I’ve never liked swimming.
I can just about manage a length, hate putting my head under water and the mere thought of diving into a swimming pool makes me feel anxious.
But I’d never have said I had a fear of water.
Until a few weeks ago that is, when I did a taster session for an adventure obstacle race, which involved wading through muddy lakes, crawling through tunnels and hurtling down a thirty foot slide into a lake.
The name of the first obstacle - aquaphobia - was enough to make me want to turn back. Walking across a gangplank, jumping onto a narrow ledge, then onto a polystyrene ‘crash mat’ - over deep water - was no easy feat for a girl who barely scraped her 50m swimming badge at school.
I gamely tackled a ten foot wall of tyres, a climbing wall and a rope trapeze across another very muddy lake. But when I got to the penultimate obstacle - known as the ‘death slide’ - I froze.
‘I can’t do it!’
I watched every other participant go down until I was the only one left.
‘I’ll wait for you here!’ called my friend Catherine from the bottom. ‘Just remember to hold your nose.’
But as I sat, perched at the top of a thirty foot slide, staring down into the lake below, I knew I couldn’t do it.
And if the race director hadn’t turned up, I wouldn’t have.
‘You are going to do it,’ he said. ‘And I’m going to count you down.’
A few seconds later, my lungs were bloated with icy cold water. My arms and legs were thrashing around me. I thought I was going to die.
When I came to the surface, I could barely draw breath, but I swam the 100m or so to the edge of the lake without stopping.
Back at home, after a hot bath and a change of clothes I felt pretty proud of myself. Next to running a marathon, learning to drive (after being involved in a horrific car accident), it is probably the bravest thing I have ever done.
The experience got me thinking about tackling other obstacles in life. Although I’ve worked as a journalist for the past fifteen years, teaching, coaching and mentoring has always been big a part of my life.
As well as running a media training company, I’ve also worked as a university lecturer (in journalism), trained an apprentice and started my professional life as a school teacher. In all of these roles, helping people overcome obstacles - both in their personal and professional life - has been a big part of the job.
These days, when I’m working as a media consultant - helping people to increase their press coverage, improve their writing or prepare for radio/TV interviews, for example - I’m often supporting them as they face their fears. This can be anything from pitching to a publication they’ve never approached before, communicating in a style they’re not used to (writing comment or blog articles, for example) to public speaking.
How do you tackle obstacles?
Over the years, there’s five things I’ve noticed about people who are good at overcoming obstacles. These are:
- They know that getting results means getting uncomfortable
- They recognise they can’t do it alone (and enlist the support of friends, family or others)
- They know taking action - of any kind - is better than doing nothing
- They anticipate setbacks - and plan for them
- They accept they will make mistakes - and commit to learning from them
When we were setting out on the adventure obstacle race, the instructor said something that really resonated with me. ‘Look at the obstacle, make a plan to get round it, then go for it. If you hesitate, you’re more likely to fail.’
I think it’s an approach we could all benefit from - both in work and in life.
What obstacle are you facing right now? Perhaps it’s a story you’re finding difficult to place. A difficult conversation you’re putting off. Maybe you’re bored of your job and want a new challenge.
Whatever it is, what would happen if you looked at the obstacle, made a plan to get round it and just went for it ? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below or over on Twitter
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p.s. There is a twist in the tale: the obstacle experience was just a taster for a ‘real’ race that took place last Sunday...and I didn’t take part. While I was proud of my achievement, I didn’t enjoy the experience enough to want to repeat it. So I’ve taken what I learned to tackle obstacles in things I do want more of i.e. launching a new business venture and getting my semi-professional singing career off the ground. More on that later.
p.p.s. If you’re interested in the topic of overcoming fears/obstacles you’ll like these books: