I need "gotcha" for true success. Here's why I do, and why you do too.
You probably know me as a business owner. For almost 30 years, my profession has been federal contracting. As a business owner, I learned fast that “gotcha” is not good. Bad surprises, expensive mistakes, ruined integrity, broken trust. Yet, let me tell you about a special part of my world, that taught me when the word "gotcha", loud and with gusto, means something very different.
You might not know that I’ve also been a professional rock climbing instructor since 2007. The things I’ve learned to do as a climber have transformed my understanding of what it takes to succeed in the federal market.
I am not a natural athlete. Because I skipped a grade in school, I was a year younger than everyone in my class. My mom’s worries about whether I could keep up socially all came true in phys ed. It was pretty much a disaster, and was always a struggle. I never stopped to realize it wasn't my fault: because I skipped that year, I had a year less physical strength and coordination than everyone else. I also had years of being chosen last, getting the message, "not good enough," being the one who would only bring the team down. Team sports were a traumatic experience for me, experiences filled with rejection. My athletic experiences never included the positive leadership and competitive lessons that research shows are common to most successful business owners. I knew that healthy humans need exercise. But it always felt like drudgery.
But in 2006, when I was 46, I found something I enjoyed so much I couldn't believe it counted as exercise: rock climbing. Stick with me for a minute, and you'll get the best part of climbing without having to break a sweat, leave your chair, or even admit you’re afraid of heights.
I am not a thrill seeker or an adrenaline junkie. I'm lured by a sense of adventure and the challenge of learning new things -- safely, and from someone who knows what they're doing. As a climber, I put my life in my partner’s hands. I'm harnessed and tied into a rope that is attached to my partner, or “belayer.” When we climb together, partners use specific commands for safety checks, and to communicate during the climb. Before taking the first step off the ground, the climber asks the belayer: “On belay?” My belayer confirms that she’s ready to support me. She says: “Belay on.”
As I climb, my belayer literally keeps me grounded, not only holding my rope but taking up the slack as I ascend. So far, so good. But you know what happens if I fall, fail, or let go? It happened to me again yesterday: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. I stay exactly where I am in mid-air. I might come off the wall, but keep most of my progress. That's my belayer's job: to keep up with me and be ready to catch my fall.
Here is what I like best of all. Climbers ask for extra support all the time when we get ready to really dare, to put it all out there and make the tough move. It’s simple. I just holler, “TAKE!” My belayer takes up ALL the slack, and I can feel the rope, tight and secure. Before I move, I wait to hear my belayer calls back, “GOTCHA!” Then I know I have full support to make the big move. If I try and fail and fall, it won’t be far. She’s GOT me.
When I tackle a challenging climb, if I want to push through a tough move, or try something daring, really go for it, or I'm just not sure what I want to do next and I need to stop and think things through, I take a deep breath and yell, "TAKE!" That tells me she's ready to support me, all with that single word: "GOTCHA!" Loud, and with gusto. At that point, I know I am totally supported. My belayer’s got my rope. I can decide whether I want to keep going, or I've had enough. When I’m ready to come down, we exchange commands again, and she lowers me safely.
You know what? I’m always afraid of falling. There are times I look down, and wonder, “What was I thinking? Did I lose my mind?” Falling is scary, even if I know somebody’s got my rope. I also know that if I try, I might fail. That happens all the time in business. And asking for help in business is often hard. Climbing, it's truly a matter of life or death when I'm up there. I don't climb without support.
“GOTCHA” is one of the sweetest words I know.
But in business, for many of us, not so much. Asking for help is hard, especially when I feel alone and frustrated; when my gremlins are telling me that I should be able to figure things out by myself if only I were smart enough and determined enough. Sound familiar?
You know what? That thinking is just junk.
It's taken me years to bring the lessons I've learned literally on the rocks over to my work. To remember I'm not alone. That nobody does this -- run a successful business -- alone. I've cultivated a team that I know has my back, and I have theirs.
Who’s your belayer in business? Who's ready and waiting to break your fall? Who takes care of you when you’ve had enough? We all deserve to have climbing partners we can trust – in all parts of our lives.
Growing a business is hard. If it were easy, everyone would do it. There are triumphs and bright spots, to be sure. It’s also filled with hard, dark places when we struggle. Failure feels uneasy at best, devastating at worst. It’s capriciously subjective, too. An experience one person might consider to be an embarrassing failure might look like the kind of fabulous achievement someone else has only dreamed of. (Asking any bronze medal winner how she’d have felt about taking home silver.)
Is the Federal market your space? Federal contracting is a world known for dishing up nasty surprises. Maybe today, or tomorrow, YOU might be having one of those days that’s left you climbing the walls. In the middle of your tough experience, consider yourself on belay. I've got your back.
I'm here for you. Drop me a note, gIve me a call -- 703 627 1074 -- and let's hear what's going on for you. If I don't have an idea that's helpful, I'm usually able to point you in the right direction.
By the way, the picture? That's me, belaying a partner, at Carderock, Maryland. We were raising funds to combat the loss of women to ovarian cancer. Find out more at www.herawomenscancerfounation.org.