“When was the last time you did something for the first time?”
During a school camp when I was 11, I was made to attend a High Ropes course — a series of challenging outdoor activities that typically take place off the ground (like up in the trees or on skinny precarious wooden poles).
I was not a happy camper.
I was not what you’d call an outdoorsy person. Nature, as far as I was concerned, was to be tolerated up close but preferably appreciated from afar in air-conditioned comfort. I was gangly and uncoordinated, and a High Ropes course involving teamwork out in the sun severely tested the boundaries of my comfort zone.
And then I got to the Trapeze Jump.
The Trapeze Jump involves first climbing a 30-foot wooden pole sticking out of the ground, using the thin metal spokes jutting out the sides. And if that isn’t bad enough, once you’ve scaled the thing you then have to get yourself to stand upright on the top of the pole, on this tiiiny little square platform with just enough room for both your feet squeezed together. And if that isn’t bad enough, you then face the trapeze hanging 6 feet in front of you — and nothing but a whole lotta space in between. And then you’re blithely told you’ve got to jump off that slightly swaying wooden pole 30 feet off the ground… and catch hold of that trapeze.
You do this all by your lonesome with nothing except a belay to slow your descent when you fall so you don’t, you know, plunge to your death. There’s no safety net, there’s no do-overs. I was 11 years old and nicknamed The Giraffe because I was gangly and uncoordinated. And this was the last activity of the course.
Somehow the steady growth of confidence built up through the day, the promise of home and a refreshing shower, and the vague allure of bragging rights gave me enough courage to climb that pole. And climb I did, never daring to look down, moving quickly before I lost my nerve entirely. Getting to the top and then letting go to rise to a stand was seriously something. The adrenaline after that, amidst the cheers below, buoyed me enough so that when I faced the trapeze, I was already feeling like a winner.
I wish I could tell you I caught the trapeze. I didn’t. I was one of the tallest pupils in my entire cohort and yet not a single one of us caught it… except for the shortest kid in our year. Unlike the rest of us, Ivy faced that trapeze and wanted to catch it. When she sprang off the tiny platform, it wasn’t to leave the pole but to fly to her destination. She jumped harder than the rest of us and caught the trapeze with both hands. Judging by how the rest of us jumped, I knew we’d already decided we couldn’t reach it before any of us leapt off that pole. And so none of us did.
I learnt so much that day about pushing past my self-made limitations, about trust in my own body, about overthinking risk, and how mettle and mental strength play a huge part in my success. If you have a pole to climb this week and a trapeze to catch, we’re all cheering that you jump to grab your prize with both hands.