Success and Life Lessons from Jill Koenig

My Common Sense Success System is based on what I call the Four C’s of Success: Clarity, Commitment, Confidence and Competence.  I discuss the Four C’s in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success, Your Success GPS and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success

Last week I received a great email from Jill Koenig.  In this email, Jill described an experience she had recently.  She called it “The Ten Lessons I Learned Wile Climbing to the Top.”  She said so much in this post that I believe to be true about career and life success – especially committing to taking personal responsibility for your own success — that I asked he if I could use it as a guest post.  She graciously agreed.  This is a long post, almost 2,000 words, but I urge you to take the time to read it.  It will be well worth your while.  Here we go…

The Ten Lessons I Learned While Climbing to the Top — Jill Koenig

I recently spent some time in Door County, Wisconsin on a little relaxing weekend getaway.

On my last day there, I set out with a girlfriend to explore Peninsula State Park, a beautiful nature preserve located on a bluff high above the waters of Green Bay.

As we went through the park, we stumbled upon Eagle Tower. Eagle Tower is a 75 foot wooden tower built in 1914 that sits on a cliff above Green Bay, exactly 250 feet above the water.

For whatever reason, I was attracted to the tower. I quickly assessed it and decided to climb it. I figured if it’s been here since 1914 and it’s open to the public, it must be relatively safe, right? So I grabbed my video camera and began my ascent.

Upon first glance it seems like it would be a breeze to climb to the top, that is, until you get started, then you realize the tower is one big wobbly staircase.

Now I’m from the city so this is not the first staircase I have conquered. My home is three levels and I climb those stairs every single day. The art school I attended was 14 stories high and I loved using the stairs. It is however quite daunting when you realize that the individual stairs of Eagle Tower go straight up and have no backing, no walls. So this means you get to feel the wind in your face, you cannot avoid seeing the height you are climbing to while the landmarks below you shrink with each step you take.

I was so happy to be climbing Eagle Tower and was especially excited to be sharing the experience with my dear friend. After all, we are stronger together… that is until I lost her, and then I had to be strong by myself. She turned back after about 20 feet up. She didn’t just turn back, she got a little cranky with me, told me climbing this thing just wasn’t important to her and just like that, she was gone. She was back on the ground. Little did I know that climbing this pile of wood would become a deeply moving spiritual experience that I could draw from for the rest of my life.  Here are the ten lessons I learned while climbing to the top…

1. There will be times you will have to go on without your support system. The people you want to be there with you will not always be there with you. Be willing to go forward anyway.

It occurred to me at that moment that I had a choice. I could turn back to keep her company or I could just keep going. Since she was already cranky, I might risk her being mad at me for going without her. Or I could just go forward and do what I said I was going to do. I would have truly preferred to climb it with her and share the experience, but I decided to continue climbing even if it meant I was alone. After all, the tower wasn’t going anywhere and I could tell her all about it when I came down and perhaps she would want to climb it later after watching me do it. I am an optimist.

But that didn’t happen. She totally disengaged from me and the experience. What’s important to note is that no matter how much I truly believe she would have benefited from this experience, my journey is not her journey. Each person chooses their own path and sometimes you have to let them go and do what you need to do for yourself.  Which taught me this…

2. The higher you climb, the scarier it gets and the less company you will have. Sometimes people turn on you and project THEIR fear onto you through anger, disassociation, abandonment and so on. Sometimes they even attack you because you are doing something they want, but are afraid to do. I wanted her to have this experience. But the truth is, this climb was not about her or anyone else and I shouldn’t make it about her. It was about me wanting to feel the fear and do it anyway. I wanted this experience. There were people already at the top and that was comforting to know that I would meet them when I got there.

And so I kept climbing.

The higher I climbed, the stronger and colder the wind was. In fact, when I reached the second level, the wind was so strong, it blew my hat off my head. Oh, and the higher you go, the more the tower sways in the wind. You can hear the wood making creaky sounds and the ‘perception’ of danger and intensity becomes greater with each step.

The wind is loud as it howls around you. There is no protection from it as the tower is essentially 4 pillars, a floating staircase and a railing to hold onto as you climb. That’s it.

So why was I here, why was I climbing this tower? Why was this so important to me?

