In 2012, Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk a high-wire across the widest part of Niagara Falls (the length of 6 football fields). He did so in the dark, on a 1,800-foot swaying tightrope that sagged as much as 35-feet at the midpoint. Environmental factors added another layer of complexity – weather elements that couldn’t be authentically simulated or experienced during earlier practices.
Wallenda made his walk with no escape routes and no opportunity to rest. Once on the high wire, he couldn’t turn back. He had to walk through the greatest challenge of his life, virtually alone, but with the world watching. Wallenda’s “High-Wire Walk” across one of the Seven Wonders of the World is both an extraordinary and an ordinary experience.
The High-Wire Walk – An “Ordinary Experience?” Yes and Here’s Why:
Each one of us has or will experience our own High-Wire Walk at some point in our lives. Chances are, we’ll experience this walk a number of times, but each walk will be different from the others. Whether you’re a senior executive responsible for a large company or an entrepreneur who’s sunk everything into your own business; whether you’re a parent of a special needs child or an “average” child who is profoundly struggling; whether you’re a college student trying to keep it together academically while working your way through school or you’re in mid-career and deciding if and when to start over or start something new. Or maybe you’re somewhere in between.
No matter where you are today, you probably know that feeling and experience of having to go all-in, holding your breath, and not knowing how it will end. Here’s a cheat-sheet, to help you walk from one end of the high-wire to the other, with as few setbacks as possible.
The Tightrope Walk Brings “Opportunities”? Yes. Absolutely:
If there is one principle truth to take away from this article, it’s this:
For every challenge, there is a corresponding truth and opportunity.
Chosen or not, all tightrope walks tend to share a similar course – a beginning, mid and endpoint. Let’s review the universal truths for each stage of your walk.
1. Your first steps:
Wallenda described his first steps over the falls, as the most difficult part of his journey, “Mentally, your mind goes, ‘What are you doing?’”
Here’s a universal truth: The odds are stacked in your favor. Make it happen.
Recognize the neuroscience behind reactions. Your brain is likely engaged in a “fight or flight” stress-response or it may be entering a paralysis mode. Intense fear, frustration, or heartache typically compound the dynamic. You can rebalance your brain’s responses and the physiological state of your well-being will follow. Start by listening to your inner voice/intuition. Check-in with your gut instincts. Surgically apply logic rather than emotions (e.g., what advice would you give your friend/colleague in your identical situation?). In sum, be cognizant of the neurological and physiological responses which will peak and ultimately diminish.
Acknowledge that you already have vital training and experience; tap into it. Look back on your entire history, your prior successes, and your strengths. Yes, maybe those are a little different than what you’re currently experiencing but put them all to work for you now. Assess your strength-based skills carefully. Identify and apply the approaches that have worked for you in the past – those that made you feel like you were unleashing a “super-power” during your peak flow experiences. Then apply them here. Move forward – one foot in front of the other.
2. Your half-way point:
Remember the 35-foot sag in the tightrope at Wallenda’s mid-way point? Or the headwinds from all directions he battled against? You, like Wallenda, will probably encounter an unexpected setback or maybe a series of them, when you feel most ill-equipped to handle them.
Universal Truth: You’ll likely be able to identify your halfway point because the walk gets more demanding.
Your mind tempts you to re-evaluate the odds in order to justify quitting or giving up. Don’t. You’ve come so far, learned so much, grown stronger than you could have otherwise. Imagine how much more you’ll gain by making calculated, unemotional, strategic decisions rather than simply giving up out of fear, frustration, or rashness.
Now is the time to refocus, recommit and realign. Resist indulging in negative self-talk or self-pity. Fight like your life depends on it. Besides, what good does complaining do? Discipline your mind to replace grumblings, complaints, or negative statements with positive ones.
Learn to focus on the positives and opportunities. This takes practice. If you are willing to commit to this process early on, it gets easier and ultimately becomes second nature.
Take an objective inventory of what you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come (identify and avoid self-sabotaging emotions – you don’t have time for them; save your mental strength and refocus your energy on planning and execution).
Renew your mind and your body. 10-minutes is all it takes to pray, meditate, journal, play your favorite song, watch a funny or inspiring YouTube video, take a brisk walk, or stretch your body. You have 10-minutes. These “little acts” keep us grounded and renewed. They’re your Lifesavers® candies. Small but sweet.
Look beyond yourself and your immediate circumstances. Do something meaningful for someone else or yourself. (Re-read this again and again.) Giving kindness and encouragement to others is an incredible jolt, better than a cup of your favorite coffee.
Bottom line: This is likely the time when you feel you have “no time” for anything but survival. Trite as it is, now is exactly the time to make the time.
3. You’re almost to your end-point:
Wallenda described the last phases of his walk as follows: “I’m drained…My hands are going numb. I feel like I’m getting weak.” Similarly, you’ve probably heard the old adage, most auto accidents occur near the home; for air travel, it’s most often on the takeoff or landing. Why? Studies show that these are familiar points in every journey. When we’re drained, tired and weak, it’s easy to become complacent or to want to hurry-up or shortcut the process.
Universal truth: Your last steps are as important as your first.
It’s tempting to run toward the finish line, especially when it’s among the most difficult or uncomfortable walks of your life. But we all know running can lead to stumbling, especially for those who are tired and fatigued. Patience.
You’ve come this far. Don’t cut corners now. You deserve your very best.
Now is a good time to check in with your personal values. Are you living your values as deliberately and faithfully as when you started?
How’s the attitude? Is it mindful, careful and considerate? Or is the attitude thoughtless, careless, or inconsiderate? (If you’re not sure, ask a trusted confidant.)
Are you recognizing, appreciating and ready to reap the rewards of your hard work?
4. Don’t go it alone:
Find a skilled, objective, committed confidante – often times this is a professional coach.
This highly experienced confidante will be invaluable, reminding you how far you’ve come, challenging your immediate perceptions/self-limiting beliefs, and asking the right questions to engage you and draw you out of constricted or limited thought patterns in order to help you move forward, etc. This objective confidential confidante can sometimes see what lies ahead (challenges, opportunities, considerations) when perhaps you cannot because you’re (appropriately) focused on “surviving”. Your confidante will help you train, problem solve and strategize. The coach’s singular focus and intention is to support and advocate for the client when the client is not in an ideal strength-position to do so.
For example, throughout Wallenda’s walk, he remained in constant contact with his confidante and trainer, who happened to be his father and a fellow professional tightrope walker. He served as Wallenda’s lifeline for dialog, advice, and support. Similarly, a professional coach is likely to be invaluable and a secret weapon for those experiencing particularly sustained, intense or high-risk challenges.
If you’re still reading this article…. Congratulations! You’ve crossed the finish line.
Consider these personal invitations:
Look back – Take a mental inventory and snapshot of where you started and how far you’ve come. Identify the resulting strengths and opportunities that are now yours forever, because you walked the high-wire and conquered your challenges. Additionally, ask yourself whether there are behaviors, conditions, or beliefs that have limited your past progress. Why not address those now, before they impact your future?
Look forward – What dreams or challenges remain in your life? When will you tackle those and “go all-in” to manifest your opportunities and take your rewards? How are you going to make that a reality? Who do you presently have in your life with the necessary training, experience and single-minded resolve to partner with you, every step of the way?
© Kirstin Lowry Sommers