Leadership reflections from 12,000 feet…
For me, the space between stimulus and response was found on a mountain top 12,000’ in the air.
People decide to climb mountains for different reasons. The views, the adrenaline rush, the challenge. For me, my motivation for signing up to climb Mt Adam’s with the Gonzaga University’s Leadership and Hardiness class was based on my desire to experience the combination of a physical, mental, and spiritual challenge.
I didn’t have to ask for my money back. The class delivered. Mt. Adams would not relent until it had achieved all three in me.
The mountain was determined to reveal my best and my worst.
Under the forces of physical and emotional stress in a land where, at times, I could gain no spiritual focus, I found myself face-to-face with someone I didn’t recognize. A Jekyll and Hyde personality, struggling between what she thought she would do and what stress and emotion was now trying to make her do.
I discovered the things that could hold me back from summiting a mountain were also the things that have been holding me back from achieving my biggest dreams and a deeper life of meaning.
Comfort: The first two nights of the climb, we were faced with colder than expected temperatures. I have always had a dream of visiting one of those ice hotels in Sweden but after my Mt Adams experience, I think I can check that off my bucket list. Coupled with high winds the second night, no sleep, no running water, no bathroom and a 40 pound back pack, my desire for comfort became the enemy of risk taking. “As the saying goes, Everyone is a great captain in calm seas. Only when the path ahead becomes formidable and risky, when certainty wavers and your legs quiver, does real greatness emerge – or not” (Warner & Schmincke, 2009, p. 140).
Fear: Everything you do in the preparation and in the execution of a goals effects another person. My fear of failure was driven by my pride and desire to be the perfect team member. My attempt at perfection was dashed within the first moments of meeting my team. Beginning with my late arrival and continuing right into my near mishap of almost running out of gas half way up the mountain to our campsite. So much for first impressions and my desire to portray a leader of excellence. My gas light told a different story of an imperfect woman who needed to die-to-self and accept the help of others without earning it first. When I finally arrived at our camp site under the guidance of another team member, I was greeted with grace, acceptance, and many helping hands. “Accepting death is choosing life. It grants us the power and freedom to act” (Warner & Schmincke, 2009, p. 11). Throughout the weekend, there were many moments when my pride was challenged by life in a dual. Humility and partnership with others was the key to unlock life and achieve the finally summit win!
Stillness: Henri Nouwen called the first temptation of Christ, the desire to be useful. I am painfully aware of the double edge sword my life balances on. On one hand, I greatly desire to live out a passionate life of meaning and purpose for Jesus. And on the other hand, I desire not to bleed to death on the swords edge of busyness. There is a difference between busyness and productivity. A person’s overcommitment to everyday tasks without stopping can leave a person bankrupt. Ernest Hemingway said, “How did you go bankrupt?” “Gradually, then suddenly.” For me, my “mountain top” experience with God didn’t happen until after the trip. When given the opportunity for solitude during the climb, my mind was met with a deafening and uncomfortable silence. No matter my desire for stillness, my mind would not be released from the hamster wheel of life it had journeyed on the two months to get here. The lesson for me in the stillness of the mountain – I am more useful in the invisible task of prayer and solitude than I am in the tangible daily task. It is in stillness that the world surrenders, the mind is filled with God’s plans and one’s spirit is released to create.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl
In this space between stimulus and response, on a mountain top 12,000’ in the air I found a freedom from my desire for comfort, my fear of failure, and my inability to be still. Freedom began by removing the limitations of my mind and determining that I am stronger than I think I am. It grew by revealing to me that when I put aside my biological desires for comfort, security, and achievement I can be present in the moment, contribute more to my team, and lead with passion.
Warner, C., & Schmincke, D. (2009). High altitude leadership: What the world’s most forbidding peaks teach us about success. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.