I recently spent some time in Door County, Wisconsin on a relaxing little weekend getaway.
On my last day there, I set out with a girlfriend to explore Peninsula State Park, a beautiful nature preserve located on a bluff high above the waters of Green Bay.
As we went through the park, we stumbled upon Eagle Tower. Eagle Tower is a 75 foot wooden tower built in 1914 that sits on a cliff above Green Bay, exactly 250 feet above the water.
For whatever reason, I was attracted to the tower. I quickly assessed it and decided to climb it. I figured if it’s been here since 1914 and it’s open to the public, it must be relatively safe, right? So I grabbed my video camera and began my ascent.
Upon first glance it seems like it would be a breeze to climb to the top, that is, until you get started, then you realize the tower is one big wobbly staircase.
Now I’m from the city so this is not the first staircase I have conquered. My home is three levels and I climb those stairs every single day. The art school I attended was 14 stories high and I loved using the stairs. It is however quite daunting when you realize that the individual stairs of Eagle Tower go straight up and have no backing, no walls. So this means you get to feel the wind in your face, you cannot avoid seeing the height you are climbing to while the landmarks below you shrink with each step you take.
I was so happy to be climbing Eagle Tower and was especially excited to be sharing the experience with my dear friend. After all, we are stronger together… that is until I lost her, and then I had to be strong by myself.
Can you relate? My friend turned back after about 20 feet up. She didn’t just turn back, she got a little cranky with me, told me climbing this thing just wasn’t important to her and just like that, she was gone. She was back on the ground. Little did I know that climbing this pile of wood would become a deeply moving spiritual experience that I could draw from for the rest of my life…
The Ten Lessons I Learned While Climbing to the Top
1. There will be times you will have to go on without your support system. The people you want to be there with you will not always be there with you. Be willing to go forward anyway.
It occurred to me at that moment that I had a choice. I could turn back to keep my friend company or I could just keep going. Since she was already cranky, I might risk her being angry with me for going without her. Or I could just go forward and do what I said I was going to do. I would have truly preferred to climb it with her and share the experience, but I decided to continue climbing even if it meant I was solo. After all, the tower wasn’t going anywhere and I could tell her all about it when I came down and perhaps she would want to climb it later after watching me do it. Quite an optimistic thought.
But that didn’t happen. She totally disengaged from me and the experience. She went to the car and made some phone calls. What’s important to note is that no matter how much I truly believe she would have benefited from this experience, my journey is not her journey. Each person chooses their own path and sometimes you have to let them go and then do what you need to do for yourself.
Which taught me this:
2. The higher you climb, the scarier it gets and the less company you will have.
Sometimes people turn on you and project THEIR fear onto you through anger, disassociation, abandonment and so on. Sometimes they even attack you because you are doing something they want, but are afraid to do. But the reality is, when someone does this, it’s not about you at all. I wanted her to have this experience. But the truth is, this climb was not about her or anyone else and I shouldn’t make it about her. It was about me wanting to feel the fear and do it anyway. I wanted this experience. There were people already at the top and that was comforting to know that I would meet them when I got there.
And so I kept climbing.
The higher I climbed, the stronger and colder the wind was. In fact,when I reached the second level, the wind was so strong, it blew my hat off my head. Oh, and the higher you go, the more the tower sways in the wind. You can hear the wood making creaky sounds and the ‘perception’ of danger and intensity becomes greater with each step.
The wind is cold and loud as it howls around you. There is no protection from it as the tower is essentially 4 pillars, a floating staircase and a railing to hold onto as you climb. That’s it.
So why was I here, why was I climbing this tower? Why was this so important to me?
3. How you do anything is how you do everything.
The very thought of that statement is what kept me from turning back. I wondered if I turned back here, in a controlled situation that would be done and over with in about 4 minutes, what else in life do I avoid, turn back and retreat from? Not that this issue is a pattern in my life, but the mere possibility was enough to make me forge ahead.
This experience was symbolic to me, a step in the direction of expanding my personal development and spiritual growth.
