Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Climb ev'ry mountain

Last week I was on vacation on the Caribbean island of Nevis. If you have heard of this island at all it is likely that you know it as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton. But Nevis is a tropical paradise, with vast beaches and their attendant beach bars, sugar mill ruins, many fine examples of Georgian Caribbean architecture. And a volcano.

My dear husband talked me into climbing Nevis Peak, all 3,232 feet of it! It was not an easy hike. For one thing, tropical rain forest terrain can get extremely muddy, which is definitely a hindrance to what amounts to a vertical climb. For another thing, though I consider myself in good shape,  I have never really climbed a mountain. Hiked through mountains, sure. Climbed the really steep, un-restored bits of the Great Wall east of Mutianyu. But even on the Wall there was a path of some sort, and inclines of less than 50 degrees. This was something else altogether. Very shortly into the climb, I realized three things:
1) I lacked the skills needed to do this.
2) I had to trust my guide.
3) I had to stay focused, in the moment at all times.

When it was all over my quadriceps were killing me, I was encased in mud, and my feet refused to obey. I did not say "It was fun!" like some of my fellow hikers. What I did feel was a great sense of accomplishment. I learned something new, and in the four-plus hours it took us to climb to the top (where we were in a cloud forest), then back down, I improved skills I did not even possess at the beginning. It was good to push myself outside of my comfort zone. And of course, I would have never been able to do it without my excellent guide, Reggie.

Back at our vacation villa, I took a long hot shower and tried to scrub off the bruises that I mistook for dirt--the only injuries from a slight tumble down the mountain. I realized, as the steam curled around me, easing my aching muscles, that there were many parallels to what I had just experienced and what I help my clients with on a fairly regular basis.

Many people come to me with a self-assessment that they "are in pretty good shape" speaking-wise, but lack the requisite skill and knowledge to be an expert public speaker. Or they have done pretty well so far, but are now faced with opportunities to reach far outside their comfort zones. So I, like Reggie, need to guide them through the process, instructing them to develop skills they need along the way. They need to trust me and stay focused on what we are doing. Stop judging and stay in the moment. I offer suggestions of better ways to do things, and make corrections when necessary. That is the way we all learn new techniques and improve our skills.

It can be hard to grow in this way if you are used to having easy success, or if you have reached a pinnacle of achievement. But just because you can hike for hours and do yoga like a twenty-year-old does not mean you know how to climb a mountain! You need to embrace new ways of seeing how a thing can be done and then do it. It is no coincidence that my most successful clients are those who keep moving forward. They don't stop their progress to get defensive, or offer rationalizations as to why they cling to bad speaking habits. They are in the moment, they have momentum, and continue to climb, reaching for the top!

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