On my 30th birthday, some dear friends took me on a tour of surprises in San Francisco. We ate at my favorite Peruvian restaurant, went to look at the street art on Balmy Alley and ended up at the base of a very steep hill. At the top stood a huge tree with a small wooden platform swing dangling by two 30 ft. ropes from one of its largest branches.

Final surprise: drag the swing up the hill and swing high above the city.

I’m not sure when my fear of heights truly began. As a child, I remember climbing tall trees and ladders – always reaching up higher – confidently stretching for the next perch. But as adulthood set in, so did an overwhelming fear of heights. Rooftops. Cliffs. Planes. They all had me clinging to whatever railing, rock face or armrest was close by.

The only thing I hated more than heights was looking scared in front of other people. Socially I seem very brave. Outspoken. Confident. Happy to jump on stage. None of my friends predicted I’d be scared by a swing. Nevertheless, there I was, on my birthday, facing my worst fears.

“You guys go first,” I said, stalling for time. One by one, each of my friends dragged that swing up the hill, mounted it confidently, and zoomed into the sky shouting joyfully.

When it was my turn, I froze. I stood near that swing for a long time. Lump in my throat. Tears welling up in my eyes. Feeling so stupid for even having a birthday.

One by one, my friends started walking down the hill. Looking like pall bearers instead of party goers. Just as the sun was setting and I was about to follow them back down the hill, my friend Sara walked up.

“Kate, I know it’s hard with everyone looking. But why don’t you just lean back into the swing and then ask yourself if you want to let go.”

So with a deep breath, I held the two ropes in my hand. I slid back on to the board until I could feel it’s solidness beneath me. I closed my eyes, leaned back, and let go.

Feet in the sky.

Shouting with fear and joy.

Friends, with everything that is going on in our world right now, maybe ask yourself:

What can you lean into?

What can you let go of?

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About the Author: Kate Cockrill

A little about me... I am a social scientist, facilitator, and professional coach. Through my business: Kate Cockrill Coaching, I support mission driven managers and directors with 1:1 career coaching, leadership coaching, team workshops, and retreat design. My clients include leaders in healthcare, education, research and social innovation.

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