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Getting Down from the Ledge: Why Overcoming Fear is Critical for Forging the Right Strategy

We all have moments of paralyzing fear when the stakes of making the wrong decision seem gut-wrenchingly high. John Bourke, President of the Business Excellence Institute, knows that feeling well.

John recently shared a story with us about the moment he had to make a decision that could not only change his life but potentially end it. 

On a mountain climbing trip with his brother and his father, he found himself just short of the peak, on a six-inch ledge, and looking down at a 2km drop. Awaiting him on the other side was an overhang that he’d have to climb over with spider-like skill to reach his goal. 

It was a challenge John was nowhere near prepared for. Too far past his skill level. And far too dangerous. 

“I remember thinking very clearly, ‘I just can’t do this. Even though we’ve completed 75% of the climb, I’m brave enough to admit I'm just not up for this.’”

So, with his pulse racing, he made one of the most difficult decisions of his life. Despite the years of preparation and financial investment, it was time to abandon the climb. The risk just wasn’t worth it. 

But as his heart rate started coming back down, an interesting thing happened. 

In chatting with the guide, he realized he’d made some big assumptions that were having a profound impact on his decision-making. 

Turns out, the path down and the path forward BOTH involved crossing that ledge he feared so much. And that overhang that only a human spider could climb? The guide never meant they’d have to scale it. He meant they’d have to go around it. 

In his state of panic, he never thought to double-check his understanding of the obstacles that lay both ahead and behind him. Once John realized he’d have to cross that ledge either way, it was clear to him that abandoning the mission was no longer on the table. 

With this new information and newfound courage and determination, John broke through the mental barrier his fear had created and pressed on with his original mission.

A few hours later, John, his brother, and his father sat at the mountain peak, looking down at the world below them. It was an accomplishment like no other, and a moment made all the more sweeter knowing how close he was to giving up.

So, next time you’re on the proverbial ledge, reclarify the facts at play about what you perceive to be standing in between you and your goal.

You may discover the path forward isn’t as challenging as you thought.

To hear the full 20-minute episode “To go forward or retreat while 2,000 meters above certain death” with John Bourke on our Toughest Call podcast – listen wherever you get your podcasts.

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