4. Once you make the decision to go, do not sit around talking about how afraid you are. That only causes the fear to become bigger and you will increase your chances of turning around like my friend did. It’s okay that she turned back, as she had her reasons for not doing it, but I could not turn back for I had my reasons for following through and I was 100% committed to make it to the top. She saw the tower as a meaningless pile of wood. I saw it as a metaphor for life and conquering fear. Instead of focusing on the fear, I focused on the feeling of accomplishment I would feel with each progressive step and the view I would get to enjoy when I reached the highest point.
“What you dwell upon long enough and strong enough becomes your reality. ” -Jill Koenig
5. The only way to grow your courage muscle is to use it. Sometimes when you are afraid to do something that you know you are capable of, it means you MUST do it. I could spend my entire life avoiding things that scare me but then I would never grow. I would miss out on so many delicious experiences. When muscles and skills are not used, they atrophy, the fade, they shrink. You increase and grow your capacity whenever you pursue your potential.
6. The higher you climb, the more temptation there is to turn back. The climate is different at the top. There is often more risk, and the conditions are more extreme. Fewer people are willing to take those risks and battle those conditions. This applies to business, love, friendship, intimacy, spirituality and any aspect of life. The greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity, but also the greater the challenge, the more opportunities for your limiting beliefs to sneak up on you and bite you in the rear.
You must consistently consciously choose to overcome the perception of your limitations.
7. When you get to the top, or reach a new level, take time to celebrate and reflect. Capture the lessons from the experience. Who knew that climbing a wooden tower would have brought so much insight to my life and give me the opportunity to share it with you? And some of you are going to comment back and share your insights with me and that’s pretty awesome if you ask me.
8. After you stretch yourself and have done something a few times, it becomes much easier to accomplish more. In fact, you will find yourself looking for bigger challenges to tackle. Challenging yourself makes you feel alive and accomplished. Even if you don’t make it to the top, if you stretch yourself, you will be in a better position for the future.
9. The view from the top is spectacular. There are things you can only experience and see from up high. I climbed the tower three times that day. Each time was easier than the one before. The third time I climbed the tower, I saw a bald eagle flying just above me. Have you ever seen a bald eagle in front of your face free in the wild? Let me assure you, it’s a treasure to behold. I would have totally missed that remarkable sight if I were standing on the ground.
It is worth noting that Eagles do not hang around sitting on the ground. They soar. If you want to see them and be around them, you have to rise to their level.
10. Sometimes coming down just as frightening as going up. After I celebrated at the top, and took in the spectacular view, it was time to come down and it was just as scary coming down as it was going up and I think the same is true of life. Life is a series of peaks and valleys, summers and winters. There are cycles we must all experience. I don’t know anyone whose life is a constant ride at the top. But it is still worth the effort to go for it and get back to the top, to seek new heights, if for no other reason than what you will learn and who you will become in the process. The lessons are yours to keep forever.
For my friend this tower was a meaningless pile of wood. For me it was a metaphor for life. What towers or mountains have you climbed lately? What challenges have you embraced, what fears have you conquered? How have you stretched yourself today?
You want to seek new heights in every area of your life. It’s worth doing whatever it takes to get there.
We had a similar experience, our family rode our bicycles for 150 miles over 4 days on the Great Allegheny Passage through the forest of Pennsylvania. We only had our bicycles and our clothes on our back, we HAD to ride. We were all challenged, mentally, physically and spiritually. But most of all we all grew in those areas and grew closer as a family. On the trip were me, my husband and our 4 kids ages 11, 13, 14 and 15. Check it out! http://www.GAP.org
Symbolically, this is really interesting to me. I recall when I was doing my post grad year in University, there were times it got so tough I wanted to quit. And I used to make one decision that helped me. Every time I wanted to quit, I put “quitting” off till tomorrow. And in the end, I completed my studies and graduated before the day to quit ever came around.
Thanks for being such an inspiration, Jill!
Well done. Great connection of goal setting and climbing up a mountain. We can all relate. It’s something deep in our DNA, wanting to grow and see and experience more. Keep climbing more mountains, that’s why I plan to do, too.
Founding Director of the International Association of Holistic Practitoners