Taking Action and The Disco Shuffle

OK, so now you know that rule #1 of successful career change is to [Take Action] (href=”)successful-career-change-rule-1-take-action). (If you haven’t yet read this post, please do so.)

What about that “Disco Shuffle?”

Well, way back in 1989 I remember looking around for something to replace the buzz I got from competitive athletics over the summer months. Rather than commit to another sport or hobby right away I followed up a national newspaper advertisement for an Outward Bound course. See

And by the rational process of flipping a coin I selected Ullswater, in the English Lake District, to attend a week long course. Arriving for check in at the hostel I remember feeling a little afraid about rooming with a bunch of strangers and having to do goodness knows what with them.

Of course, the instructors well know most of the fears, trepidations and self-limiting beliefs that folks bring along as mental baggage, and have designed programs that inspire relatively sedentary adults to stretch (literally) themselves in a safe and supportive environment - one in which it’s OK to be embarrassed, fall over, get wet and recapture the fun we once enjoyed so naturally as children.

In that particular group I was one of the fitter participants and felt confident about doing any physical activity they could dream up. Little did I understand my own limitations.

As the week progressed, so did we, and our instructor (Hi Mike!) soon had us climbing 20 to 30 feet rock walls - though they seemed ten times taller to me!

Then on one fateful afternoon we were taught the basics of how to abseil down the same rock face we had been climbing up.

No problem, I thought, while awaiting my turn at the bottom and acting as the ‘brake’ for my partner’s descent. (She was able to control her own speed but I was there as the fail-safe in case she made a mistake and lost control.)

Then I climbed to the top and was met by our ever smiling Geordie instructor. After being harnessed up and all set to go, Mike suddenly asked me to turn around and stand at the edge of the cliff, with my back to it.

Somewhat apprehensive, but trusting in the rope, equipment and his directions, I complied. Even so, I felt uneasy.

Picture the scene. I’m standing at the edge of the precipice (lol!), holding my abseil rope ever more tightly and anxiously waiting the signal to start an ‘action man’ descent.

Lean back.

What? I heard him but thought he was joking.

Just lean back and trust the equipment, he repeated.

It was at this point that my “disco shuffle” began. My upper leg muscles started to twitch of their own accord (I prayed no one could see this) and then, to my utter embarrassment, my knees began to shake and knock together.

Mike was nonplussed by this show of bravado not!

After talking me through the incredible tensile strength of the ropes, how he’d slowly uncoiled and visibly checked them for faults on arriving at the climb site, then checked the harnesses and hard hats, and carefully trained each fail-safe spotter at the bottom of the cliff, his next words made my heart sink.

Mark, now that you know how safe it is, I want you to do one final thing. You can check and check but to get anywhere sometimes you have to just trust your systems, yourself and then step out into the unknown.

I remember thinking at the time how did I rope myself into being lectured by this loonie!

Take your hands off the rope, he said.

Gulp! I’m leaning backward off the cliff top at what felt like some crazy angle and holding ever more tightly onto the thin rope. My disco shuffle is now an extended remix and I feel like crying.

But he knows I can do it, if I only I trust.

So I remove my left hand for a second and hope my stronger right one can take the strain.

You don’t get it, do you?, Mike said. It’s got very little to do with how hard you hang on and everything to do with how much you let go. Just trust Mary down there not to take a smoke break.

Yikes!! Well, that really did it for me. I suddenly realized that, if I took my hands off the rope, the only thing stopping me from plunging backwards was that waif of a girl I helped abseil down at the start.

It took a few more minutes before I decided to get it over and done with and finally let go of the rope. I had my arms in an outstretched crucifix shape for a couple of seconds that felt much, much longer. (And my eyes firmly closed!!)

After that baptism of fire it was a piece of cake to abseil down and experience the tremendous thrill of achievement. Later that same day, I even walked down the cliff face looking at the ground (‘Australian Rappel’.)

A thought-provoking belief statement from the Outward Bound co-founder, Kurt Hahn, goes like this:

We are all better than we know. If only we can be brought to realise this, we may never be prepared to settle for anything less.

I only came across that statement while researching this post but it perfectly describes what I experienced nearly 19 years ago at Ullswater.

The mental equivalent of my disco shuffle is the kind of taking action feeling that I look for when taking action on a big goal or effort.

Ready to shuffle?

PS: Mike’s words above are partly fictional, as it’s a long time ago now and I recall that he used much more colourful expressions, being ex-military.