After four days on Africa’s highest mountain, we were nearly at the summit. Somewhere over 15,000 feet, I collapsed into my sleeping bag for four hours’ rest before the final push to the top of Kilimanjaro. I checked my resting heart rate: 175 bpm–a level I normally achieved only through my hardest workouts.
So how did I–someone with no mountaineering experience–end up here?
While volunteering in Kenya in 2009, I became fed up–fed up with running out of food, fed up with the sand flies that bit me constantly, and fed up with being on an itty bitty island in the Indian Ocean. So, I decided to take a short vacation. And, because I wanted cooler weather and some exercise, I thought I’d climb Kilimanjaro.
I’ll let you process that for a moment.
Yes, this was honestly the extent of my consideration, simply because I knew so little about the mountain.
It wasn’t until my expedition was booked that I borrowed a fellow volunteer’s guidebook to climbing Kili. And, over the next few days, I became progressively more terrified. One of the Seven Summits, Kilimanjaro stood 19,341 feet high and had a summit success rate of just 66%. I had never hiked above 9,000 feet, had asthma, and was terribly out of shape from sitting around for three months eating chapati. Yet, somehow, I was about to take on this mountain.
Indeed, climbing Kilimanjaro was one of the easiest decisions I ever made…but only because I had no idea what I was getting into.
This post is not about my climb, however, so you don’t need the details (although I will say I made it to the top! Hooray!). All you need to know are these two things:
1.) Reaching the summit of that mountain was one of the top three experiences of my life and
2.) Had I understood what I was doing when I signed up, I might not have done it at all.
How does that sit with you? Are you missing out on something that could be the best experience of your life–climbing a mountain, starting a business, or asking out that person you’ve had a crush on for the last five years–out of fear?
Well, I get it, but I won’t affirm your choice to stay in that idle realm of non-possibility. It simply won’t reap the meaningful experience (not to mention potential rewards!) of action.
It’s true that, most of the time, we are more aware of what a huge challenge will entail and fear is a natural result. So how do we overcome our fear in service of becoming more awesome?
Climbing Kilimanjaro taught me that avoiding a desired experience out of fear is not an option. So, I have intentionally developed effective ways to deal with the stress and anxiety that come with big, juicy goals (like quitting an awesome job to pursue my dreams or performing in front of lots of people!).
Here are my techniques:
I outline my plan: Coaching taught me how to clearly define my goals, as well as their related action items. By breaking down my big ambitions into manageable chunks and setting deadlines, I have a clear path to success and can take those scary first steps. Often, our survival mechanisms sabotage our efforts even before we start. One of my most present survival mechanisms is to freeze and do nothing (except perhaps complaining about my current situation)! By outlining my plan, I can shift into movement. I work with my clients to do this, as well and am so inspired by the progress they make once the path is clear.
I turn to my support network: I need friends, family, and my network of fellow visionaries to keep me moving. Most importantly, I work with my life coaches to build and execute my vision. My coaches are the people who most embrace possibility, support me without a subconscious or conscious agenda of their own, get excited about my big ideas, and nurture my dreams in a positive and loving way.
I write out my fears every day: For eight years, I let my fears sabotage my dreams. Now, I am often still present to those fears. Rather than letting them stop me, however, I get them out on paper. Immediately after waking, I write three pages in stream-of-consciousness fashion (as taught in The Artist’s Way). What comes out on that page is often ugly–my concerns, my limiting beliefs, the worst-case scenarios, profanity, my urge to quit. However, by the time I finish writing, I have often found answers to my pressing questions and feel a catharsis that makes moving forward possible.
I clear: Throughout the day, additional concerns sometimes emerge that make it difficult for me to focus on my work or my clients. To stay present (and thus be my most productive and best self!), I use an exercise I learned through my Accomplishment Coaching program. Clearing allows me to define my fears, concerns or complaints, as well as my judgments around these things. Finally, I put them back into context. In this way, I gain perspective on those runaway thoughts that make life feel out of control.
Fear is not a reason to postpone our goals and dreams. It is an opportunity to evaluate our situation, find our limitations and then develop the practices and call on the team we need to push through.
If we are to reach our goals, we must show up despite our fear. Potential lies in the space of uncertainty.
As a result, you may end up running your own business, finding an amazing romantic partner or hiking just a few feet away from Africa’s last glaciers. And, much like the view from the top of Kilimanjaro, the result may be even more beautiful than you anticipated.