In this article Kate Griffiths shares how leadership comes in many forms and sometimes from unexpected sources. This is a true story of what happened on her holiday this summer and what she learnt when she pushed herself beyond her limits.
As a couple, my husband and I have always believed that it is important to provide our children with opportunities that require physical challenge as a way to build their confidence. That is why we walked up Helvellyn with them in April. We described Striding Edge, the ridge pictured, as great scrambling rocks. Completing it was a great achievement and little did I know at the time that I would be put to the test myself this summer.
We spent nearly three weeks camping in France in August and one of the activities our girls love is the French “Go Ape ” equivalent where in harnesses they go high up into the trees and complete an assault course. This year i agreed to join in even though I have vertigo. As soon as we got to the start, our eldest was itching to do the intermediate level and claimed that she was no longer a beginner having successfully completed several circuits the year before. After our induction, the four of us headed over to the middle route on the green path. Just as we were about to start I had second thoughts because once you are clipped on there is no way off, you have to stay on until the end. I convinced our youngest to come on the first green one with me and I am so glad that I did. In part because we discovered she was not quite tall enough to go on green and the route my hubby and other daughter did went up eight metres from the ground!
We started our ascent, my youngest leading the way. When I stepped on the thin wire, it wobbled a lot and I looked down and four metres seemed very high. It took all my courage to grit my teeth and keep stepping forward as the vertigo kicked in big style. Halfway across my carabiners got stuck on the wire above my head and so ended up behind me. It was a delicate manoeuvre to go far enough back so that I could reach them and yank them forwards. From that point on I kept them ahead of me. The sweat was pouring off me by this point. I had never felt so full of nerves and yet I knew I had to put a brave face on it for my daughter. The next task was like a railway bridge with diagonal wooden round logs for slats across. We both discovered that the easiest way was to walk along the edge of the wire.
I was beginning to get into the whole exercise and forget how high up I was when I came a cropper. We had to cross two Tarzan-style jungle swings pulling ourselves across using our arms. I got about three quarters of the way across and felt the strength in my arms go, I couldn’t make it to the platform. Earlier when I had let me daughter go ahead so that I did not wobble the bridge she had turned around on the platform ahead of me and shouted, Mummy just believe in yourself….
These words were ringing in my ears as I stood there unable to step forward. In the end I just had to sit on the swing. I kept calm but I knew that I had not an ounce of strength left in my arms. Fortunately someone else was able to blow a whistle to get one of the mountain guides to come and help me with that last bit. It seemed ages until he came but he did and I got to the next platform.
Most of the rest of the trip was uneventful although at one point there was a rope to swing across a section that had no knot in it. I lost my nerve momentarily so the guide said he would swing with me so off we went and then I realised midair I was doing it by myself which felt amazing.
My legs were like jelly and I was a sweaty heap when I finished the circuit and yet I had a real sense of accomplishment and the whole experience bonded me even closer to my youngest daughter. She had seen me on the edge of my comfort zone and out of it; and seen how despite all that I had continued to the end of the trail.
When you are the leader in a situation, it is all about learning self-management and knowing when it is appropriate to share your vulnerabilities. There will be times when you are at the edge of your comfort zone; when you are muddling through – strategy is often emergent and then dressed up afterwards to look as though it was planned. The other valuable lesson here is that such experiences of physical exertion stand you in good stead for when you are under huge pressures at work. You know you can get through it because you did when you were climbing. These kind of experiences help to build your confidence and your resilience.
For me personally, what I realised was that I do not have sufficient upper body strength and I would like to take steps to address that and work on that through the Autumn so that such a situation is less likely to arise again. I am convinced that the situation empowered my daughter too because she was the one giving me words of encouragement at key moments to get me through. A powerful lesson in communication that was completely unintentional. What lessons have you learnt from your children? How do you view physical activity like this? I would love to hear about them and any other thoughts you have in the comments below.