From the CEO: Bravery

Maybe you’ve heard Eleanor Roosevelt’s philosophy: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

It served as my mantra on more than one fear-filled occasion, because there’s a lot of wisdom packed into that one sentence.  However, what Eleanor really said about fear was:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.

You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”

The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.

This month, 90 people got the chance to do just that – face their fears and do the thing they thought they could not! The mission, should they choose to accept it, was to rappel down a 14-story building, Tom-Cruise-style….

It was all to raise money for a good cause – GiGi’s Playhouse! GiGi’s playhouse, for those who don’t know, provides free educational and therapeutic programs for individuals with Down syndrome.

And while GiGi’s received corporate sponsorships for the mission, NO ONE from several of the sponsoring employers was willing to take the risk and participate.  So…when AWS Foundation was offered a spot, Eleanor’s words came to mind, and I accepted GiGi’s invitation.

Heights don’t bother me….falling, yes….but not heights. Roller coasters, high dives, bungee jumping are not in my purview of entertaining ideas, but rappelling is a controlled and safe descent.  I am all about control. I thought I could do it.

When I woke the morning of the event, I heard thunder and rain falling.  I will admit the thought that I had “dodged that bullet” occurred to me.  By 9:00AM, however, the rain had stopped and people began to descend.

I suited up: a harness, grappling lines, walkie talkie, gloves and helmet. I readied for my instructions. Lightening and storms meant we were nearly two hours behind schedule.  Again, I thought I might have received an 11th hour reprieve…  However, while I waited anxiously, I heard story after story of excitement from those who’d already rappelled. I could feel the adrenaline. Finally, we got the all clear.

I can do this!

Cameron, a young man with Down syndrome went before me.  He admired my Spider Man shirt. I admired his unwavering excitement.  He was the first to volunteer in our group to control his own lines and release the safety locks.  Bravely, he hoisted himself onto the wall of the room and showed us how it was done.  He shared the trip with a mentor who recorded the experience with her GoPro.  He got tired part way, he went too fast and his safety line locked, he radioed up for help and with encouragement finished the descent.  We weren’t allowed to look over the edge until it was our turn but I heard everyone cheering as he safely placed his feet on the ground below.

If you want to see more, from the safety of the ground, check out our video below.  This was a great fundraiser that also raised awareness of the great activities provided by Gigi’s, but there was much more to be gained.  I retold my story over the next few days and posted the picture on Facebook as I stepped off the edge of that building.  My take away was more than the pictures and bragging rights, however.  I learned so much more in watching the young man go before me.  His lesson for me applies to many other situations in life for those with disabilities who are trying to face a daunting challenge.

  • Be Prepared. Practice in a safe space where mistakes can be identified and corrected by those who care about your success.
  • Have a safety line. Even with the best practices, a back-up plan can help ensure a successful journey.
  • Take a break when you need it. Catch your breath, ask for help, and keep at it.
  • Share the journey. Any journey is better when shared.
  • Be sure to celebrate. We all have challenges in life.  Share in the successes of others and go ahead and brag so they can celebrate with yours.

I suspect years from now it won’t be my journey to the ground that will replay when I am faced with a challenge but rather the bravery of Cameron and how he exemplified the spirit of Eleanor’s words…

“Do one thing every day that scares you… even the thing you think you cannot do.”  This is the routine for many of those with disabilities.