt is of no use if you simply fall back into the old habits that got you into the debt to begin with. Once a goal is reached a new one is set – that’s called progress. I learn something new about progress on each hike, that the journey itself is rewarding, that there’s always something beautiful, colorful, and inspiring if you just look for it, that a reprieve is usually temporary and that struggle is a part of the trip, and that goals are simply steps along the route to success.


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Life is like…

 
Make your own pathI haven’t been hiking in a while and I miss it. My favorite place to hike is the desert. The landscape and scenery is surprisingly diverse. One hike in particular took me from a low elevation scorched by the sun and heat to cooler, higher elevations among evergreen trees and snow. It was an amazing lesson in change and adaptation. Not only did the vegetation change the higher I climbed but so did the wildlife. I also had to change as the clothing I wore at the beginning of the climb, in the heat, would not be sufficient as I continued to a much cooler, even cold climate.

In order to be prepared for the various conditions the hiker must plan ahead bringing the proper clothing, enough food and water to name a few things. Another aspect of preparation is the conditioning that is necessary for longer, more strenuous hikes. Without planning for the change in climate or the difficulty of the hike you are at risk of failure, and failure at such an endeavor can prove fatal.

The hiker must also be honest with themselves and respect their limitations. Each hike builds upon the strength gained in previous excursions as you push a little farther each time. The distances I could go when I began hiking were significantly less than the distances I now travel. The equipment I carried early in my hiking was an indication of my lack of experience and over confidence. The equipment I now carry shows growth in my level of expertise as well as my respect for the endeavor. None of the following were in my pack on early hikes but are now: flashlight, heat blanket, nine volt battery, steel wool, and much more.

All these points have equivalents in life. The landscape of life is diverse indeed with incredibly hot times and very cold times and each of us has to be prepared for that change. People come and go from our lives as we continue on our path but each of them affects the direction we take. In order to be prepared for the different climates, and the difficulty of the journey of life, we have to plan ahead (but most don’t). The more we experience in life the more we can handle, just as a hiker who travels one mile can go two miles on their next trip. In life we need balance. We must be honest with ourselves, willing to admit when we need help but confident enough to test those limits. The packs we carry throughout life become heavier as we add new tools to aid us, but we should scarcely notice as our strength increases as well.

Life is like hiking, not exactly the same, but there are enough similarities that I use the hiking analogy throughout the book. Where will your hike take you?


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Climb a little higher

I have a picture of me on a hike that I never thought would be possible. Well it started as a hike but ended up being a climbing expedition. The reason I never would have thought the picture possible is that I’m afraid of heights. The image doesn’t show fear or concern, I look really happy, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m afraid of heights. My love of hiking and climbing and exploring outweighs my fear.

Whenever I’m on a hike or climb that takes me higher than a certain amount, the fear seems overwhelming. I feel like I don’t have control, that other forces, the wind, the sandy earth, will cause me to fall but I walk a little farther, climb a bit higher, and explore some more. What I find is that I can go higher if I just give myself some time to acclimate.
Climbing higher
The image you see here was possible only after climbing smaller heights with wider ledges. Once I was comfortable with that, I could climb higher using narrow ledges, and then finally, once my confidence was strong enough I could perch precariously on a rock no wider than my foot.

Making it to the top of that climb was awesome not just for the accomplishment, not just because I faced my fear, but because I was able to see something that would have remained hidden if I didn’t do those other things.

It’s Friday and the weekend is a great time to relax and decompress from the workweek but there’s also an opportunity to explore and to experience new things, to discover what you really enjoy about life. Have a great weekend!


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