Hitting the Wall to overcome fear, failure, and fatigue


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.