What I learned from the Fear of Abseiling

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Yesterday I went abseiling to raise awareness for The David Martin Foundation, an organisation that supports young people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Well I tried to anyway. As I stood on the edge the building, 33 stories and 135 metres high, overlooking Sydney’s Darling Harbour on a stunningly beautiful day, fear took over and I froze.

I was incredibly disappointed as I’d been looking forward to the abseil, not just because of the great cause it was in aid of, but because of the challenge it presented. To crawl back over the railing defeated was a little heart breaking. I felt like I’d failed, and it sent me into a little tail spin of critical introspection. Somebody said to me recently that if you’re going to fail, do it fast, learn and move on… and if I’m honest, fear and failing fast feel a little like themes recently. I don’t like it, but I am learning from it, and I will be better for it.

Reflecting on this, I wondered what I could learn from not being able to step over the edge and take the leap of faith. I’ve come to these conclusions:

1. Face the Fear

I’m not a massive fan of heights but I’ve abseiled, bungee jumped and skydived before, and loved them all. So what was different this time?

As I stepped over the railing and on to the ledge I may have been 33 stories high but logically I knew that it was perfectly safe to leap off the edge. I was harnessed in and attached to three ropes (one alone strong enough to hold a car) and had support crews on the roof and the ground keeping watch, yet fear still took over.

The first time I abseiled – I looked over the edge to see where i was going.

When I bungee jumped – I watched the ground disappear from under my feet as the crane took me to 150M above it; and looked down before I jumped.

When I skydived – I took in the view from the plane on the way up; and looked down before leaping out of a perfectly good plane.

In every instance I was scared, I also knew that what I was doing was perfectly safe. By looking down I had an idea of what was ahead and beat the fear by facing it. This time I didn’t look down – I didn’t face it. The tighter i gripped the rail, the more the crew tried to assure me, the more scared I became.

The worst decisions I’ve ever made have always been made in fear – fear of the unknown, fear of ruining something, of upsetting someone, of going broke, of being imperfect.. The list of fears is endless. My best decisions however have been made in spite of fear, or without it completely.

Fear is a healthy emotion, but it will hold you back if you let it. The best thing you can do is to understand why you’re scared, because then you have the power to beat it.

There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.

Looking for tips to overcome fear? Here’s how musician Joe Cowan beat stage fright

2. Know your limits

We all like to think that we are superheroes, that we have #nolimits, and that we can be overcome any and every obstacle placed before us. In truth we are not, we all have vulnerabilities, we all have limits, and we all have to know when it is right to push them and when to listen to them and pull back.

Whether it’s a reward or a lesson, there is a consequence either way.

I could have jumped, but after 10 minutes of standing on the ledge, struggling to pull the support rope from behind me, losing confidence with every failed attempt, gripping the hand rail tighter and tighter each time, I accepted that I was so overwhelmed with fear that it was probably actually dangerous to go over the edge. Either that or it would have been one of the least enjoyable experiences of my life.. And that’s not what I wanted this to be.

Accepting my limitations in that moment, probably saved me a lot of tears and panic. I know I can do it because I have done it before. But in that moment, today was not the day.

Sure I felt mentally and physically weak in that moment but I felt the need to accept my limitations. I will abseil again, but I’ll do some preparation – maybe even some practice first.

3. Define Your Own Success

I thought I failed, and yes I can say I failed to meet my own expectations of myself, but I also succeeded.

As an influencer, my real goal in doing the abseil was to raise awareness for the great work the Foundation does in helping young people build better futures, and for their October fundraising event. Through sharing the experience, I have done that. Friends now want to get involved, either by donating to the foundation, participating in the event, or getting involved in the work the foundation does.

These events are also great for networking and meeting new people, and there were a wonderful group of people involved that I now know.

I laugh and learn with a healthy dose of self deprecation at my own failure, but am also proud of my success in raising awareness for The David Martin Foundation’s work.

There is no one definition of success, we define our own.

David St John talks about success a journey, not a destination. Watch his TED Talk here

4. Be Authentic

As we prepared for the abseil we took pictures and video, I snapchatted and shared the fun on Instagram Stories – all evidence that I had successfully jumped off the 33rd floor of a building and loved it.

I didn’t have to say that I failed, I could have faked it.. No-one would have known but me and the others who were there, but that would have been a lie.

As humans we’re imperfect, we don’t always succeed, we don’t always smile, we lie, make mistakes and we don’t always meet the expectations of others, or our own expectations of ourselves.. And yes, sometimes we win, we laugh, we celebrate and we are our best selves. But, for any number of reasons, what we don’t usually do is tell the whole story.

Authenticity isn’t always easy, but it is important

Kellie Anne Drinkwater defined the meaning of being authentic at TEDxSydney 2016. Watch her talk here


The David Martin Foundation’s annual Abseil for Youth is held in October and raises funds for their youth support program. Visit their #AbseilForYouth website to learn more, and get involved.


The David Martin Foundation on Facebook and Twitter

Abseil for Youth on Instagram and Twitter

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