Larry Banman: Stress can be the first step toward success
Without a Doubt
Sewing-machine leg isn’t a good thing to have, especially when you find yourself perched on a ledge, high above the valley floor.
That is precisely where I found myself several years ago while mountain climbing in Northern California. I should probably be clear on one point ” my adventure shouldn’t be confused with Tom Cruise’s opening scene in Mission Impossible. I will say, however, that when my climbing partner and I eventually found safety, he admitted that he had allowed thoughts of death to enter his mind.
My friend and I were hiking in the Coastal Range north of San Francisco when he suggested we take a shortcut to our destination. He had a bit more experience than I, so we followed his suggestion to follow a path that appeared to offer the best opportunity for success. We reached a point when we decided to take two different routes up the same steep drainage. He choose the route that appeared to be more challenging and I started to scale the lefthand side of the drainage.
In my inexperience, I went about three handholds too far. I made it to a small ledge, so I wasn’t hanging by my fingertips but I soon realized I was in trouble. The path ahead was increasingly steeper and I lost my nerve (or I finally came to my senses). I looked below my feet and realized something that every kid who climbs a tree learns; it can be very hard to retrace your steps while climbing. The last gain I had made was secured with a stretch and a small push from my tiptoes. (If you are an experienced climber, you are probably holding your head in your hands right now, massaging your temples.)
I was truly stuck, at least in my mind. The way ahead appeared too difficult and I lacked the nerve to back down. I called across the small chasm to my friend in hopes of getting help from my more experienced partner. He relayed back to me that he was himself in a bit of trouble. That’s when I was introduced to sewing-machine leg. It didn’t matter if I tried to push myself up or let myself down, my right leg pumped up and down like a small jackhammer. If I had stayed long enough, I might have sheared off a small piece of the mountain.
My friend then hollered to inform me that he was in more trouble than he had originally thought and, he needed help. I remember thinking that this was a bit like Mickey Mantle asking me for a few tips on hitting homeruns. Even if we could have received a cell phone signal out of San Francisco, it wouldn’t have mattered ” cell phones hadn’t been invented yet. I prayed, likely I cursed and I felt that awful feeling of bile creeping up my esophagus.
Fighting to control my panic, I finally made a decision. Without ropes, I couldn’t advance. My path up had been rocky, but I thought that I could probably control a fall well enough to survive the journey. Taking a deep breath I lowered myself down, let go of my handhold and dropped about a foot to my previous perch. My foot held and I took another, easier, step down. My eyes drifted to the right and I saw a path which had obviously escaped my notice earlier. I took two steps to the right, found a hidden path upon which I easily walked to the top of the mountain. I communicated this new information to my friend who also found and followed my path and joined me at the top, where we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
I learned a lot of lessons that day within the span of about 30 minutes. I learned about myself and my limitations but I also learned about my potential. The experience has also influenced my decision-making. For example, I am a guy who is constantly looking for alternative paths. I believe it is because I missed a path one day near dusk in the California mountains.
As we navigate the waters of 2009, it may be more important than ever to seek paths that aren’t readily discernible. It might be necessary to step back in order to move ahead. It might be essential to work our way through stress to find solutions and success.
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