When you do something scary or stressful — bungee jumping, public speaking, etc. — do you prefer to be surrounded by friends or by strangers?
A few years ago, I completed the canyon course at the U.S. National Whitewater Center in North Carolina. The challenge was to work from tree platform to tree platform over a ridge gorge on a circuit of sky bridges. These bridges were constructed not of steel or wood, but rather one or two ropes with a rope at the side or overhead to assist with balance.
I followed my friend and his son along the course. Both tore through across the rope walkways like nimble monkeys as if we were only a few inches above the ground, instead of 50 feet. It was a hard course for me. I took it at a snail’s pace. I’m sure the eight-year-old behind me learned a great deal about patience that afternoon.
I’ve always been athletic but never attempted anything quite like that before. Perched on one rope with maybe another at waist-height to help with balance, I expected to lose my balance. I was less concerned with falling and more concerned about not being able to get back up on that little rope/cable to continue the course. I’m no acrobat and couldn’t fathom how once I fell, I’d be able to swing myself upright like some Olympic gymnast on the horizontal high bar. The good news is I didn’t fall off the rope until the very last section when I was merely feet from the final platform. I think my sense of balance (or dignity) just finally let go and said, “take the fall!” The guide hooked my safety line and my friend pulled me in.
Victory! With the course and all fear behind me, I sailed back to home base across a 250-foot zip line. I was invigorated as the wind whizzed through my helmet and I enjoyed the scenery of the canyon. Throughout the entire canyon crossing, my friend waited at each platform to help me hook onto the next section and encourage me forward. Having positive reinforcement from a friend was the best way to face a fear.
Just yesterday, another friend mentioned when she was 18 she was called upon to speak about her father in front of a large group of people. Public speaking frightened her and she didn’t think she’d be able to honor her father properly. However, there in the back of the crowd was a smiling face. My friend focused on that person as she crafted stories and anecdotes. Before she knew it, her speech was concluded, the audience was applauding and her father was thanking her for the stories. Decades later, my friend still remembers how that one person’s encouragement gave her the courage to speak.
There’s nothing like a familiar face providing encouragement and giving an extra boost when needed. It can be in a work meeting, at a social event or when pushing your endurance to the limit. I think it’s best to surround yourself with positive reinforcements and someone who’s going to encourage you to succeed. Don’t you?