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What risks will you take?
My fingertips started to slip from the hold 15 feet above the ground as every other muscle in my body tensed to the rock. I had ten vertical feet to go on this climb. Without a rope, my options were limited. I could firm my grip and climb to the top or fall 15 feet and find out how well my body bounced off dirt. One thought filled my world. What? Am? I? Doing?
That answer lies in someone else’s story.
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Between A Rock and a Hard Place
At 27 years old, Aaron Ralston faced every hiker’s worst nightmare.
As he readied for his final rappel in Utah’s Bluejohn Canyon, the sandstone which held one of its majestic boulders gave way. The grains of sand, less than 1/100th of an inch, which had held that boulder’s pressure for hundreds of years, released their grip. 800 lbs of red rock fell onto Ralston’s right arm and pinned him in a tight slot.
He was stuck there, alone, for five days.
On the fifth day, Ralston used a gas station pocket knife and a Camelback tube to saw through his right arm.
As a 21 year old student, Ralston’s story captivated me. Reading Between A Rock and A Hard Place, I traded the confines of my dorm room for the sweeping mesas of Utah. In the pauses between physics and calculus lectures, I raced to that lonely canyon. Questions bubbled up I had never known to ask. Would I be able to save myself? What was I capable of? What did it mean to not know?
Living my own lie
Until that moment, I held an identity I only wished was true. I had dreamed of adventure, even convincing friends that I was the go-to outdoorsman in our group. I told stories of daring exploits adorned with details stolen from the books of my heroes. Reading that book, the shame of living a lie overwhelmed me.
So I set off, armed with the knowledge of rock formations, climbing anchors, and route strategy learned from books. I would prove to myself I was the adventurer I wanted to be. As I tied my first anchor, I lost that last shred of confidence. Was that the right knot for this situation? Would I bet my life on it?
Later, I would learn that it was less shameful to ask for help than to put myself in danger. I would find my confidence in remote places with experienced friends. On that day, I was still convinced of my own stories. Rather than admit ignorance, I started climbing, sans rope. Which is how I found myself 15 feet off the ground, praying my fingers would hold onto that precariously small rock.
99% of us are trapped by our comfortable lives. I can be too. We are information rich and knowledge poor. If anything goes wrong, we can grab our iPhones and call for help, share our location, or talk with a doctor immediately. We can even watch YouTube as the Mayo Clinic demonstrates the best way to amputate our arm. With instant access to all the information we could ever want, we have bubble-wrapped confidence. We never test our knowledge in the real world and never find the limits of our abilities.
When we stay trapped in our comfortable boundaries, we suffer our own mediocrity. To discover our potential, we have to take risks. When those risks show us our limits, they free us to grow into our real stories.
What risk can you take today to find out what you’re capable of tomorrow?