Updated: Jul 16, 2019
Climbing the cliffs at Devil's Lake, WI with Devils Lake Climbing Guides & Limitless Leadership team was such an incredible experience that I had to write about.
Let me give you a quick preview. -- Typically, people climb rocks to climb some rocks. But not us. Climbing these cliffs for me was a life changing experience for me. Here's why and what I learned along the way.
Fight or Flight?
When experiencing an incredible scary situation, you often go into fight or flight mode. When that happens, it's like your brain is hijacked and you don't function as usual. Well, that happened for me as I was about to step over a 300ft cliff to repel down from. As I stepped over the ledge, while my legs trembled, heart racing, tears rolling down my face, and a million thoughts blazing through my brain I stepped backwards and started to repel. In that moment, I told myself, "don't look down, you got this".
All I needed to do was to let go and give a little trust to not only the rope but to myself who was holding on to the rope. I often am afraid to take that step into the “unknown” if I am unsure of what the outcome looks like. People often describe that as xenophobic tendencies. While I believe that most, if not all people, have experience this before. The fear of the unknown is something that can be hard to describe if you are unaware of it. What helped me the most was focusing on my breath. If I stayed completely present while focusing on my breath and literally taking it one step down at a time, I would make it to the bottom. And I made it! (Que “I made it” by Kevin Rudolf)
That was my first lesson. Then came the climbing up part. Here, I thought the repelling would be the hardest and climbing would be easier and boy was I wrong. I’m not sure if it was my ego telling myself that climbing should be easy peasy, but it was not! I started climbing the first time and got about 15 ft above the ground and got stuck. I was at a point where I became extremely frustrated and even vulnerable. I wasn’t just frustrated at the fact that I couldn’t go any further, I was frustrated at the fact that I was getting tremendously frustrated. I couldn’t slow down or breathe or even have any patience. I wanted to make it to the top and fast and be done with it. Instead, I got upset, came down, and decided to take a break.
What I realized, is that I was tired. Not just “physically tired” because I was out climbing cliffs all day. I was mentally and emotionally tired. I realized that this past year has been very mentally and emotionally exhausting in all areas of my life. Have you ever felt that way? Maybe you’re feeling it right now. If you’ve made it this far into the post, I promise I’m going to share how I worked through this reckoning. But first it was coming to terms with the realization that I’ve gone through some shit this past year and it got my head spinning. Why? Because I believe that while I transitioned into my 25 year of life, I started to shed away the shell, the story, that I held onto for so long in my life. The “I’m not good enough” story. Within this process, I have shredded layers upon layers of stories, trauma, beliefs, motivations, values, and old habits out of my life. Not only was this extremely difficult when I decided to share this story on the TEDx stage for the world to see last year but it was also challenging to see so many other stories and traumas that came along with that. Including things like watching family members struggle with their addictions and even some lose their lives to it. The intense amount of the grief, pain, and loss that I've watched not only myself go through but even the people closest to me has been almost unbearable. In addition to having close friends walk out of my life due to a difference in values. This is just a bit of what this past year has been like but because of it I have been able to reshape and rebuild what all these parts of my life mean to me. By starting with breaking bad habits and creating a great routine which you can read more about here. It has been said that the two most important days of a person’s life are the day on which they were born and the day on which they discover why they were born.
Well, this is me, living out the second part of that quote.
What Happened Next?
Going back to the climbing lessons, I noticed that by breathing and being present with the emotions of frustration, sadness, and even anger that it felt almost felt kind of good. That it was okay though for me to feel those feelings and thankfully I was surrounded by a group of people who did not react to my emotions but responded to me with kind words of encouragement and support if needed. What I needed in that moment was to work through the thoughts racing through my brain. Or in other words, I needed to work through the story I was telling myself. Which included things like “I’m not a good leader, if I can’t climb, how can I expect my team to make it? Why am I even doing this? If I mess up, I am worthless. If I don’t make it to the top, no one will respect me. I went as far as I could go, that should be good enough. Why am I so tired?” While realizing this, it was important for me in this moment to give myself permission to just take a damn break. Yes, a break. Do people even know what that means anymore?
I have had so many learning and growing pains through this process and it has taken me a while and even challenges such as climbing a cliff for me to really stop and take a look at what all of this means to me. It can often be easier to live in the rumble. To live in the shitty story lines that we're telling ourselves instead actually reflecting and recognizing what is going on beneath the surface. Today, my definition of success reflects exactly who I am as I live into my values, what I want in life as I bravely trust with an open heart, and what brings me the most joy while I am learning to rise. Or in this case, climb. I can’t help but to take this back to Brené Brown’s section in her book Dare to Lead. She states “One minute you’ll pray that the transformation stops, and the next minute you’ll pray that it never ends. You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time.” That is EXACTLY how I’ve felt over this past year of transformation. There’s been moments of fear and praying that this intense amount of growth and development stops or at least slows down. While in the same breath I am praying that this never ends. That I will continue to learn, grow, and become the best version of myself in hopes that it will inspire others to do the same. That even when you feel broken and battered you still get back up. You keep climbing. You don’t just give up. Even when your only 2 feet from the top and you still feel like you’ve given it your all… don’t stop. There is always a greater reward waiting for you through your bravery and courageous act of trying again even after failing the first time.
Making it to the top
That’s where the other side of this comes in and how I still made it to the top at the end of the day. What I mean by that is, yes, I climbed all the way to the top and touched the anchor that was connecting me to the top of the cliff. Dang was this hard though but also beyond rewarding. This experience was one of the greatest “natural highs” that I’ve ever experienced, and I am so grateful for it. After taking those few extra steps to go that two extra feet and make it to the top, I was incredibly proud of myself.
“I surround myself people who continue to lift me up, encourage me forward, and push me even when I want to give up.”
I eased my back to the bottom of the cliff where I greeted my belayer with a huge hug and a great expression of gratitude for what had just happened. That moment for me was extremely insightful for some reason as I had this huge rush of feelings come over me. By just stopping and reminding myself of how important it is that who I surround myself with truly matters. Those who continue to lift me up, encourage me forward, and push me even when I want to stop. The one’s who seek to understand, live in their own authenticity, and show up as their best selves. These people are the one’s who never left, even when it got extremely hard and even uncomfortable at times. You all know who you are and you all are my heroes.
Lastly, and probably most important, was noticing how important it is to just stop and rejoice with how far I have already come. To truly take a step back and reflect, like I am right now on this blog, by how much I am living into my values today as I grow into the person I was always meant to be. That over the past 6 years my life has changed drastically in ways I have never even dreamed of. That no matter what, through the fear of the unknown and feelings of resistance, I can continue to show up as my authentic and faithful self. Even when times are difficult, and I feel like all is against me. Remembering that just because I’ve been working so dang hard, doesn’t mean it will just become easier. No. In fact, it comes with new challenges. New challenges that I continue to show up for. Showing up and being completely present. Learning from my mistakes. Growing into my value’s. Braving the wilderness even when I don’t want to. Even when I am scared, and ready to give up. Every step I take is a new level that leads to new troubles. But I got this and so do you. We are strong. We are brave. We are courageous. We are moving forward.