Last month, my college classmates and I (sixteen of us in total, plus our two teachers) went to camp for two days to solidify our team and get hands-on experience in working towards goals and taking leadership. This took the form of a blind follow-the-leader activity, trust falls (eeek!), and getting the entire team through a "spiderweb" of rope without touching the web.
That was just the first morning.
During the first afternoon, we took turns climbing the climbing wall and going ziplining, which I mentioned in my last Subplots and Storylines post. Climbing up the fifty-foot ziplining pole was a little freaky, but sitting up on the platform while the facilitator clipped my harness to the zipline was worse. I was sitting on the edge, legs dangling over empty space, and the tops of the trees looked too close.
|one of my classmates, the first to go up|
"Do you want me to?" His voice sounded mildly amused. "I think you can do it."
I guess being reminded that I was capable was what I needed, because I took another deep breath, squeezed my eyes shut, and launched off, an unbidden scream bursting out of me. Half a second later, my eyes were open and I was zooming down the line, having the time of my life. The end came too soon.
After ziplining, I conquered the climbing wall. Like I mentioned in the S&S post, I managed to get halfway up the difficult side--after slipping off and dangling by my harness a couple of times--but by then my arms were sore and I was ready to come down.
But I didn't want to give up, so I then successfully climbed the easier side, though I did slip once more on the way up. Thank goodness for the person belaying me.
So you can imagine I was feeling pumped and proud of myself and ready to take on the world!
That night, my room's heater was blasting way too high, leading to a less-than-restful sleep. The morning before camp, I had woken up early, so all in all, I entered day two of camp with low energy levels.
After breakfast, we all headed to the high ropes course. There were different challenges, such as the Giant's Ladder, a series of wooden beams with each one spaced further apart than the one before. I helped belay for a team of four taking on that particular challenge. There is no way I'm going up there, I thought to myself, content to hold the rope, keep an eye on my climber, and ensure her safety.
An hour later, after the team had reached the top and come back down, everyone who hadn't had a chance to participate in a challenge course yet was rounded up, including myself. A facilitator told me to join the Giant's Ladder team, but I said no, if I had to do any of them, I'd rather do Team All Aboard: a pole with a small, square platform on top, where three or four people had to stand, link arms, and lean backwards all together.
So I harness up and started climbing the pole. Some of my teammates, having seen my reluctance, shouted encouragement from below. My belayer instructed me to climb around the pole once I got partway up, in order to keep my line from tangling with those of the two girls already up there.
So I climbed up the ladder. Onto the first few staple footholds of the pole. I looked up at the platform above my head. I adjusted my grip. I closed my eyes. Suddenly the thought of reaching the top was overwhelming. I could barely think of taking the next step. It's just like climbing up to the zipline, Tracey. This shouldn't be hard.
I've climbed a high ropes course before, about three years ago. It was terrifying and a lot harder than what I was currently embarking on, but I'd made it. Logically, this one shouldn't be a problem.
"Is it okay if just two people go up instead of three?" I called. "Can I come down?"
The facilitator looked up at me. "Why do you want to come down, Tracey?" he asked.
I fought back irrational tears. "I'm just tired. No motivation."
"It's okay. You did well."
And so I climbed back down. Taking my helmet off with trembling hands, I avoided gazes and nodded when classmates told me I had done a good job, I had stepped out of my comfort zone, way to go.
As I walked away, one of my teachers approached. "Hey, no one's disappointed in you."
"Yeah, except for me," I said, and started crying.
My other teacher joined us. "Tracey, what is excellence?"
I wiped tears away and tried to tamp down another wave. "Doing the best you can with what you have, I know."
Later on--after a hug and some encouraging words--everyone gathered for a debrief to share what we'd learned and accomplished. As classmates talked about conquering fears and depending on each other, another wave of guilt washed over me. You could've pushed past it. You could've taken one more step, and then one more, and one more, and made it to the top. Why didn't you?
When it came to my turn, and I forced out a few brief words that did a poor job of veiling my guilt, the female facilitator debriefing with us had something powerful to say.
When things don't go as planned or we fail to accomplish the goal we've set out for ourselves, it's easy to give into a "shame storm," to beat ourselves up about it. But we can't do that. It's damaging. It's not true.
I tried to quell the storm raging inside of me, but my teacher (the first one) saw the look on my face as we headed back to the main lodge.
"You heard what she said?" he asked me. "Don't give in. Don't give in to the shame."
The whole experience stuck with me long after we left camp. I do tend to be hard on myself, to replay my failures, to beat myself up for making a mistake . . . or even just for doing less than I expected of myself.
I'm sharing this story because I'm pretty certain you have your own storm of shame, thundering in your ears and lashing you from the inside. Others may not see that you're bleeding, but you know it. You suffer that barrage of thoughts saying, "Why didn't you make it? What's wrong with you? You could have, should have--didn't. You failed, therefore you are a failure."
You know what I say to that? Yes, I failed, but that means I'm a tryer.
I'm still trying to believe that I did not actually fail at the high ropes course, that I really did do the best I could with what I had. What I had was not much, but I strapped my harness on. I climbed the ladder. I started up the pole. So I didn't reach the top and complete the challenge. I still challenged myself. It's not about completion.
Listen to me, friend. Whether it was a true failure or you simply did the best you could with what you had, and it wasn't enough--it does not define you. Accept that, learn from it, and move on. It's the moving on part that's really hard, but please try.
As I slowly worked through the tangle of thoughts and feelings after the ropes course, and I began to let go of the guilt, I was surprised to feel lighter. Surprised that I was still having fun and enjoying my day, when hours ago I'd been crying. And I started to feel guilty for not feeling more guilty. But I shut that voice up. Not perfectly--some whispers got through--but I will always look back on that day as my battle against the shame storm.