I’ll Go Fifth!

It was a number of years ago. I was a management trainer for a consulting firm and was teaching over twenty different leadership/soft skill classes for various companies across the country. I was pretty good too. I’d form relationships with my clients and would continually get asked back, over and over again. By most peoples’ standards, I was extremely successful.

And yet something was missing.

I was going through the motions but my passion was faltering. It was taking more and more effort to get excited about what I was doing. I wasn’t feeling it anymore.

Raise your hand if you know what I’m talking about.

Right about this time my buddy Eric was telling me about a 10-day Outward Bound adventure program that includes a day on the high ropes course.

“What’s a high ropes course?” I asked.

Eric smiled, hoping I would ask. “A high ropes course is a series of challenging outdoor activities that typically take place high off the ground (like up in the trees or on poles). Picture a telephone pole and you have an idea about how high off the ground I’m talking about.”

“And what’s the point of these activities?” I asked rather curiously.

“You almost have to experience it for yourself to truly understand the value. What I can tell you is that you’ll learn more about yourself than you’d ever imagine.”

As Eric continued talking about his high ropes experience, my mind began drifting over to my own dilemma.  I interrupted him.

“Do you think that program would help me get a new perspective on life?”

He nodded. “And a whole lot more!”

“Then I’m doing it!” I said, and enrolled myself in the next available program.


The High Ropes Course

After a few light teambuilding exercises to start the first morning off, our instructor Christian pointed over to our next activity, off in the distance. We all gazed in the direction of his finger.

What I saw sent chills up and down my spine. He was pointing at the infamous Power Pole, a 35-foot pole with a small platform on top. About 7 feet from the top of the platform was a trapeze.

All I could think as my body began shaking was, Are you kidding me!

I had seen this activity on YouTube before. First you have to climb to the top of the pole with nothing but a belay rope (protecting you in case you fall). Then you have to somehow maneuver yourself up on the platform so you can stand up. And if that’s not enough, the only way down is to jump off the pole, presumably by grabbing the trapeze that sits out in front of you. However, most people can’t jump far enough out to reach the trapeze and end up flailing in mid-air before they slowly get lowered down by the team of people holding the other end of their belay rope.

Sounds easy, right? Not if you have a fear of heights…or trust issues…or balance problems…or any other limitation-be it physical, emotional, or mental for that matter. In fact, the woman who was climbing the pole on the YouTube video began hyperventilating as she reached the top of the pole and literally froze at the top. Eventually a rescue team had to be called in order to peel her off the pole and help her back down.

I started to panic as we began walking towards the pole. Negative thoughts were flooding my mind. I’m not sure I can do this! What if I start hyperventilating like that lady did in the video? And why are we doing the power pole on day 1? Are you kidding me!

I quickly sized up the other nine participants in the program. I needed a strategy. I needed a plan…a survival plan.

And then it came to me. I know, I thought to myself, I’ll go fifth!

A rare smile came over my face. It was the perfect plan; I’d place myself right smack in the middle of the group, thereby enabling me to carefully watch and learn from the first four! Why, by the time it was be my turn, I’d know exactly what to do. And then I giggled to myself thinking how going fifth would also separate me from the few stragglers at the end who surely were going to struggle with this particular activity.

Now with my strategy intact, I was ready, or as ready as one could be for such a monstrous challenge…or so I thought. But then something happened that would change my life forever.

As we came up to the base of the 35-ft. pole, I noticed that we were all staring up in wonder…or in my case, wondering what was I thinking in signing up for this program!

Just then Christian asked us all to sit down, as he went over a grabbed a stick. He rejoined the group and proceeded to draw a circle in the dirt.

“Do you see this circle,” he said.

We all nodded.

“This circle represents your comfort zone. The inside is where your greatest comfort comes from; it’s what you know…it’s what you’re used to…and it’s safe.”

Then he pointed to the area outside the circle. “What do you think this area represents?”

“Risk,” shouted one participant.

“The unknown,” added another.

“Our growth areas,” I yelled, still not sure where he was going with this demonstration.

Christian smiled. “That’s right. So what’s our natural tendency when we get to the edge of our comfort zone…do we take a step out or do take a step back in?”

We all looked at each other before someone said, “I think we move back into the comfort zone.”

He nodded. “I think you’re right. And here’s the problem with that. Imagine that each time we retreat back into the comfort zone, we add a layer of bricks around the outside of the circle…and then another layer and another layer. Eventually the bricks get so high that we can no longer see out.”

“So what you are saying,” I added, “is that instead of our comfort zones expanding, they become insulated.”

Christian’s eyebrow’s lifted up. “Yes!”

“But how do you know if that’s happening?” asks another participant.

“Simple. You stop taking risks. You stop challenging yourself.” And then he paused before emphasizing, “You stop growing.”

