Since this piece of writing is about ‘experience’ as a teacher, it is only appropriate that I start with recounting a personal experience. So be prepared to be bored a little.
This dates back to about 15 years ago, when I (25) went out on my first outdoor experiential learning program. I was at that time, extremely physically fit, having played soccer quite passionately for the better half of my youth and ready for almost any physical challenge. I looked upon this workshop I was attending as an opportunity to prove myself not just to please my own ego, but also to the other participants who I imagined would be unfit corporate executives. Boy! Was I in for a surprise?
Over the first day we were challenged by a variety of physical challenges that not only required some physical effort but immense amount of out of the box thinking, ability to listen to others, plan an execute. As you might have guessed yours truly was truly upstaged on this day by the so-called ‘unfit’ executives. A humbling experience to say the least, a valuable lesson learnt in humility – don’t be so quick to jump to conclusions about other people – most of them have more in them then you can see!
The next sunrise though brought out new hopes – today’s task – rock climbing – surely I can do better than the others, most of them are older than I am and less fit – surely here is my moment!
The rock looked hardly insurmountable, the route our instructors had marked out for us looked easy – I decided to wait and be the last to go. Most of my fellow participants, huffed and puffed up the route, everyone struggled at some point or the other but finally made it. It was now my turn.
Being the arrogant imbecile I was, since everyone (more unfit than me) had climbed that route I had to do something more difficult – so I asked the instructor if I could take a different route up the rock – something more challenging. He suggested if I try going from the left it might be tougher as there was a slight overhang, my overconfident eyes missed the sly grin he had on his face. I harnessed up, followed the ‘belay’* protocol and was up and away.
The first few steps were easy and I gained in confidence as I approached the overhang that was about 20 feet over the ground – in my mind I knew I couldn’t fall as I was attached to a rope, that could take more than 30 times my weight and felt quite safe. After a few simple moves I was at the base of the overhang – Suddenly, I could not find a place to keep my left foot, I tried a foothold that was as small as a knife edge and tried to shift my weight on it, to no avail. As soon as I tried to do that I felt I would slip – the confidence I had been feeling till now evaporated and the emptiness that was left behind was replaced with butterflies. Panic stations!, here I was – the youngest and fittest participant amongst the group and I was stuck!
The cold clammy fear literally overwhelmed me, my mind was foggy, my limbs refused to obey me – my few furtive attempts to get over that hump all failed, some resulting in embarrassing postures some 25 feet above the ground – what made it worse were the 20 odd people looking at me – what must they be thinking of me? I could almost imagine them sniggering. Funnily, a small part of me still refused to give in and kept saying “Come on you can do it”
“Calm down! And look around” – the calm voice of the instructor cut through the fog in my brain…..I decided to obey. By now my right knee was quivering and my biceps straining, I was covered in sweat and felt like somehow getting out of the situation. Fear of failure gripped me and the butterflies in my stomach threatened to overpower me. – There wasn’t much I could do but take whatever help that came my way.
I took a deep breath and collected my wits, I took a step back and did exactly what the instructor said – Look Around. Once I did that with a calm mind, I found another hold that I may be able to use, this one was closer and more importantly, bigger.
“Don’t rush it, make a calculated move, don’t try to hurry up!” said the friendly neighbourhood Spiderman (read instructor). Instant obedience was the call of the day so I followed. I took a deep breath, tried my left toes on the hold and gave it my best shot – It is a moment etched forever in my memory – I effortlessly moved over the hump (Moments ago I had almost given up and thought of turning back), once higher I was able to maintain my calm and coolly looked at the rock for options that would help me reach the top, suddenly the rock was covered with holds of all kinds and I was able to use some of them to reach the top quite effortlessly – The Joy I felt on reaching the top after having nearly failed cannot be described – it’s the joy of doing more than you thought possible.
I learnt many life lessons from those 10-15 minutes on the rock – most of them about myself, more importantly they changed me and my approach to the many challenges that life throws at you.
Metaphorically since then, I have been on ‘the rock’ many times in my life since then – tough deadlines, starting a new business, a difficult conversation with a loved one, trying times and personal tragedies and every time the butterflies in my stomach came back.
Tarun is the founder and director of Inme learning – An organization that runs adventure and learning based programs for children between 9–17 years of age. Inme provides children with unique experiences that cannot be replicated in one’s regular life.
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