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June 15th, 2012

Finding True Wealth on Wall Street

By Lee Brower

I LEARNED IT ON WALL STREET

It’s not even about money.

Recently, my wife, Lori, and I had the privilege of serving as Camp Mom and Camp Dad in Moab, Utah as part of the First Descents High Adventure Rock Climbing Experience .  It was an amazing, life-changing experience. First Descents offers young adult cancer fighters and survivors outdoor adventure experiences designed to empower them to climb, paddle and surf beyond their diagnosis, defy their cancer, reclaim their lives and connect with others doing the same www.firstdescents.org.

Rock climbing was part of the outdoor experience for these young adults.  They weren’t all athletes.  In fact, some were very out-of-shape, sedentary in their everyday lives, and showing the effects of their battles with cancer.  A few campers had experience climbing. Most were like me and had never climbed. Yet, without exception they took on the challenge of rock climbing with a level of determination and effort that was truly inspiring.  From first learning climbing techniques to then taking on more difficult climbing experiences, I never heard a single complaint from any of the campers, despite cuts, bruises, and even burns from scorching hot rocks.  And I was there every moment, helping out, giving encouragement, and supporting these young men and women, watching them rise to the challenges they faced. And, even though rock climbing has never been found on my wish list, I personally enjoyed the experience of climbing and belaying (the process of holding the rope to protect the climber if he or she falls).

After a day or two of learning and practicing, it came time for the campers to face their most challenging climbs.  We assembled at the base of a series of sheer rock walls nicknamed “Wall Street”. Calling Wall Street “intimidating” doesn’t do it justice.  I won’t admit to having a fear of heights. So let’s just say that I have an enormous respect for heights. There are several different climbs along Wall Street. Our remarkably talented and sensitive guides took great care to select climbs that would challenge campers regardless of their experience. I admit that all of the climbs were challenging no matter how experienced some campers were.

One particular 85 foot nearly vertical rock face with few discernible features to grab or hold on to or balance on was particularly challenging. Several attempted this most difficult climb while only a few were able to reach the top.  I was comforted by the fact that as the Camp Dad, I was merely there to facilitate the experience for the young First Descents campers.  I didn’t have to climb, I wasn’t even in charge of the experience; I just had to help out and encourage the young adults to push themselves to achieve what they might not think they could accomplish.

A unique characteristic in camp is that everyone has a nickname. In fact, none of us really knew the given names of the staff, volunteers and campers.  I watched in awe as Yo Gaba Gaba, a young  man with no real climbing experience but a great deal of athleticism, used his strength to ever so slowly muscle his way up Wall Street and then collapse in exhaustion after the almost one hour effort.  Only two additional campers (Tink and Lil’ Wayne) were able to use their experience, strength and determination to reach the top. Finally, when the last climber had attempted the climb, several campers gathered around and urged me to climb the wall too. My nickname was “Wacky”.  So I heard things such as “Come on,  Wacky, you can do it” and “Wacky, you can make it up that wall”.  What could I say?  All week long I had been with them and bonded with them as they conquered their doubts and fears.  Now they wanted me to join them in a shared accomplishment.  I had to do it.

I had watched carefully as the expert climbing guides had first executed the climb, so I had a vision for how the climb should go.  But then I came face to face with reality.  I’m an ex-football player with a big body.  Climbing Wall Street would require that I find small places for my large toes and large fingers to hold and balance my weight while in awkward positions.  As I inched slowly up the wall, one move at a time, I found myself in positions I had never been in before.  Sometimes, I had no idea what my next move should be.  Sometimes, I had nothing to hold on to with one of my hands but I had to find my balance somehow.  I realized that I had to optimize my four appendages and find my balance as I moved from each awkward, new position to the next.  I never had pressure or weight or my strength focused exclusively on one of the four appendages but instead I had a dynamic, always changing and shifting blend of pressure, strength, and equilibrium in action at all times.  At times, I was afraid and exhausted.  At times, I wanted to quit and be lifted off of the wall to safety.  But each time I experienced those feelings and thoughts, I found a way to overcome them and keep moving towards the top.  I refocused on my very next move; my next small step.  I established a mindset that I would not give up.  And I’m grateful that I did.  I made it to the top.

I was exhausted but exhilarated.  The feeling was almost indescribable.  Like the young adults, I had accomplished something in the face of my own fears and doubts. For a moment, I was just like them; hardly believing what I had accomplished. In the process, I discovered a powerful metaphor for life and wealth:  rock climbing.  The rock “wall” represents our lives; the top of the wall – for me, the top of that 85 foot Wall Street wall – represents our Visions of the future.  We’re all climbing our own walls; we’re either moving up that wall with focus towards that Vision; or we’re stuck; or we’re meandering aimlessly across our wall; or maybe we’re even falling back off the wall.  Just as in rock climbing, when we reach for that next place, for that crack in the rock or place to put our toes, we need to find our balance, then move and re-balance.  Sometimes, we don’t know what that next move will bring.  We live at such a fast pace in such a rapidly changing world that any notion of balance seems abstract and unattainable.  However, with the four quadrants in mind – Financial, Core, Experience, and Contribution – we can balance and re-balance and continue to re-balance as we climb the wall, one small move at a time, towards our Vision of the future.  The four areas are interdependent, just as the four appendages work together to sustain our efforts as we climb.  We climb better the stronger we make each of the four.

As I watched my fellow campers conquer the seemingly impossible and then was challenged by their example, I learned a profound lesson. Overcoming fear and doubt through clarity of vision, unwavering focus, dynamic balance, and the mindset that we won’t give up; that’s where real confidence comes from. I never imagined I would have a Wall Street experience that would unlock the key for achieving True Wealth. Thank you, Wall Street.

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