A few days ago, I found myself 50 feet above the ground, precariously hanging from a rope tied to my waist. I'd been on several ropes courses before, but this time I wouldn't allow myself to chicken out.
Was I scared?
Sure - my heart was pumping a million beats per second as droplets of rain fell on my bare shoulders, but instead of wondering why I would ever allow myself to participate in a leadership activity several stories above the ground, I focused on my teammate. He had already made it to the opposite platform and was quietly encouraging me to join him.
All I had to do was traverse the log with only the rope above me as my safety.
While some of my teammates spent the day conquering their fear of heights, the major lesson I took away from the experience was understanding risk.
There are two types of risk: perceived risk and actual risk.
When we get into our cars every morning to go to work, we may not see any risk. The fact is, every 13 minutes, someone dies in a car accident.
We might get scared by thunderstorms and lightning, but only an average of 60 people die every year by lightning strike in the US (out of 307 million).
Up in the air, the perceived risk may be very high. But if you follow all the rules, the actual risk is near zero.
Maybe it's my engineering mind, but with logic like that, I had a really hard time being scared. Instead, I focused on the other challenging aspects of the course: communication (crucial for following the rules), self-awareness (essential for keeping track of your environment), and efficacy (vital for making it to each progressive stage of the course).
In the end, I was extremely successful - I wasn't scared, I made it to the top, and I helped my teammates get as far as they wanted to go as well.
But I still feel I could have done more. I don't think I fully pushed myself physically. And I didn't get to use the zip line or the free-fall swing - which I think would have made the experience even richer... maybe that's what I'll do next weekend!