At this point we were all so focused on the conversation at hand that we had forgotten about the giant power pole looming in front of us.

Christian pointed to the edge of the circle again. “Tell me this. What would happen to our circle…our comfort zone, if instead of retreating back into the circle we took a baby step outside the circle?”

“You’re circle expands!” someone shouted.

Christian nodded while looking up at the pole. “Exactly. And this power pole activity is an opportunity for many of you to expand your comfort zones.”

Suddenly my mouth dropped open, as if I had been hit by one of those metaphoric bricks. Ah! Now I see where he’s going with all of this. He’s talking about me! A rush of uninvited awareness swept over me. I realized that I live in that comfort zone. It’s where I operate from, make decisions, and view the world from.Why, it’s no wonder why I had lost my passion…I couldn’t see out past the brick wall that was blocking my view. And to top it off, my “I’ll go fifth” strategy was anything but risk, challenge, or growth. It was me doing what I always do.

I was reminded of the quote, “If you want things to stay the same, then keep doing what you are doing.”

So why did I sign up for this workshop in the first place? Was it to shake things up in my life and discover what’s important? Or, was it to simply do what I always do and thus get the results I always get?

The answer was clear to me. I put myself in this workshop so I could change things up and view the world from a different perspective. Maintaining the status quo was no longer acceptable. Doing what I always do was no longer acceptable…which meant, “going fifth” was no longer an option. It was time for a bold move!

Christian’s voice suddenly brought me back to the group. “So, who wants to go first?”

I cringed as my shaking hand reluctantly and slowly rose up above my head. I felt like I was back in second grade, hoping someone else would get picked. But no, not this time. Instead, everyone in the group looked over at me and unanimously shouted with conviction, “Yes, Giesen needs to go first!”

All I could think was, Crap! Was it that obvious!

The Power Pole

I knew if I thought too much about what I was doing that it would be the kiss of death, so I raced up the pole in record time, making sure to not look down as I climbed. Once at the top I was faced with the difficult challenge of lifting myself up on the loose platform that sits on top of the pole. This was much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. Not only was there nothing to hold on to, but I suddenly became deathly aware that I was up 35-feet in the air and hanging on to a pole that was swaying in the wind.

It was a moment that I’ll never forget. Part of me wanted to hold on for dear life, hoping to wake up from this nightmare with the realization that it was only a dream, while the other part of me wanted to persevere, trusting that I’d find a way to overcome this dilemma.

The voices from the group grew louder. “Come on Geese, you can do it! You’re almost there!”

I heard every comment and suggestion. In fact, I totally relied on the group to slowly and methodically instruct me the rest of the way. “Now move your left hand to the other side…that’s right, just like that. Excellent! Now place both feet together and gently lift…nice and slow.”

Before I knew it, I was standing on the little platform on top of the pole. My body was literally trembling from head to toe, but it didn’t matter…I had done it. I made it to the top! The group cheered, “You’re the man! You go Geese!”

I tried to smile but I knew the hardest part still separated me from getting safely back to the ground. I glanced over at the trapeze that was 7-feet away. Again the group roared from below, “We got you Geese, let her rip!”

I bent my knees just a bit, took a big breath, and lunged like I had never lunged before…and totally missed the trapeze. But you know what? It didn’t matter. I knew at that very moment that I had gotten exactly what I was hoping to get from this workshop. I had rediscovered my passion!

I don’t remember a whole lot more about the rest of the workshop other than I couldn’t stop smiling from the moment the group lowered me to the ground to when the day came to an end. It was like my inner child had taken over and I just simply played for the rest of the time and stayed out of my head.

To this day I continue to have very profound insights about my day on the pole and even created a whole presentation around it called Playing with Purpose (which I use in the Leading From Within program).

Perhaps that will be another blog down the road.

For now, I’d like to leave you with a few bullet points of what I learned from the top of the pole:

  • The pole itself wasn’t that difficult to climb. What made it difficult was how I built the whole experience up in my mind before ever climbing it.
  • It is very comfortable to live in my comfort zone…but I stop growing when I do that.
  • The easiest way to step out of my comfort zone is by having a goal/desire or outcome that sits just outside my comfort zone. However, this requires knowing what I want.
  • I used to make fun of “purpose statements” but now realize that having a purpose is what gives me direction. And by having a direction, I’m able to know what I want and how to make it happen.
  • I never could have successfully climbed the pole without the help from the group below. Likewise, I cannot achieve my purpose in life without the help of others.
  • Whenever I’m feeling like I cannot do something…or that I just want to go fifth in life…I visualize being back on the pole and remind myself that the only thing that separates me from achieving the life I want is me. And if I want something bad enough, all I have to do is go for it with everything I have and don’t look back (or down).


  1. January 27th, 2013

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