I have a very rational and justified fear of heights. To me, it seems far more inexplicable to NOT be afraid of heights. That being said, I recognize I probably avoid them more often than most people.
So I was as surprised as anyone when I found myself at our parish retreat at Waycross Camp and Conference Center watching my fellow parishioners taking turns attempting to scale the climbing wall, then jumping off a perfectly good platform onto a zip line. The kids made it look easy, of course, with a dexterity and speed that Spider-Man only wishes he had. As we transitioned into the adults, it was clear this was not as easy as the kids had made it look. Several of us were able to get to within a few feet of the top before their fingers gave way or they were simply unable to make the transition onto the platform.
I sat there watching each person either make it and celebrate or try and fail to get up the wall. Regardless of outcome, those watching were encouraging and cheered on the effort. It eventually reached a point where I had to decide if I was going to climb it or not. I was encouraged by the staff's professionalism. They seemed to take it seriously, which reassured me. As my wife had just successfully scaled the wall, I felt I had no choice but to drag myself over to the wall and make an attempt.
My strategy was simple: Keep moving, focus on the step ahead, and ask for advice about where to go next. This worked pretty well for the most part, and I felt like I was moving along alright. I developed a rhythm that kept me looking ahead, and staying plastered to the wall reduced the feeling that I was a mere slip and series of snapped ropes away from falling to my death.
Eventually, I reached the most difficult stage, which involved transitioning from the comfortable rhythm of climbing the wall to swinging your body weight onto a platform above your head with very little leverage. I almost made it, briefly lost my sense of balance and then panicked. A glance at the ground below nearly froze me but I was so close and I didn't want to fail. I willed myself onto the platform and lay there, drenched in sweat.
Note: There is no video of my climb, but in my mind it looked exactly like this:
Only halfway done, though. Now I had to convince myself to jump from a perfectly good platform and trust the zip line to get me safely back to the ground. In many ways, this was actually worse than the climb. The staff person helping us move to the zip line was very nice but way too talkative for my needs.
As Charlie began encouraging me to take in the glorious view, I asked him to wrap it up. He then began telling me all the things I could say, sing, shout, or scream on the way down. I interrupted him, ever so gently: "GET ME OFF OF HERE." At that point, he seemed to realize that it was in everyone's best interest for him to finally get me off the platform. Well, as you can guess, the zip line held and I survived.
I have to say, the rest of the weekend I felt pretty good. It's been a long time since I pushed myself to do something that I really didn't know if I could finish or not. Add the pressure of having many friends watching and I was thrilled that I was able to finish.
If it's been a while since you have pushed yourself out of your comfort zone, why not give something new a try? If public speaking makes you uncomfortable, why not join a Toastmasters club this fall? Maybe now is the time to take up biking or write that book you've been thinking about for years.
It's worth it. Find something you dread, give it a try and feel yourself grow. Attempting something you have always avoided can help you see yourself in a new light. Staying on the ground is definitely safer but then you never get to see that terrific view from high above.