Yesterday I climbed a rock wall for the first time in my life. Both while hanging on the wall and in reflection after the climb, I realized that there are some life lessons to be had for me here, some parallels between campaigning and rock wall climbing. Here’s what I came up with:

1) A plan is an awesome thing: You cannot just grab a hunk of wall and start climbing. There are better spots – and worser! I realized I needed to look up, see the end goal and make a plan for how to get there before I began.

2) It’s harder than it looks! I watched these young people scale the wall fairly effortlessly and repeatedly, and I thought to myself, “Well, hey… nothin’ to it, right?” Uh, yeah – wrong. There are all kinds of variables involved, like the size and placement of the hold, the choices the climber makes each step of the way, gel nails, and perhaps even the (ahem) age and (ahem) fitness level of the climber.

3) Good advice is critical: There were experienced climbers advising me all the way along. They’d already been up this stretch of wall and knew all the best practices and potential pitfalls. They pointed out things I wasn’t noticing and told me how to position myself to minimize stress on my joints and muscles and maximize success.

4) Sometimes just plowing ahead isn’t the right thing to do: I just wanted to do it, hit the button at the top and get down. My general motto in life is “Go hard or go home” and that is the way I approached this exercise. But the second time up the wall, when my arms were shaking unmercifully and I felt like I had no gas left in the tank, my advisors told me, “Take a break! Just hang out there for a few minutes, regroup and assess.” As much as I didn’t want to stop (thinking that if I did that all my motivation to continue would wane), it really actually helped. I gave myself a little pep talk, took a hard look at where I was and where I was headed and adjusted the game plan.

5) Sometimes just plowing ahead is the right thing to do: Not to contradict myself, but there were definitely moments when I hung there thinking, “I can’t do this… this isn’t working… I should give up.” At those moments I had to kick it into high gear and forge ahead – power through. When you hit a wall, sometimes the only way is to go up and over it.

6) You can’t do it alone: There was definitely a rope involved. It was tied to me on one end and at the other was a very powerful, experienced young man. When I successfully advanced, he would move himself to tighten up the support. And I could feel it! I didn’t feel like I was alone, doing this on my own, even for a minute. When he suggested I stop and “hang out” for a minute, he said, “I gotcha.” And he did. I relaxed and he used the rope to hold me in place so I was not in danger, the success of the journey was not in jeopardy, and no ground was lost. I can’t describe how wonderful that feels.

7) A bit of encouragement can make all the difference: I hope you’re catching on to the idea that the people around the climber are as much a part of the success as the climber him/herself. I was sweating, shaking, thinking, hoping, worrying, and everyone around me was saying, “Come on, Dani! That’s it – you got it! Yes!! That’s the way!!” Maybe you think that your encouragement of someone isn’t really “doing” anything and doesn’t amount to much. But I’m here to tell you it is essential.

8) The sense of accomplishment is euphoric: There’s nothing more satisfying than the sense of mastery that comes with hitting that button at the top of the wall. Much like other areas of my life where I’ve mastered difficult things, like giving birth, overcoming fear, music, writing, public speaking, asking for forgiveness, applying false eyelashes (okay, still working on that one), the more difficult the journey, the sweeter the victory. It was reinforced to me through this experience that I don’t want anything handed to me – I am interested in earning the prize, enjoying the fruits of my labour.

You may or may not be on the campaign trail like me, but I’ll bet you have goals and aspirations. I hope you can take a few nuggets from this post that inspire you in your journey.

Tell me what you think.