Overcoming Obstacles

I have a strong respect for heights…in other words, I’m afraid of heights. It isn’t so much the height itself as it is the potential to fall. So, when my wife asked me to go “rock-climbing” with her, I got a little apprehensive. Wanting to spend time with her and understanding the need to take care of my physical well-being, I reluctantly agreed.

We are often confronted with obstacles and barriers in our lives. Some of them are psychological such as fear, others are physical. Overcoming these obstacles may appear daunting, but they are certainly achievable!

The Rock Climbers Wall

As we entered the rock-climbing facility, I first had to sign the standard waiver indicating that I accepted all liability for whatever happened. Next, they sat me down in a room by myself to watch a brief safety/awareness video. For all they knew, I spent the entire time watching cat videos on YouTube, and I may have thought about doing that, but since I value my life, I decided it best to see what the video had to say. After that I was fitted for a harness and taken over to one of the auto-belay stations. For anyone not familiar with an auto-belay, it is a device designed to let an individual climb by themselves without the need of a partner. As you reach your desired height, you push yourself away from the wall and the device “slowly” lowers you to the ground.

The Staff Member taught me how to clip myself into the auto-belay and then instructed me to climb about ten feet up before letting go of the wall and letting the device lower me to the ground. That was it. My instructions were complete and I was free to go climb with my wife. We started on one of the “easy” walls and I made it about half way up. I decided that was high enough and started climbing back down. No, I did not jump and let the auto-belay do all of the work for me. At that point, I trusted in my own strength, not the system in place.

I watched from the ground as my wife, who had been climbing beside me, finished the climb to the top and pushed away from the wall. I turned back towards the wall, looked up, and set my sights on the auto-belay mounted near the ceiling and started making my way up again. I took one step at a time. I frequently readjusted my grip and my footing. When I was unsure of my next move, I would take a second to look around at the available holds before deciding on how to best proceed. I should clarify here that the paths were “defined” by colors and technically you were supposed to climb using only the designated color. During one of my pauses, my wife could feel my hesitancy and told me that I was supposed to reach for the “Yellow” grips. My response to her was that “all” of the grips were my options. She smiled and said OK. After what felt like an eternity, though in reality it was less than a minute, I reached the top. I had made it to the top while focusing on my goal one step at a time.  Now came the psychological battle for me, the potential to fall.

I knew the system was sound since I had just watched my wife use it, my arms were tired so I didn’t want to climb down and by this point I realized my wife was filming me for posterity’s sake. I shored up my footing, took a deep breath, grabbed the rope and pushed myself away from the wall.

There may have been that brief internal moment of panic that the system wasn’t going to engage but it did, and I made my way down the wall. As I hit the ground, I momentarily tripped on the “Landing Spot”. My wife let me know that I could edit out the last part if I wanted to and I responded, “You don’t always land gracefully in life.” She smiled again and we made our way to the next wall. I proceeded to climb to the top of three or four more walls before calling it a day.

Lessons from an Astronaut’s Mother

Recently I had the opportunity to attend the Charlotte Region Health Care Summit where Captain Scott Kelly was the keynote speaker. While Captain Kelly could have spent the entire time speaking about his amazing story and time as a NASA astronaut, he took about ten minutes to speak about his parents, specifically his mother who became the first woman Police Officer in his hometown.

As part of the test to become a Police Officer, his mother would have to climb over a 7’ 4” wall. Captain Kelly’s father, who was also a Police Officer, built a wall in their backyard for her to practice scaling. Captain Kelly explained how his mother had no chance of scaling the wall in the beginning. She started by jumping up and hanging on the edge of the wall for as long as she could, then she started trying to lift her self up a little bit at a time. Eventually, she built the strength and skill to climb over the wall. He reiterated the importance of small incremental steps to achieve goals throughout his speech.

Ways to Overcome

I don’t believe in any single one formula of success in most instances, but I did see some similarities between my own wall and that of Captain Kelly’s mother. Not to diminish her accomplishment, which is far greater than my own, but I want to illustrate the parallels that are shared with obstacles and how we overcome them.

I see three main similarities:

1) A Support System: Many people are able to achieve amazing feats, but very few are able to do so without any outside support or encouragement. I might have been able to climb the wall without my wife’s encouragement, just as Captain Kelly’s mother may have been able to pass the Police Force test herself, but the likelihood of success in either case would have diminished.

2) Patience: “Patience is a virtue” is a saying for a reason, not everything comes quickly. More often than not we have to work at something before we start to see results.

3) Determination: If you maintain your sights on the goal ahead of you, and relentlessly push forward, no matter how slowly, you will eventually get there.

Remember Neil Armstrong’s famous words:

“That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The same can be said for your own journey to overcome obstacles; the culmination of small steps, when viewed as a whole, is “one giant leap”.