Keep your eye on the prize: That day on the river also taught me to stays focused on the rewards of goal attainment. Moving quickly down the river, I was pushed under a logjam. In that terrifying moment, I had to chose between negative thoughts about how I should have known better or turning my mind to getting back above the surface – be pushed or push back! At the risk of appearing dramatic, the fact I’m writing this blog reveals what my choice was. In archetypal terms, I opted for the Hero’s imperative – pushing back against the boundaries of my mortality and learning from the experience in the process.
That day on the river taught me a lot about myself and about the operating system of the fear-based world. Leadership summons us to take on major challenges, to deal with the clear and imminent dangers such challenges inevitably contain, and lead our team towards the desired outcome. By understanding that fear is a powerful energy force we can use to our advantage, we can apply the lessons of Balanced Leadership successfully. The “turbulent waters” we face in leadership at work need not be feared, but respected, challenged, and learned from. Decide you are going to shape the outcome. Be determined and develop your intestinal fortitude. Sometimes life is hard. Work harder.
Another thing I learned from my whitewater experience is that after a big event your mind keeps replaying it. According to research on adrenaline and cortisol when you face a challenge it triggers adrenaline which sharpens your focus, and increases your strength while making your brain calm. When the challenge becomes too great it becomes stress and cortisol kicks in. You freeze up, look for ways to check out. In archetypal terms, cortisol is the Coward hormone. Your brain becomes muddled and your instinct is to hold still or retreat. I relived the experience nightly for 5 days feeling smaller and smaller, each time, vowing to never do whitewater again. And then I stopped myself. I can make a choice as to what I got out of the experience. I am smarter now. I take safety procedures very seriously. I will practice my strokes when the water is calm so my next whitewater experience is one of expanded mastery. It is totally possible to face fear and come out of if feeling more confident. The key is to process with intention.
That day on the river I made a big mistake resulting in my being pushed under a logjam and I think it was a cortisol effect. The day before, I had given a presentation that was pivotal to a project I was already financially and emotionally committed to. At the midpoint of my talk, the body language of a couple of members of my audience was, well – not good. Even though the meeting ended well, I had so much at stake I flooded with cortisol when it hit me how I almost failed. Then I dashed off to canoe class. I believe I had trouble taking in new information on the river because I still had cortisol flooding my body resulting in me freezing up and making a mistake. What I needed to do was to take a moment after the meeting to celebrate the fact that I lived! – the meeting went well in the end and the door was open for more discussion.
Through this experience I saw the wisdom of the reward part of the hero’s journey. After you learn you can push back the boundaries of mortality, even if it wasn’t elegant, focus on and celebrate the fact that you did it. It helps your body to reset its cortisol levels.
All in all, the experience of challenging my boundaries on my project and on the water was good. Having an understanding of the operating conditions of the fear based world really helped. I would say I have expanded the boundaries of my mortality!