What Conquering My Fear of Heights Taught Me

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Some may not admit it, but nearly everyone struggles with a phobia. The list of fears goes on and on: claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), cynophobia (fear of dogs), glossophobia (fear of public speaking), melissophobia (fear of bees), and pediophobia (fear of dolls). My phobia is perhaps one of the most common: acrophobia (fear of heights).

But I haven’t always been afraid of heights. When I was younger, I loved ropes courses and rock climbing. In fact, when I attended summer camp, I was one of the few campers able to climb the advanced rock wall. But when I turned 17, an internal switch flipped on, jolting an irrational fear of heights above 30 feet.

Perhaps I’m crazy, but on the afternoon of August 29, I confronted my acrophobia by rappelling 12 stories from the roof of high-rise building in downtown Knoxville. Despite my fear of heights, I decided to go Over the Edge of the Langley Building to raise money for The Restoration House of East Tennessee, which provides services to single mothers and their families. While my fear of heights can be absurd at times, the families whom The Restoration House serves grapple everyday with the genuine distress of making ends meet. They are pushed to the edge just to survive.

With these single mothers and their families in mind, I took a leap of faith and in return rediscovered several valuable principals that apply well to every facet of life.

Be courageous:

The hardest step is often the first. Frequently we turn back instead of stepping forward because of the fear of the unknown. As I walked up to the edge of the Langley Building, I was certain that my harness would hold me and the ropes would prevent me from falling; however, I was unsure how I would feel rappelling 150 feet to the ground.

Would it be terrifying or exhilarating? Would everyone on the ground see me paralyze in fear? Those unknowns almost kept me from going over the ledge of the building, but then I heard my friends and husband cheer from below. I knew I couldn’t disappoint them, but most of all I couldn’t disappoint the people who’ve helped me raise money for The Restoration House. So I took in a deep breath, closed my eyes, and went off the ledge. And you know what – it wasn’t so bad.

In most big decisions in life and business, fear can paralyze your mind and body. While you can’t avoid fear, you cannot allow fear to rule over you. Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

Trust in others and yourself:

I was able to go Over the Edge because I trusted the prowess of the men and women who were responsible for getting me to the ground safely. But there’s a caveat: you should only trust those who have the expertise necessary to get the job done correctly. Although I deeply trust my friends in many areas of my life, I would not trust their abilities to rig up a reliable ropes system.

We are often confronted with tasks that require skills that we do not have. Rappelling and rigging are skills I definitely don’t possess, but that doesn’t mean I can’t overcome those obstacles. When you lack skills in a certain area, find someone who is an expert in that field. With the Over the Edge crew and the Knoxville Rescue Squad by my side, I knew I could rappel 12 stories and arrive safely on the ground.

Focus on what’s straight ahead:

During my rappel, I tried to look only straight ahead because if I focused on what was below, my fear of heights would overcome me. For me, this situation was a great metaphor for life: to succeed, you must focus on what is happening in the present (or what’s straight ahead).

Simply dwelling on the past or worrying about the future does not solve any issues. While it is important to reflect on what has happened in the past and what could happen in the future, you must be proactive and live in the present to progress as a leader, an employee, a family member, and a friend

Pace yourself:

Before I it was my turn to go over the ledge, I watched dozens of people rappel to the street. Some people had no issues rappelling from the building, while others who tried to rappel too quickly and got stuck halfway. After a bit of coaching from the safety crews above, those stranded rappellers always managed to unjam the lock and eventually descend safely to the ground.

As I watched people rappel one after another, I noticed that people who rappelled at the same pace throughout the descent did not run into any issues. When it was my turn to go Over the Edge, I tried to maintain a steady pace the whole way down. I may have rappelled as slow as molasses, but my rigging system never jammed.

Through much of our lives, we are sprinting from one event to the next, never giving ourselves enough time to regroup and reload. Sometimes our schedules are so jammed packed that we get bogged down in stress and frustration. To find a healthy balance, we must learn to say no so we can fully commit to what’s truly important.

Enjoy the view:

Not taking the time to fully enjoy the view is the one thing I regret from my whole repelling experience. I was so focused on getting to the ground safely that I forgot to take in the Knoxville skyline. Unfortunately this neglectfulness often applies to my everyday life. Frequently, I get overwhelmed with what I need to accomplish that I forget to treasure each day as a spectacular gift. We can’t reclaim time squander, so why not try to savor each passing minute.

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