This weekend I went indoor rock climbing at a place called Planet Rock in Pontiac. It was a blast. I'm not actually all that great at the sport but I still have fun. While on the wall for my first climb I had a revelation. Whether I had heard this somewhere else before and only now connected the dots I don't know. Regardless, the lesson I discovered on the climbing wall is fitting in any arena in life.
The goal of rock climbing is to get to the top. As with any goal, you start out at the bottom. When you look up it seems like the top is so far away and you wonder how you will ever get there. You start out by assessing your first step. You seek out a solid hold for your hand to grab and grip it will all your strength. That first hold is your commitment. You've made the decision to start the climb. The first hold is always the most important. If you don't pay attention and throw yourself out there and grab anything that sticks out, chances are you will fall. But if it's solid it gives you the stability you need to reach further. It's just like trying to reach a goal at work or in your personal life. First, make the commitment to start. Then, plan a solid first step. An easy win in the beginning gives you the confidence to reach further.
While moving up the wall a climber is constantly assessing which nub is appropriate for the next toe hold and which is going to be a good bet for a hand hold. Sometimes you bet wrong and end up dangling by your fingertips wildly flailing your feet in a desperate attempt to make contact with anything that could support you for even a moment. Sometimes this is confused with failure but you're moving so it's still progress.
Nobody wants to bet wrong and end up dangling but sometimes it's difficult to see what the next move has in store. From your view at the bottom it looks like a perfect handle-shaped grip to sink your hand into. However, when you reach for it you realize there is no handle-shaped crevice; only a rounded off mound and you end up slipping.
As with most goals in life, the climb to the top is never as easy as you think it will be. During any given attempt to climb up the wall there are moments when you have to stop, set yourself against the wall and reassess the situation.
OK. I've made it halfway up. The next steps look too far away, or they look slippery. What should I do? My toe is cramping from trying to hold my weight on a nub that is a half-inch wide. My left hand is behind me in my chalk bag preparing for the next grab. My right hand is grasping the last good hold within immediate reach. What should I do?
Sometimes the only answer is to go back down and realign your course. If you move too quickly you don't make good decisions. If you move only one step without simultaneously considering steps two or three you may end up hitting a dead end. Usually when we get to these places in life we give up. We release our grip and let the goal fall away. There is an option better than giving up.
Sometimes the only way to reach the top is to take it back a few steps, move over, and climb again. Take a break and pull your view out to the big picture level. Maybe instead of reaching for the red hand-hold like last time, you should move to the left and reach for the green one. You may discover that slight change makes all the difference.
Maybe the reason you didn't get a promotion isn't because you weren't qualified; but because you gave up in the middle of the process. Maybe the reason you didn't finish your home improvement project isn't because you gave up; but because you were off on a measurement by one inch and didn't want to take it apart to check. Maybe the reason why you are not living the life you think you deserve isn't because the world is out to get you; but because at one point in time you took the red hand-hold instead of the green hand-hold.
The green hand hold is still out there. It's OK to backtrack and find it. Step back and find a better toe hold to boost yourself up, a better path, a better plan. Sometimes the only way to reach the top is to take a step back.
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.