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Lessons From The Most Famous Climber

My climbing adventures included a fifty foot fall from a cliff, that somehow I survived. A friend who watched me fall later said, "I thought you were dead!"

In November, 2012 I set up a climbing rig for a group of boys and decided I would rappel down to them instead of the long walk back down the trail. I had used every locking carabiner for the set up for the boys and only had non-locking carabiners remaining. I used the less trustworthy carabiner. I put my weight fully over the cliff, when I did, the rope hit the non-locking carabiner and I was free falling.

I was lucky. In the last millisecond of the fall my right hand found the line and clinched it to straighten my body for the impact and retard it slightly. I landed on the one soft area of sand. I was alive.

I failed to visualize the different scenarios that could result from my choice.

After multiple MRIs, doctor visits, therapy, and twelve months of patience, and I was able to jog again. Eighteen months later I was back to hiking 14,000 foot mountains in Colorado.

Alex Honnold is the world's most famous climber. His free solo successes (this is climbing with no gear or support) are now legendary. Watching his finesse as he clings to the side of a vertical wall is mesmerizing. I admire his talent and successes. As I read his book, "Alone On the Wall" I noted there were lessons we could learn from him in how we approach risk in our business. The lessons are simple, but worthy of always keeping them before us.

Moonlight Buttress is a vertical cliff in Zion National Park that rises 1,200 feet above the valley floor. As one of the most difficult crack climbs in the world, no one had free soloed the wall. Honnold got a mind to do it, and so he started to prepare.

I like to attack problems voraciously, however, I am fortunate to be surrounded by a team of people that remind me to slow down and prepare. I could of used our team that day in 2012 as I hooked into the line. Honnold writes,

"For me, free soloing a big wall is all about preparation. In a real sense I had performed the hard work on Moonlight Buttress during the days leading up to the climb. Once I was on the route it was just a matter of executing." (Alone On the Wall, Alex Honnold with David Roberts, Norton, Pg. 8)

With preparation came, visualization.

"Visualizing every single move, everything that could possibly happen. That's what it takes to wrap your mind around a challenge such as the one I was about to attempt." (Alone On the Wall, Alex Honnold with David Roberts, Norton, Pg. 7)

Honnold visualizes his climb from every angle: each move, a successful summit, the very clear results of failure.

Further, much to do with his personality, but none the less essential in life, is he retreated for solitude. In order to prepare well, in order to visualize without distraction, he would remain by himself for a period of time.

"...but the rest of the day, into the evening, and through most of the second day I sat in the van just thinking." (Alone On the Wall, Alex Honnold with David Roberts, Norton, Pg. 7)

As we take the next steps for our companies or careers we must keep preparedness and visualization before us, and we must make the time for solitude in order to effectively review.

I approached my rappel as a common matter with historic results of success. I did not take into account the grave mistake of changing the pattern. A change requires uninterpreted preparation and visualization.

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