Life On The Rocks

“Wanna come rock climbing?”

I have to confess, this was not how I intended to spend the last day of 2009. Still, given the danger involved, it crossed my mind that ending your life on December 31st does have a certain actuarial tidiness to it.

And so when my three children asked if I’d accompany them to “the rock gym,” I agreed (cue scary music).

If you’re not familiar with these places (I wasn’t until that day) a rock gym is an artificial, indoor version of a 40-foot rock wall… there for the climbing. Essentially, you pay good money to recreate what happens when, due to excessive texting probably, you step off the edge of a sheer cliff and are forced to cling to teeny tiny foot and handholds for survival.

“Great idea,” I said to my 16-year-old son, Evan, after we stepped inside and I had a look around. “Maybe tomorrow you can take me to a place that simulates being trapped inside a burning building.”

The rock gym posed two problems for me right off the bat. First, although I’m long-limbed and light (6’0″, 168 pounds), this advantage is more than offset by the fact that I’m not all that strong (49-years-old, bald, Jew).

Problem number two is that I’m afraid of heights. How afraid? Let’s just say that if I were a few inches taller, I’d be reluctant to even stand up straight. At this very moment, and I assure you I’m not exaggerating, just writing about the rock gym is causing my hands to sweat.

Unfortunately, by the time I awakened from my Spiderman-inspired dream, I had already paid my $17.00, donned a harness (don’t ask) and stepped out onto the floor. With all three kids watching, the only way out, was up.

I did have the presence of mind to at least try an “easy” one; a course in which the holds are placed closer together than in the more challenging routes. This too seemed like a good idea until I got about 30 feet up the wall, at which point I realized that the easiness of the climb had allowed me to get very high, very fast.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should point out that I wasn’t really in danger, since all climbers are attached to a safety rope. The rope runs from your waist, through a pulley secured in the top of the rock face, and back down to your “climbing partner.”

That said, given that my climbing partner was a 95-pound, 13-year-old person whose diaper I quite clearly remember changing, I wasn’t particularly comforted.

But I made it. I did four or five climbs that morning, tried not to look down too often, and rested frequently in order to persuade my clenched hands that the only way to make progress was to occasionally let go and move on.

Why am I telling you all this? Because it seems to me (stand by for incredible small business metaphor), that running your own business can be a lot like climbing a rock wall. Progress is slow, success is not guaranteed, and the danger, while more imagined than real, is plenty enough to get your heart pounding.

With 2010 upon us, many people are either about to start their own business, or have begun but still don’t quite believe they can really make it. If that’s you, you’ll be happy to know that I have really (really) good news. And here it is…

The fun part, is the climb. In fact, and I can tell you this from the already fading memory of my experience at the gym last week, the best times, and the times that will stay with you the longest, are the times when you were scared to death, but did it anyway.

So don’t worry so much about when you’re going to get to the top of the wall. For now, do as Evan advised me: Don’t look down and just keep climbing.

Because it seems to me, if the work you do doesn’t scare the hell out of you at least every once in a while, you’re probably not climbing high enough.

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