“My Grandma can climb higher than that!”
“Come on! She’s fallen seven times. Let someone else have a turn!”
“Why don’t you just get down and stop trying? You are NEVER gonna make it to the top!”
The taunts had been streaming at her for the past several minutes. She had to force the tears from flowing down her face. Cynthia had been trying to climb a thirty foot rock wall at summer camp for the past ten minutes, and hadn’t even passed the five foot mark before falling. It was embarrassing and frustrating.
Her counselor started to walk toward her and anger caused Cynthia’s face to flush.
“Sweetie, maybe you should take a break…” she started to say, but Cynthia was not listening. She steadied her hands and her heart, and tried one last time.
She passed the five foot mark. Ten feet up, she looked down. Big mistake – a wave of fear washed over her. “Oh no you don’t – not THIS time!” she said to herself and kept going.
Twenty feet up, she started hearing the kids talking to and about her again, but this time they weren’t taunting.
“You can do it girl!”
“I can’t believe she didn’t quit. I would have given up after the third or fourth try!”
“Look how high she is – I think she is going to make it”
Cynthia’s confidence swelled as she heard her peers believing in her, cheering for her rather than ridiculing her for her epilepsy, for being different. A grin spread across her face, uncommon for this sad little girl with so many daily challenges. She rushed to the top of the rock wall, and with a glorious flourish she rang the bell at the top of the rock wall.
Then the amazing happened:
Three hundred kids whooped and hollered and cheered. My daughter Cynthia got a standing ovation for the first time in her life. She rappelled her way down to the ground to literally hundreds of high fives and dozens of hugs.
She was the camp hero. For pushing through. For not giving up. For believing in herself. For conquering her fears and climbing the rock wall.
I learned two things from this triumph in my daughter’s life.
There is untapped strength in perseverance
We become disheartened far too easily. Once we hear the first whispers of doubt from somebody, we throw in the towel. Often we don’t even need the taunts of others to ring in our ears to discourage us from trying new things, or from continuing forward with what we are already doing. Rather we heed the insidious whispers of fear in our own minds. We lack perseverance, and give fear too big a place in our lives.
I love how Jon Acuff approaches this problem. He talks about punching fear in the face. It’s violent, but perfect. That’s what we need to do. Punch fear in the face, and put it where it belongs – on the ground while we climb our rock wall. This is because of the second thing I learned.
Everyone secretly wants to see you succeed
This is counterintuitive, because we also live in a society today that loves to celebrate when the great among us fail. There are whole magazines and television shows dedicated to following the failures of celebrities. Trust me though – everyone wants to see a success firsthand, particularly if they see the failure first.
If you succeed, then maybe they can succeed too. We all struggle with inferiority and doubt. Seeing another person overcome their fears and accomplish something incredible AFTER failing will lend courage to everyone present for the spectacle.
This failure-success model is a foundation for authentic leadership. Some leaders are followed because they appear to have everything together, to be nearly perfect…until it all falls apart. Then their followers leave, because the illusion of perfection has been destroyed.
When we lead out of failure, our mantra becomes, “You watched me fail. You watched me succeed. If I can do it, so can you. Let me show you how.”
What rock wall do you need to climb today?