Leave Your Comfort Zone . . .

. . . Often

The sequence of events in this post tells a story. The mountain range at left is, for me, the most beautiful in North America -The Grand Tetons. Its crown, right in the middle, is Grand Teton peak – at 13,770’. The summit is reached only after a series of technical rope climbs.

In August of 2006 a close friend of mine and I summitted the Grand. Technical Rock climbing was something neither of us had ever done before. We had great training and were guided by exceptional people from Exum Mountain Guides located outside Jackson, WY.

But it was a long way from our comfort zone.

I learned many, many lessons on this trip – lessons that I only would have learned if I was willing to leave my comfort zone and extend what I believed possible.

A favorite lesson is explained through the next picture in this sequence. When my turn came to climb the section you see here and I reached the perch you see my friend at in this picture – I fell. Popped off that wall like a cork out of a bottle of champagne.

So, what did I learn?

Lesson 1 – systems work. I was on belay, my friend  (after this now my really good friend) was alert, had his hands positioned correctly (for once) and simply caught me and lowered me to the ground.

Lesson 2 – preparation is important. We’d practiced and practiced the right moves in case someone fell. When I did, it was almost instinct on what he needed to do to keep me safe.

Lesson 3 – the summit may not be the real accomplishment. After falling and being carefully lowered to the ground, I quickly got back up and started climbing again. But later when I was faced with the need to step out on a ledge in order to keep climbing – fear gripped me like never before in my life. Cold sweat, shakes, and the proverbial head spinning because of the anxiety I had about the potential of falling; and the ground this time was hundreds of feet down, not forty (not that it matters much after 25).

So, I took a deep breath and pushed past the anxiety and started out on the ledge. About ½ way out, the fear went away, the shakes stopped, my stomach settled down.

The summit was great, a real gift to be up there at 9:00AM on a beautiful clear day, but when I think about this climb, it’s not the summit I count as the only and important accomplishment. It was pushing past the fear and anxiety of that nagging thought “what will happen if…”

All these lessons would not have been learned “by experience” if I’d stayed within my comfort zone.

These lessons apply to many things in work and life.

Think about the safety and even the opportunities provided by systems that are there for good order. Our system of driving is a good example. We routinely travel 65 MPH or more a mere few feet from another vehicle also traveling that fast. We are able to do that when each of us is prepared and follows the conventions, expectations, and yes – the rules of the system. Any of you who’ve been in places where traffic laws are essentially non-existent can appreciate this idea.

What about the policies and procedures we use at our work or in our businesses? When obeyed or practiced, they keep order in accounting, ethics, the treatment of people. Systems provide the expectations and ways to engage others. They may be laws, policies, traditions, or cultural norms, but the systems are beneficial. They may not save lives, like the system of rope climbing, but they save us from chaos.

Preparation is key to doing something well. You’re asked to give a presentation in front of your board of directors; do you prepare? You take a new job in a field or area that is unfamiliar to you; do you prepare?

The real accomplishments in our lives may not be the summit, or promotion, or title, it may be the experiences gained, the relationships we’ve made, or the things we’ve learned along the way.

Failure is only failure if we refuse to accept the lessons and values gained by our efforts.

  1. Jeff says:

    Love the lesson of the mountain, very near to my heart! And it really is about the journey and not the destination.

    P.S. – if you have any photos looking to the west that happen to include Table Mountain, I’d love to add them to my collection. I’ve already got quite a few from Table Mountain looking up at the Grand!

  2. Emory Galway says:

    The quality of your article is very good. Nice reading, informative, and thought provoking.

  1. There are no trackbacks for this post yet.