One of the things we like to say in my family is “Everything is a metaphor for everything else.” We started saying this a couple of summers ago, when we were getting ready for a big backpacking trip to Yosemite. My husband is an avid hiker and camper, and we had planned this trip to celebrate his birthday.
In order to be ready for the kinds of hikes he wanted to take, the rest of us (daughter, son, and me) needed to train—physically and mentally. As part of this training, we went rock climbing.
I had never been rock climbing before. I’m physically active, I work out a lot, but this…is a very different thing. I watched our guide scale this sheer rock face, and every negative voice I have ever heard in my life came roaring, loud and clear, into my mind.
You’ll look like an idiot.
You’ll look like an idiot and then you’ll die.
What are you doing here? Who do you think you are?
Of course, while these voices were yelling, I couldn’t hear the actual, real-life voice of the instructor.
The thing that finally got me into the harness and up on the rock was the knowledge that my son was watching, and I want to be a good role model for him. This was when I started to realize that gearing up, taking the leap, trusting the harness, leaning into the discomfort…is all a huge and there-for-the-taking metaphor for SO MANY things. Right? And the funny part is, in other parts of my life, I can be pretty good at that. The experience of needing to really listen to the instructor, trust his guidance, and leave my own discomfort in order to make this leap was exactly what I ask my coaching clients to do all the time…and they feel just as vulnerable as I did.
The exercise of empathy, of putting ourselves in the position we expect of others, whether our clients, our employees, or our children, is one that can yield so much visceral insight. I revisit it often—what am I asking? Is it too much? Is it not enough? What am I not hearing over the voices in my own head?