A while ago my boyfriend and I took a rock-climbing lesson at the Joshua Tree National Park. We met our instructor Steve and the other climbers at the crack of dawn. Not knowing what to expect, we were wide open to whatever was in store for us.
Steve was 50, 6’ 3”, rustic looking. Friendly, with a relaxed sense of humor, he said he had never slept indoors until he was 35 – when marriage convinced him that a warm, clean and comfortable place to come home to wasn’t such a bad thing.
His passion for rock climbing and the mastery of his art made our experience an exceptional one. We began with the basics: how to use our hands and feet, how to tie our ropes, the rules of the game… By the end of the day, we’d made four climbs between the levels of 5.4 to 5.7 on the Yosemite Decimal System. We were challenged physically and mentally. We had a blast.
For some reason the rock-climbing lesson resonated with me at a deeper level. It still does. And I can’t help but compare the lessons I learn in rock climbing with those I’ve learned in life and business.
I am struck by their similarities: both combine autonomy with engagement, security with risks, constancy with flexibility, and simplicity with complexity. This confirms my belief that there are certain principles to life, once learned, that we can apply freely in other disciplines as well. Here are the five principles that came alive during my rock-climbing lesson:
In roped technical climbing, one climber moves at a time, while the other “belays.” The belayer must be securely attached to the rock by means of protection devices (cams, nuts, bolts, pitons), or tied to an immovable object like a boulder or sturdy tree.
The attachments are called, collectively, the “anchor.” There is also an anchor securely attached to the rock above where the climbers aim to climb. Once you have the upper and lower anchors secured, you can’t really fall.
The anchors give you freedom of movement between two spaces: where you are now and where you want to go. To me, the upper anchor symbolizes our intention. The lower anchor symbolizes our relationships and values. When our ambition is focused at the right place, and our foundations are solid, we can trust the process, take risks, and enjoy the journey.
Have a game plan:
Once we checked to make sure that our anchors were secure, Steve asked us to take a quick study of the rocks and come up with a rough game plan for our ascent. I didn’t fully understand its importance until later when I was up there hanging on the rocks.
When you are up there, your vision narrows down to a few square feet around you. All you can focus on is your next move. That’s why it is important that you get a good sense of direction beforehand.
Of course your plan can change as you discover new information along the way. This is true in life and business as well. We need to have a plan to guide us on our journey. But we also need to stay open to adapt and change our plan when new information becomes available.
Take one solid step at a time:
When you start to ascend, you sort of let go of your goals. All you focus on is finding your next step. You commit to it, center yourself, and then take that next step.
There was one climb that was particularly challenging for me. The rock was so steep and bare. When I was 20 feet above the ground, I couldn’t place my next move. I used my left foot to “feel” several potential footholds. But I just didn’t feel comfortable that they were solid enough to hold my weight. I was paralyzed for a few minutes in eternity.
Steve was shouting from below, “Commit to it. Trust it.” When you find a step you can commit to it, you will move. I struggled to commit my weight to a spot that was barely there.
But I did. I trusted it. And centering my self, I kept ascending! Today his words still strike me like a bell: “What is the next solid step can you take?” I know when I commit to taking my next step, and trust it, all is well.
Follow your intuition:
When I was up there high above the ground, my fellow climbers were shouting at me, enthusiastically giving me their advice. Who do you listen to?
Some advice was very helpful, especially from people who had gone before me. However, I realized what mattered most at that moment was my own intuition. I know myself and my situation better than anyone else.
Somehow my intuition always guided me to a step that worked for me. My climber friends were often surprised that I could figure out a “strange way” to get up there. In rock climbing, it becomes clear to me that we are all different, our body types, skills and personalities. We’ll get it right if we follow our intuition and use whatever we’ve got.
I enjoyed watching Steve climb. He ascended with grace and ease, like a cat. I was fooled initially, thinking it was a piece of cake.
When it was my turn, I began with enthusiasm and determination. I lifted my leg attempting to put my foot on a bigger hold way above me. Steve stopped me, he said, “Take a smaller step, staying as centered as you can. You don’t want to overextend yourself and waste your energy.”
True. There is the law of least effort. It matters what step you take, it also matters how you take it. How can I take my next step with grace and ease, and conserve my precious energy for the long haul? This is another reminder I am bringing back to my daily world.
I pause for a moment, centering myself. Looking up, I say to myself, “What an exciting journey ahead.” I can’t wait to take my next step… and take it well.
“The mountains will always be there, the trick is to make sure you are too.” ~ Hervey Voge