From the Blog

Here’s Why I’m Certifiable

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Friday my company went to a ropes course for a team building event. I was assured by people I trusted that it was a lot of fun the last time they went.  When I say that I “trusted” them, it means that those people seemed equally (or less) athletic and adventurous than me. So I figured if they could do it, I could do it.

I have no problem with team building events. These types of work events are pretty much designed to be embarrassing. They put you out of your element. So, when all your co workers witness you doing something stupid, their shared gossip about you is considered “bonding.”

A lot of people had done this ropes course before. I was one of the few who hadn’t. It was raining and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. We were broken up into teams and trudged into the woods.

There were various “ground” activities, like getting 10 people on and off a tilting platform without hitting the ground. Or laying planks across a course of low stumps and getting the whole team across without touching the ground. I am fine with those sorts of activities. So fine.

The one problem is that I’m bossy. I am accustomed to taking leadership roles in random groups of people. I’m not sure why this always seems to happen. Even when I want to hang back and keep a low profile, somehow I am always voted leader. I think it’s because I am so incredibly smart. And good looking.

But my company is a sales based organization. So a lot of people are in sales and are um, assertive. Everyone is full of bright ideas and everyone is bossy. So there was a lot of squawking and shouting and lack of coherence and it’s just what I want to experience at 8 am in the rain in the woods.

Some of the other activities were in the trees. You climb to a platform and shoot down a zip line. Or you traverse a tightrope with just-out-of-reach rope guides. Or you leap off a platform and free fall from a swing hanging between two trees. Sounds fun.

The first activities we did in the trees was the zip line. And I had heard everyone say how fun it was. We were instructed in all the safety procedures, and given harnesses and helmets. You had to climb up a tree to a small platform. Your coworkers hold the other end of the belay that secures you as you climb. You zip down the line. Fun.

A few people went up before me. They went screaming down the line and came back with smiles on their faces. One woman said climbing up the tree was freaky. I could see how it could be difficult for someone afraid of heights. To my knowledge, I was not afraid of heights.

Then it was my turn. I got strapped into the belay, and started climbing the tree. The footholds and handholds were loops of metal pounded into the trunk of the tree. It was a tall fir perched on the side of a steep hill. So as I climbed, the ground got much further away.

The metal loops were really slippery from the rain. And while I certainly had a good grip going up, and felt quite deliberate in all my movements, halfway up the tree, I began to have a reaction. My hands began shaking. A lot.

This was something I was not expecting. I didn’t know if it was fatigue, since I was engaging in actual physical activity, and I’m super soft and out of shape. Or if it was my brain screaming WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING? I was clinging 30 feet in the air to the side of a tree. My adventure and resolve completely evacuated. I trembled more than I ever have in my life.

I looked at the metal loops hooked into the tree and faltered in the surety of my grip. They suddenly felt much more slippery. The higher I got, the harder time I had positioning my feet, or letting my hands release to reach for the next loop. I felt like I didn’t have any strength and once I got a good grip, it felt like I should just hang on, and not continue any further.

I thought of my coworkers below with their hands on the other end of my rope, chatting and distracted. What was I going to do? Climb back down? I had just seen all my other coworkers scramble up this tree with no apparent issues. I hated the idea of embarrassing myself, but this was a mortal panic. And I thought about the other end of my rope and thought “They’d better fricken HAVE me.”

The facilitator on the platform guided me as I got to the top, “Grab on here, put your foot over there, slide over…” I told him it was scary. He said “It sure is.” None of these motions would be difficult if it were a foot of the ground. But when there is a gaping void below you, it was nightmarish. I seriously have nightmares like this.

On the platform, my heart was pounding and I was out of breath. And I was still shaking uncontrollably. The facilitator hooked me into the zip line. I turned and looked at the 18,000 pound cable and still managed a weak joke that it might not hold me. This didn’t seem like a bright idea either.

But somehow the decision to leap off the platform and zip down the line was easier than climbing the tree. What were my options? Waiting up there hoping to gather my courage? Holding everyone up? Climbing back down the goddamned tree? Two or three seconds of calculating my options, then I dropped off the platform.

I spun around as I zipped down the line, so I couldn’t see where I was going. Awesome. And I realized either I wasn’t told, or I wasn’t listening, about how I would stop. The other end of the line was attached to another goddamned tree.

There was a block on the line, attached to a metal spring that absorbed my velocity. The recoil sent me back up the line, back and forth until I stopped. And other facilitator rolled a gangway over and unhooked me from the line. He asked me what I thought. “I didn’t like it,” I said. He seemed blandly surprised. He sent me back up the hill to join my co workers.

Other people might get a rush from this kind of experience. They might go through all these intense emotions and feel really great after being so afraid. Conquering fear, etc. I have no need for this. I don’t ever need to feel afraid. Perhaps I’m a control freak, but I don’t find myself in these situations of mortal peril very often. And of course, the whole thing was very safe and all that blah blah, but my BRAIN didn’t think so. I listen to my brain.

And because I am crazy have an anxious personality, I don’t feel a sense of accomplishment in getting over a fear. All I can do is replay the fear in my head over and over again, remembering how intense it was and how out of control it felt. Never mind that my two feet are on the ground and I’m perfectly safe and I can go on my merry way. I just remember that fear and think, “I never want to go through that again.”

It came as a surprise at how incredibly terrified I was. I was not expecting that reaction. And ultimately, I was disappointed with myself. I guess I’m really afraid of heights. And any grand delusions of youthful invincibility are completely gone. And any trust in my own strength or agility is gone as well. I’m one of those people. One of those non-adventurous people.

I didn’t do any of the other high ropes activities for the rest of the day. People asked me why, and I said I didn’t need to climb any more trees that day. Of all my coworkers, the only other person that didn’t do any high ropes besides me was an odd woman that no one likes. Great.

We did a few more ground-level team building activities and I realized, despite being shaken and tired, I am much, MUCH better at bossing people around.


  1. Ick. No wonder you were so subdued Friday…

  2. Wow. I would think something like that WOULD be fun, but coming face to face with your options, and no option is a good one, realizing THIS isn’t for you is a good realization. Now you know, don’t climb trees, or buildings. I hope it’s not hereditary.

  3. first of all, i would hate this kind of thing because it’s a “team building” sort of thing. i hate those. second of all, i’d have been SO PISSED that is was cold and rainy.

    second of all, this reminded me of the ONE TIME i ever went rock climbing and i had the same sense of fear and horror and the same uncontrollable shaking and i cried like an idiot the whole time. NEVER. AGAIN.

  4. oh. i guess that last point should have been third of all. i blame the fog of sickness that has rendered me not sick enough to stay home but not well enough to proofread my comments.

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