The first time I clumsily pulled a twenty-four foot extension ladder off the back of a fire engine onto my shoulder, I could barely carry it for the required one hundred foot walk. I was taking my first fire department physical agility test–and I had no clue what I was doing.
Dashed and Disheartened
I was just getting my feet wet, pursuing the idea of becoming a firefighter, when the test for volunteer positions at my local fire department came to my attention.
I didn’t know the first thing about fire department agility tests. I foolishly thought to myself, “I can do push ups and pull ups. I run hills. I was a competitive gymnast. How hard can this be?” Ha. I found out.
After I finished the first event–the nine story high aerial ladder climb–my legs felt like jiggling Jell-O. I couldn’t figure out if my shaking legs were a result of nerves, tired muscles, or because I had just glimpsed a premier view of the valley I grew up in, while gripping to the top rung of the aerial ladder, as it swayed in the wind.
Now I was at the next evolution, at the rear of a fire engine, gritting my teeth as I pulled the twenty-four foot extension ladder out of the chute and onto my shoulder. I could feel the 100-pound weight of the aluminum, commercial grade, ladder push into the flesh of my shoulder, through the padded turnout coat.
Trying to ignore the weight bearing down on me, as I tried to keep the ladder balanced, I could feel myself losing heart. I knew that firefighters routinely carried and put up these ladders to a vertical position. “Throwing the ladder” was the term they used.
With a sinking feeling in my heart, that matched my body’s sinking feeling beneath the weight of disappointment, I could not even imagine “throwing” this ladder that I could barely even carry.
I failed that first agility test.
Choose Your Future
Fast-forward to today, over fifteen years later, after many passed agility tests and ladders thrown.
Today, I still marvel to myself, when they call me out to fire academies to demonstrate single person ladder throwing. I marvel to myself when they ask me to demonstrate techniques on throwing ladders into the building. I marvel to myself when I carry a ladder on my shoulder at a fire, that it feels like a bike ride in the park. I marvel to myself when fire captains call me and ask me to help and encourage a smaller-statured woman, who is a firefighter-hopeful, with ladders and agility tests.
Mostly I marvel to myself, how I never would have guessed that on that hopeless day that I failed my first agility test, with a sinking feeling of despair, that on another day, I would be living in an utterly reversed reality.
There are many ways to achieve goals. In fact, I believe that for every individual on the planet, there are as many unique and fresh approaches for the individual to master his goal or to live her dream. When I look back to this time, I notice that these are the ones that worked for me:
See your failure as a stepping-stone.
I certainly did that coming out of my failed agility attempt. At some point, after the disappointment dissipated, I thought to myself,” Wow you did something you never even dreamed of doing before. I wonder, can you do it better the next time?”
Gentle inner speak and small steps may cause us to keep going.
Never say never.
It didn’t feel good to dwell in thoughts of “I’ll never be able to throw a ladder.” It felt a lot better to focus on possibilities. “Maybe I could get stronger and better at carrying the ladder first. Then I’ll concentrate on throwing it.”
When we become invigorated, inspired to improve, there is only forward movement. One step at a time.
Be willing to work with what is–get creative.
I could not change the ladder–heavy, awkward, hunk of metal that it is. How could I change myself, then? I could certainly up my daily pushup quota and increase some upper body strength.
Could I change myself in relationship to the ladder? I did not have to solely muscle up the ladder, I realized. In addition, I could actually use my brain, body mechanics, and technique to handle the ladder.
When we pay attention to naturally emerging paths and creative solutions to our quandaries, we may find the exact solutions we need.
Be humble enough to ask for help.
I felt embarrassed, at first, to ask firefighters for help with ladders. But I swallowed my pride and sought them out. While I learned lots of ladder nuggets to add to my growing ladder practice, what asking for help really did was keep my spirit going.
I felt gratitude to the men and women who generously offered their time and expertise to help me. Their encouragement was paramount to my continuing efforts.
When we seek assistance, we reap the benefits far beyond the specifics we are asking for. We may even feel the connectedness and kindness of humanity in these moments. It is here that hope resides.
There is Always Hope
Sometimes it is only in retrospect that we are able to see so clearly. I did not have a vigorously outlined strategy to achieve my goals, but the perfect path created itself for me as I proceeded with small deliberate steps.
In retrospect, what I learned most from this experience is to remember that where I am at the moment–no matter how terrible–is only where I am at that moment. The reality of today, may be completely different from the reality of tomorrow. Can we remember this when we are in the midst of the most hopeless of situations, when we cannot see a clear way out?
If there is currently a difficulty or hurdle in your own life, know this. Feelings of hopelessness and despair are transitory. It is possible, even likely, that one day you will be looking back on this chapter in your life, in awe, from an utterly transformed experience.
Yes, there is always Hope.
I should know.