Hitting the Wall to overcome fear, failure, and fatigue

Friends,

Think of your toughest challenge today.  The one perhaps that you have been trying not to think of.  A conversation you’re avoiding.  A strategy that’s not right.  A program you have to change.  Maybe today’s not the day.  But maybe fear’s in the way.  Or just simple disbelief: you don’t think you’re capable.  And consider this story.

On Friday night, my son Jack was doing one of his favorite things, climbing the 50-foot wall at Dick’s Sporting Goods.  In fact, he’d been up the wall twice, including the second hardest climb – one which requires you to get over a 3-foot overhang, which comes straight back off the wall.  For his last effort, he was trying the 3rd hardest, but he challenged himself only to use the yellow-colored “holds,” the hard rubber pieces that jut out from the wall, on which you stand or which you grab with your fingers or hands.

Jennifer and I watched this impossible effort.  The yellow holds were spread so far that his less-than-five-foot body could barely reach from one to the next. He got up about 8 feet, but kept stalling out.  He’d reach . . . fall off the wall.  Up again, reach and just get his fingers on the next hold . . . fall off the wall.  Over and over.  My arms were heavy watching.  “Maybe you’re just too tired after those other climbs, Jack,” Jennifer said.  He didn’t even look back.  He tried again and got past that spot – somehow.  Only to get another 8 or 10 feet and start the same thing over.  “Jack, why don’t you use the red holds, too?”  I yelled 25 feet up the wall, as he dangled one more time, then pulled himself back to the wall.  He wasted little breath, “I’m fine.”

The last three feet took about five minutes.  When he came down I told him, “Jack, one day you’re going to be doing some Calculus and you’re going to think ‘I’ll never get this stuff.’ And that day you just remember the incredible determination you just showed.  You were not going to be defeated. You were awesome.”

Jack inspired me to try the wall at my ripening age.  If you haven’t ever done one, it’s worth a try.  It offers such a chance to just face how easy it is to quit – for fear of falling, fear of climbing, or fear of not being able to ring the bell at the top.  Where’s your wall today?  What voice will call to you, “Come on down, you’re tired. Do it tomorrow.”  What well meaning person – in your office or in your own head – will invite you to take a shortcut that will paper over a problem that you know you need to fix.  This is the season to bear down and really make great things happen, to start to finish the year strong, to find another gear, a deeper level of concentration and determination.

There’s no substitute for fixing your eyes on the goal if you want to

Lead with your best self.

Dan

6 responses to “Hitting the Wall to overcome fear, failure, and fatigue

  1. Thanks again for another good RFL article that offers something to ponder as I make decisions about the benefits of our current community service program for kids. Your comments made me smile and brought back memeories of the stories I heard about “the High” calc class. I confess – I’m not sure if I am up for the wall at my ripening age!

  2. You’re obviously doing a great job of raising a child who has the determination to challenge himself and to literally and figuratively stretch to accomplish goals. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story.

  3. You are doing an incredible job as a parent. Encourage, encourage, and hold back and let them be. My eight year old struggles with reading, yet does have courage and motivation to help others (one of his gifts). So it is a real time in his life where we(my husband and I) are planting seeds of front and center encouragement. Yet, you remind me…when he sees that he can do it…is the real ‘teachable moment’.

  4. At what point does the blessing of “determination to get the job done” become a curse of “stubborn independence and a refusal to quit”?

    The example provided of climbing the wall works well to show the “blessing” side of this, because your son ultimately succeeded in his accomplishment. Ignoring your and your wife’s advice turned out o.k. for this task, but would it always? Aren’t there times in life when we need to either relax our standards to accomplish *some* good (politics especially), or accept help and advice from others to accomplish the goals we’ve originally established?

    Looking back after the accomplishment was attained or not to figure out the difference between determination and stubbornness often seems too late. How do good leaders know in the middle of the process when they’re determined and when they’re just stubborn?

  5. There’s a fine line between ‘determination’ and knowing when it’s time for a break, a rest … or to clear the mind – think about something else, relax, or take a walk so one can come back to a ‘challenge’ rested and/or with a fresh perspective. Maybe even try a new approach to the problem.

    Sometimes ‘determination’ may keep one repeatedly trying the same method and it just isn’t going to work.

    How does one know when determination is required and when is a break needed? Sometimes it just feels right; other times I just don’t know. when one just doesn’t know, maybe it’s best to ‘push on’ a bit more,

  6. Good post. You make some great points that most people do not fully understand.

    “Jack inspired me to try the wall at my ripening age. If you haven’t ever done one, it’s worth a try. It offers such a chance to just face how easy it is to quit – for fear of falling, fear of climbing, or fear of not being able to ring the bell at the top. Where’s your wall today? What voice will call to you, “Come on down, you’re tired. Do it tomorrow.” What well meaning person – in your office or in your own head – will invite you to take a shortcut that will paper over a problem that you know you need to fix. This is the season to bear down and really make great things happen, to start to finish the year strong, to find another gear, a deeper level of concentration and determination.”

    I like how you explained that. Very helpful. Thanks.

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