Last week, our family decided to go rock climbing at our local REI (for the record, a membership at an REI is well worth it, even if just for the free climbing rights at stores with climbing walls). For my husband and I, it was a warm welcome after a long absence from a sport we love. But for the kids, this was a brand new adventure.
Elizabeth tackled the wall with full confidence. She scampered up the side of the structure with ease. But, then she looked down. She froze. Regardless of our coaxing and encouragement, she could not go on. It was then that I realized the incredible value of Donny, the store employee assigned to help us that night. His job was to belay each of us as we climbed the wall. He could have done his job just fine without saying much of anything. But, he was an employee turned coach and he made all the difference.
I was shocked as he somewhat “commanded” Elizabeth to let go of the wall. She held on tighter. He then said firmly, “Elizabeth, let go now. Trust me”. She let go. And she didn’t fall. He then instructed her to look up again for a hold. She did and went up another couple of feet. But, she looked down again and this time, could not be swayed. He belayed her down, but not before she learned a valuable lesson: Trust those that can help you and look “up” when you don’t know were else to turn.
Next came Tyler. Naturally, as the older brother, he knew he could outrun his sister. But, it didn’t take long for him to panic. Tears started to fall as he held on tight to the wall. Donny again firmly told him to cut it out and to focus. As a mom, I was startled. How would Tyler react? Would he hate rock climbing? He much prefers the “soft spoken” type and gets upset easily with firm commands. Then, Donny spoke again. “Tyler. Stop it. You can do this. Dig deep in yourself. You can reach the top.” “NO I CAN’T”, came the reply, “NOW LET ME DOWN!!!!” But, Donny didn’t stop. “Tyler. If I didn’t believe in you, I wouldn’t push you. You’ll never know what you can do until you push past your fears. You can do it.”
I wish I could say Tyler turned around and scrambled to the top, but he too came down. Once to the bottom, he asked to use the restroom. On the way, he confided in me that he didn’t understand why Donny was making him go to the top when he was asking to come down. Now it was my turn to help my child understand the value of Donny’s coaching.
I explained, “Tyler, Donny knows that you have what it takes. He believes in you. He can see more of the picture than you can and he’s done it before. He also knows that if you quit now, you may never know what you can do. Trust him. If you do, you’ll leave tonight discovering that you can do more than you thought you could. I know you can do it.”
Ryan was on the wall now. I laughed. As his siblings had made their attempts, he had taunted them from below: “Hurry up. I could do this so much faster than you”. His ego poured from his lips. But now he was only a few feet off the ground and scared for his life. A bit of Donny coaching, and he went further. But, now, he too, came down.
Now, Tyler was up again. But, this time, he had learned a lesson. He was determined. He knew we believed in him and he knew he could do it. But, once again, he faced his fears at the same spot as before. He froze. But then came Donny’s voice: “Tyler. You can do it. Move now.” And Tyler obeyed. Step after step, he followed Donny’s voice until he reached the bell at the top. He had done it. And why? Because someone believed in him and he trusted them regardless of how hard it was.
Elizabeth was up again. Though she didn’t reach the top, she went much further than she had before. And when she came down, Donny praised her from head to toe for pushing past her original fear.
Then, Ryan headed up again. This time he gave up even sooner than before. Donny pushed him, but he refused to be pushed. I wondered what awaited Ryan at the bottom. But, what he got was praise and tons of it. “You can do it”, “I’m proud of you”, “Don’t give up”. So, Ryan headed up again. This time, though, he had a goal. He wanted to reach the rock hold that looked like a dinosaur. He reached and scrambled and with effort, reached his goal. When we urged him onward, he simply replied, “I set a goal and I reached it. I’m done”.
Ryan taught me a great lesson that night. We need to set our own goals and reach for them. We don’t need to worry about other people’s goals for us unless they match our own. He had reached his goal and had succeeded.
Donny and the other kids also taught me a lesson. Confidence doesn’t come from doing things well the first time. It comes from trying, failing, trying and failing again. And then, trying despite all fears, and conquering. It is then that we realize what we truly have within us to succeed.
And, my final lesson of the night: Whether people succeed or fail, they need our praise and encouragement. When the kids were on the wall, Donny pushed them with all he had. But, when they came down, regardless of the result, he praised them from top to bottom. We all need that. For it’s often someone’s praise for a job well done that gets us back on the wall to try again.
The kids are begging to go back and we can’t wait to take them. So much was gained that night and so many lessons were learned. I can’t wait to see what we learn next time.