As a team building and leadership facilitator, one of the most important qualities you can possess is empathy – understanding what it is that your participants experience. At GDI, we specialize in creating opportunities for our participants to step into the “growth zone” – and in order to facilitate this process, this is something that we need to experience firsthand. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Owens River Gorge with GDI president Tim Walther for a fantastic weekend of rock climbing, personal development, and experiencing the “growth zone.”
So I entered the Gorge on the first day, ready to push myself and achieve some new milestones. Tim and I warmed up on a 5.8 on the Great Wall of China, and were quickly drawn to the megaclassic Sendero Luminoso, a 5.10 B with a steep, exposed arete. I knew that it was at the edge of my climbing abilities, but embraced the challenge wholeheartedly, if a little more nervous than usual.
I watched Tim move up the steep wall with the agility of a cat and the grace of a ballet dancer, and began to prepare myself mentally, taking notes on what moves he was making and where the challenges would lie. As I tied in, I began the traverse to the beginning of the ascent, one step at a time. After some beautiful climbing moves and a few exciting falls, I reached the crux (hardest part of the climb). There was a massive handhold just above my reach, covered with chalk (meaning other climbers had used it) so I dove for it…and fell. Undeterred, I moved my feet around the chalky holds, turned toward a different angle, and dove again…unsuccessfully. After about a half-dozen variations on this attempt, I took a deep breath, leaned back, and took a look at the whole route.
Climbing is as problem-solving intensive as it is physical, and sometimes the solution to a problem is not in a powerful move, but in a creative alternative. This particular section of the climb happened to be located near the arete, which meant it was at the edge of a corner and near another wall. I swung around, looked at my other options, and immediately locked into a series of beautiful, untouched hand and foot holds. Perfect! I finished the climb with no other falls, and marveled at the beauty of the gorge below as Tim lowered me down.
True to form, I was ready for me, and we did another 5.9 before calling it a day. We returned the next morning to a much colder, windier version of the Gorge that we had left the day before. I knew what was next on the agenda – experiencing my first lead climb. It’s one thing to have a rope holding you up as you take falls – it is quite another to be the one climbing above the gear and placing it on the rock! Fortunately, I had a great coach to support me, and an easy 5.6 to practice on. As I tied in, I knew that I could easily climb this route without falling, and that the challenge would be purely mental.
Two moves in, and I had the first piece of gear in place. Perfect! I continued to move my way up the moderate rock face, clipping into one bolt at a time. Finally, I was at the mental crux – a 20-foot runout! (In climber jargon, a “runout” is the amount of space in between gear placements.) Fortunately, the climbing itself was quite easy. I took a deep breath and plowed through, visualizing the clip above me that would soon be attached to my rope. Thirty seconds later, I was in the clear, and ready for the final moves. A rush of relief came over me as I clipped the rope to the final top bolted anchors, and I felt elated as I cleaned the route on my way down, removing every piece of gear I had clipped into and vividly reliving each moment of the climb.
We all experience challenging moments in different ways – for some, the paradigm could be climbing a 14,000 foot mountain. For others, it may involve speaking publicly or making sales calls. Still others may find interacting with their colleagues outside of a work environment to be in their “growth zone.” No matter what kind of fear we experience in our daily lives, it is important to remember that we are defined not by the event, but by how we react to it. Positive visualization and observing alternate solutions are just two of the many powerful tools that we can use.
Amidst my moments of excitement and challenge this past weekend, one fact holds true: I fully immersed myself into the growth zone, ready to push myself further in my climbing career, and ready to coach others to their next level of potential!