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Lessons from the High Wire (Or: What Does a Zip-Line Have to Do With Your Life?)

Posted Jun 16 2011 3:56pm

This past weekend at the Mom-Daughter Retreat at Madeira School, I had the exciting opportunity to experience myself, and witness 11 girls and their moms, face the challenge of walking across suspended wires to a high-in-the-air landing so we could leap into the air and fly through the trees on a zip line.

Suspended by a rope and a wire. And a whole lot of courage.

Although all the safety checks were in place and our intellectual minds “knew” that we were safe and we’d make it to the other side in one piece, our emotionally-based minds were full of fears and “what ifs” and “I can’ts.”

These fearful minds of ours attempted to protect us from falling. From getting hurt. And also, from having fun. From experiencing the thrill of flying through the air. From facing our fears and pushing ourselves just beyond our comfort zone.

From staying the course so we could make it to the other side, exhilarated and accomplished and more confident than when we started.

Luckily, I was able to put my years of meditation and affirmations and visualizations to good use to support myself, as I pushed past my comfort zone and into that space of uncertainty. (And it sure didn’t hurt to have a bunch of girls and moms yelling, “Come on, Karen, you can do it!!”)

But there were moments, suspended mid-air, walking careful step by careful step, across a narrow wire, where I wanted to turn back. Where my heart was beating, my legs were shaking and I wasn’t sure if I could make it.

And yet, I could not turn back.

I had no choice but to stay the course. And lucky for me – and for all the girls and moms who chose to push bravely through their fears – the thrill and the sense of accomplishment we experienced afterwards was incredible.

Real life is not much different.

Life is full of challenges. High wires and bold jumps and risks we must take in order to get to the other side. To get what we really want.

Any achievement, accomplishment, or goal that holds real meaning brings with it its own risk. Risk of failure, risk of embarrassment, risk of vulnerability or risk of success.

And it’s easy, when faced with these risks, to get off course; to give up on our dreams and our goals or to settle for staying on the ground; rather than soaring toward our biggest and brightest selves.

As parents, there is nothing we want more than to see our children embrace the courage to pursue their dreams. We KNOW that self-confidence GROWS when they experience their strengths and move through their fears. Yet letting them fly can be scary and can require a real commitment to facing our OWN growing pains and fears.

Here are a few tips for helping your children experience the exhilaration and excitement and inner pride that comes from staying the course in life.

  • Watch your language. Constantly telling your child to be careful or “don’t get hurt” may feel like you are protecting them, but too much of that and you are conveying that they should stay small and safe; that getting hurt could be intolerable and they shouldn’t risk it.
  • Watch your own anxiety. Often, unwittingly, we transfer our own anxiety about failure and success to our children. We worry that they will suffer like we did, that they will fail and experience embarrassment, that they will experience discomfort. These feelings get transferred to them and they end up experiencing those feelings themselves. Work on your own “stuff” so your children can experience their own journey without being burdened by your unfinished business.
  • Watch out for “I can’ts” in yourself and in your children. Usually “I can’t” means “I won’t” or “I’m scared” or “I don’t know how.” I can’t” is very disempowering because it makes it feel as though the choice is out of our hands. And often, it is not the truth. I felt like saying I can’t when I was on the high wire, but the truth was, I could and I did.
  • Change the I can’ts or I’m scared into affirmations and visualizations. Help your child picture himself getting to the other side, succeeding at the thing he is afraid of. Or help her shift her language so it feels more positive and hopeful. Repeat these positive visualizations and affirmations frequently.
  • Rather than pushing, simply offer unconditional love. Know that we each do things at our own pace, but in the presence of unconditional love – love that is not invested in a specific outcome or success – we are able to grow into our best and brightest and most courageous selves.

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