Updated: Aug 1, 2019
“You can do it-- just step up!” I screamed from several feet below to my eight year old nephew as his small foot teetered on a tiny piece of plastic mounted on the rock-climbing wall he was attempting to scale for the first time.
“I can’t!” he yelled back, “It’s too far away.”
“Just try, you are stronger than you think you are.” I responded with enthusiastic encouragement.
Every climb starts with a few humble steps.
Watching my nephews (ages 8 and 11 years old) attempt rock climbing for the first time not only created some fun family memories, but also taught me five valuable lessons about achieving career success.
1. It’s harder than it looks. Watching more experienced climbers navigate their way to the top of the wall looked easy as my nephews put on their gear. They had visions of themselves scampering up the wall to the top, but quickly learned it wasn’t as easy as it looked. They didn’t see the countless hours the other climbers spent practicing, falling, and training day after day to achieve the necessary strength, experience, and skills to be able to successfully climb to the top. As working professionals and leaders we sometimes look at others we admire and assume it was easy for them to get to where they are. We don’t see the sacrifices, the hard work, and the years it took them on their own unique path to executive leadership or business success. We must be patient, and we must stop comparing our own journeys to others, instead focusing on the next step, the next goal and what we must do to prepare and practice to get there.
2. Support systems are critical. None of the climbers on the wall attempting to ascend to the top of it were doing so alone. Every single person was harnessed in and connected to a rope held by a trusted person below who was helping him navigate his path and who stood ready to help him in the event he slipped off the wall. Our career journeys are no different. Those who are successful in achieving great things almost never make their way to the top without someone (or several others) providing support, guidance, and assistance when they need it the most. Make sure you are surrounding yourself with those who will support you along the way, and remember, it’s not always your time to climb. Sometimes you need to hold the rope for someone else when it’s their turn to tackle the challenge.
3. Falling teaches valuable lessons. There is more than one way to climb to the top of the wall. Nearly every step presents an option for the climber’s next step. Narrowly missing a step often results in falling, but the next time an attempt is made, they knew to choose a different route. In our professional lives, we often slip and fall. We didn’t intend to make a misstep, but it happens. But those missteps often provide us with invaluable learning and allow us to make different choices to advance our performance differently the next time. Falling is almost always inevitable when we’re attempting big goals and venturing into uncharted heights. It’s how you handle those falls and what you learn that will propel you even higher the next time around.
4. Encouragement can propel you to reach higher than you think you can go. My nephews persevered higher and higher with each attempt up the wall, but they would routinely get to a spot they had never achieved before and stop. They would look around deciphering their next move. The realization they were higher than they’d previously been would set in, and then fear slowly started to threaten and paralyze them. I could see their hesitation and shouted out encouragement, reminding them they were doing a great job and would urge them to keep up the good work. Sometimes they’d offer an excuse why they didn’t think they could go any higher. I’d enthusiastically shout back an idea or strategy for them to try. And when they reached that next height, they would cling to the wall smiling from ear to ear. Sometimes we are own worst enemies. The negative self-talk, the doubts, or the imposter syndrome that we allow to infiltrate our minds can really paralyze us.
"Hurry--- take my picture! Look how high I am!" Reid, age 8