Out on a limb and taking risks: Aaaaaaack!!

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. 

                           ~Pablo Picasso

Today I did something amazing…

But first, I do need to confess that I am deathly afraid of heights. I don’t know when this happened… It snuck up on me really – because I spent much of my childhood up a tree – convinced (at least on some planes of my private reality) that I had been accidentally given to mortal parents – and I was, in fact, a tree sprite.

I think it must be a middle age thing – and it saddens me slightly. Something has perhaps changed in my inner ears which has affected my sense and experience of space and I can no longer tiptoe sure-footed along the edges of a precipice with the confidence of my childhood. Perhaps it is just that I am more aware of my own mortality – and the slowing of my reflexes. I suspect it is a combination of both of these possibilities.

So anyway… back to today.

Today was a staff development day at my school. We had a fabulous presenter in the morning that spoke to us about education, motivation, and belonging and relationships. It was rather centering – and was a positive opportunity to be reminded of the work we do as educators – and why we do the job we do – and what it is we want our school to be for students. Big and important questions… all!

And then we worked in teams and did a variety of activities… it was about building relationships, and pushing the edge of the envelope, and finding a common ground… and the big one for me today was feeling the support of my colleagues to conquer a fear.

S0… one of the activities was to climb up this enormous tree and take a zip-line down. When I first saw it – I was all “There is no way I am doing THAT!! Just watching someone else climb up – makes me want to vomit!”

And – this is not an exaggeration: I even have to run-away and take myself out for a Starbucks when Craig puts up the Christmas lights. Yes. Pathetic. I know! Who squished my inner tree sprite?? That’s what I am wondering!!

Now – I should explain that the team earned points for the different activities today. I should also explain that there were others on my staff who were definitely not interested in trying the zip-line, so I was in good company and felt no pressure whatsoever to move outside my comfort zone. There is one lovely young woman on my staff who I convinced (encouraged) to take a second zip-line adventure. You know – for the points… and then as I sat there watching others have the fun it struck me that maybe I should test my limits.

I eyed the tree… and watched the participants. I calculated that perhaps… just perhaps… this adventure was something I needed to try, and that it was perhaps within the limits of my abilities to succeed.

So I strapped on the harness and helmet – and the belaying rope (with much assistance and encouragement) and began the climb… the first part of the tree was accessed by a 3 meter ladder… at the top of this – the climber had to transfer to climbing the tree directly via these metal handles that had been embedded into the tree – rather like partially inserted giant staples.  That part of the climb was about another three meters – and there was a platform at the top that I would have to climb over to – to connect to different ropes and then ride down over a field on the zip-line.

I got to the top of the ladder – and I realized that my hands were slippery from the sunscreen I had donned earlier – and I suspect that this was exacerbated by the nervous sweat on my palms.

I thought: I can’t do this!! and at that moment – though it seems impossible that so many thoughts could go through my head – I also stepped back and thought – Oh dear – now you’ve done it – your inner voice is being allowed to set your limits. What is the connection here between my ability to do this and the part of me that is screaming out that it is impossible?

I wiped my hands on the butt of my jeans… (One at a time – as I was clinging to a tree with a certain death grip).

And then I heard my colleagues below me: “Leah… go for it!!” and “You can do it, Leah!” and the most amazing thing was that their cheers from below actually gave me strength and a shoulder-up of encouragement. I was able to co-opt their message and dismiss the “I can’t”… and I started up the tree itself – on the staple steps…

So… later, someone said, “Leah – you conquered your fear… That is amazing!!”

I said, “No – I am still afraid. I was afraid the entire time I did it – but I did it anyways. My fear is still there – but I didn’t let it be in charge.”

To me this is a powerful reminder that being brave is not about having no fear – it is about having the resolve and the support of others to carry on even when one is afraid.

It was also amazing to be the recipient of so much encouragement from my colleagues. I don’t recall having such an overwhelming experience of this before. This is something I will carry with me when I am working to encourage others: knowledge that encouragement can really bring the impossible within reach, and that the power of positive words can propel us beyond what we might do alone.

It was a group effort – together we were more skilled, more courageous, and more determined than I might ever have been alone!

❖ Please note: The actual events in this post took place on May 14, 2012… but it took me a while to get around to completing and posting it…


30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.

© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2012)

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in Autism, connections, handling discomfort, relationships, Resiliency, Teacher and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Out on a limb and taking risks: Aaaaaaack!!

  1. Congratulations, Leah! 🙂
    I’m definitely part tree-sprite (though I’ve never thought of it in those terms before). I LOVE to climb and not have my feet on the ground. I’m happiest when my feet are not in contact with the floor at all…


    • Leah Kelley says:

      Ahhh… a kindred-tree-sprite! Say it fast… it sounds cool… but it is tricky to get out! We can use it as the code word to enter the clubhouse or tree fort!!LOL
      Hugs to you E 🙂


  2. Congratulations indeed. I love the point that you were scared, but you didn’t let the fear be in charge. That’s how we grow. Thanks for sharing this!


  3. Whooo-hoooo!!! Great post…I felt like I was there with you Leah!

    I agree with you…sadly it is definitely a middle-aged thing. 😦



  4. 1funmum says:

    Wow that is high up. That’s awesome! Great post. Yes with the right team cheering you on and the right attitude you can do anything. Fun story.


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