Making it to the very top ~ success in stages

Making it to the very top ~ success in stages

I’m scared of heights. Really scared, actually. It’s not logical at all but it’s powerful and paralysing at times. It’s not so much a conscious fear but more an experiential one. There are sensations I experience when in high places that are very unpleasant. Vertigo and nausea for a start. Sweating. Shaking. It’s not a pretty picture at all.

Two years ago, I was forced to confront the fear at work. I work as a courier/tour guide for my second job, and I take groups of English kids to Europe for educational visits. I’m the one on the in-coach microphone, giving a commentary about wherever we are. No trip to Paris is complete without a trip UP the Eiffel Tower, but until two years ago, I’d somehow managed to be the responsible adult who stayed on the ground with the couple of kids who didn’t feel they could go up. Two years ago I did a trip where the teacher in charge deemed that EVERY kid had to go up, whether they were scared or not, so I had no option. I went up, shaking and sweating, on the very brink of a panic attack the whole time. But I stayed in the enclosed capsule at the final stage and didn’t climb the final dozen stairs to the highest point the public can visit. I was unable to set a foot on that iron stairway and make it up.

Last week, I took a group who have so far never gone to the top. It’s always been closed for maintenance when the group usually visit Paris. Last year we went to the second floor. When we got there this time to change to the smallest lift, one child became so unwell with fear, a member of staff had to take him back down. So the die was cast and I knew I had to go to the top again. The final lift is quite small compared to the first one which holds about fifty people so my group and I packed in and held on. I shut my eyes. Stepping out, I was relieved to be there but knew going down is worse. The kids wanted to go to the final stage and I had no choice but to go as well. Reaching the circular gallery at the very top, I felt the full force of vertigo hit me, and I tried to dig my fingernails into the metal walls. Breathe. Just breathe. After a moment or two, I was able to steady myself and move, walking slowly and shakily round before descending again once another member of staff was present. A kind American girl took my photo so I have evidence that I finally made it to the top.

Many things in life are like this. The tip-top is so far away, we think we can never reach it, it’s like shooting for the stars. But if you break down a massive task into discrete, achievable chunks, each to stand alone as a powerful monument to your abilities, then you have an option of building on them and slowly but surely reaching the top.

After all, there’s only one way to eat an elephant: bit by bit. 

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7 thoughts on “Making it to the very top ~ success in stages

  1. Well done, Viv. Guiding (in the widest sense) adolescents is an interesting process. Do we push them, just that little bit, to overcome fears that are not as deep as I read yours are? When I started work with young offenders, the group leaders were all macho men who pushed the kids far too hard. OK the kids who overcame got a tremendous amount out of it – but those who didn’t quickly saw themselves as second class. I gradually re-staffed the groups with a mix of leaders. That gave us the opportunity to “fail” or show fear and let the kids know that what they feel is abnormal or second class. Thumbs up mate.

  2. Great account, Viv. I’ve only ever made it half way up the Eiffel tower myself – as much scared of the crush in the lift as the height itself. Your account really brought back that “sweaty palms” feeling! Liked the parallel with reaching the heights in life.

  3. That’s a really helpful post for me today.

    I’ve never been to the top of the Eiffel Tower, but mainly because i couldn’t be arsed to wait in line. But I do have fears of other things.

    Thank you Vivienne.

    Cathy x

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