3. How you do anything is how you do everything.  The very thought of that statement is what kept me from turning back. I wondered if I turned back here, in a controlled situation that would be done and over with in about 4 minutes, what else in life do I avoid, turn back and retreat from? Not that this issue is a pattern in my life, but the mere possibility was enough to make me forge ahead.

This experience was symbolic to me, a step in the direction of expanding my personal development and spiritual growth.

4. Once you make the decision to go, do not sit around talking about how afraid you are. That only causes the fear to become bigger and you will increase your chances of turning around like my friend did. It’s okay that she turned back, as she had her reasons for not doing it, but I could not turn back for I had my reasons for following through and I was 100% committed to make it to the top. She saw the tower as a meaningless pile of wood. I saw it as a metaphor for life and conquering fear. Instead of focusing on the fear, I focused on the feeling of accomplishment I would feel with each progressive step and the view I would get to enjoy when I reached the highest point.

“What you dwell upon long enough and strong enough becomes your reality.”

5. The only way to grow your courage muscle is to use it. Sometimes when you are afraid to do something that you know you are capable of, it means you MUST do it. I could spend my entire life avoiding things that scare me but then I would never grow. I would miss out on so many delicious experiences. When muscles and skills are not used, they atrophy, the fade, they shrink. You increase and grow your capacity whenever you pursue your potential.

6. The higher you climb, the more temptation there is to turn back. The climate is different at the top. There is often more risk, and the conditions are more extreme. Fewer people are willing to take those risks and battle those conditions. This applies to business, love, spirituality and any component of life. The greater the challenge, the greater the opportunity, but also the greater the challenge, the more opportunities for your limiting beliefs to sneak up on you and bit you in the rear. You must consciously choose to overcome the perception of your limitations.

7. When you get to the top, or reach a new level, take time to celebrate and reflect. Capture the lessons from the experience. Who knew that climbing a wooden tower would have brought so much insight to my life and give me the opportunity to share it with you? And some of you are going to comment back and share your insights with me and that’s pretty awesome if you ask me.

8. After you stretch yourself and have done something a few times, it becomes much easier to accomplish more. In fact, you will find yourself looking for bigger challenges to tackle.  Challenging yourself makes you feel alive and accomplished. Even if you don’t make it to the top, if you stretch yourself, you will be in a better position for the future.

9. The view from the top is spectacular. There are things you can only experience and see from up high. I climbed the tower three times that day. Each time was easier than the one before.

The third time I climbed the tower, I saw a bald eagle flying just above me. Have you ever seen a free bald eagle in front of your face in the wild? It’s a treasure to behold. I would have totally missed that remarkable sight if I were standing on the ground.

10. Sometimes coming down just as frightening as going up. After I celebrated at the top, and took in the spectacular view, it was time to come down and it was just as scary coming down as it was going up and I think the same is true of life. Life is a series of peaks and valleys, summers and winters. There are cycles we must all experience. I don’t know anyone whose life is a constant ride at the top. But it is still worth the effort to go for it and get back to the top, to seek new heights, if for no other reason than what you will learn and who you will become in the process. The lessons are yours to keep forever.

For my friend this tower was a meaningless pile of wood. For me it was a metaphor for life. What towers or mountains have you climbed lately? What challenges have you embraced, what fears have you conquered? How have you stretched yourself today?

You want to seek new heights in every area of your life. It’s worth doing whatever it takes to get there.

See you at the top.  Live Your Dreams.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people commit to taking personal responsibility for their career and life success.  They climb metaphorical mountains – and real towers, embrace challenges, conquer their fears and stretch themselves.  They build their courage muscle by using it.  Sometimes you need to do it without your support system.  But you need to do it if you want to create a successful life and career.  Remember what Jill Koenig says…”The view from the top is spectacular.”

That’s my take – and Jill Koenig’s take — on committing to taking personal responsibility for your own success.  What’s yours?  Please leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always, thanks for reading.


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  1. Thank you Bud for being committed to excellence and for sharing this with your amazing community. I hope they know what a treasure you are and how blessed they are to have your guidance and insights.

    You are a leader who soars with eagles.

    Live Your Dreams,

    Jill Koenig

  2. Jill:
    Thank you so much for those kind words. You soar yourself.

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