Leaps and Boundaries
I was looking for a thrill, not an existential experience, when I booked a climb to lean off the edge of a 1200ft skyscraper, but here we are! 🤷🏿♀️
Things that have scared me more than my experience leaning over the edge of a 1200ft skyscraper:
Standing on a tall ladder without a spotter.
Looking over the banister of a high floor while holding onto a railing that felt a little too short.
Finally hitting “send” on this newsletter
I always thought I was afraid of heights because of the distance from the ground and/or the risk of falling. I’ve also struggled with the concept of bravery for years, because I’ve been called brave when I felt like I wasn’t, and not recognized as brave when I felt like I was.
Creating and funding my arts grant? Inspiring, sure. But, brave? There was literally no danger or risk. It wasn’t anyone else’s money but my own, and the worst that could happen was that a grantee took the money and ran. But a vetting process and an anonymous multi-member review board made that kind of theft unlikely. So, brave? I still don’t think so.
However, publishing a detailed callout of the much larger arts organization that received funding when they plagiarized my grant, even after I was warned that calling them out would brand me a liability? There was reputational and professional risk. No one likes a troublemaker, and burning bridges leaves you an island. I knew I was standing alone, and that none of the local power players would publicly support me, and I did it anyway. That felt brave.
After I leaned over the edge of the tallest skyscraper you’re allowed to climb in Manhattan, feeling perfectly calm despite the height, I found words for the root of both my fear of heights and my discomfort with experiences of mislabeled bravery.
If bravery is the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty,” can you call me brave when there is no danger to me? And, if there is danger, then in my opinion and experience, the dissolution of my fear doesn’t come from repeated exposure, but from the creation of a sense of safety, security, and stability.
I wasn’t looking for an existential experience when I booked a sunset Climb at the Edge. I just wanted a thrill on a whim, and it was close enough for me to do without extensive planning or travel. All it took was one A-train to Hudson Yards where, grouped to max capacity with seven strangers, I waited patiently through the required breathalyzer tests, weight checks, and multiple safety inspections:
No loose objects allowed. Jewelry must either be removed or taped to your skin. Fitted closed-toed shoes must be worn. You do not put on your own harness. A trained professional does it for you, and another professional checks after them. Your carabiner is not only locked, but also zip-tied shut, so no one can open it, even intentionally. You are double-strapped to a rotating rack that is built into the skyscraper itself, so you are attached to the building at all points during your climb and exit.
Between the myriad safety precautions and the personable, disarming dispositions of our guides, I felt so safe and secure that actually leaning off the edge was almost meditative–I could’ve spent the whole time quietly taking in one of my favorite cities from that close to the sky. It’s hard for me to feel like I was brave when we were all literally strapped to the building.
In personal and professional contexts, I’ve often been told to just “face my fears” and “take leaps and risks,” without the very important addendum I learned to give myself: “Yes, great heights are understandably terrifying when there is nothing to save you from a fall. So, let’s create processes and environments that make you feel safe.” I think we do ourselves a disservice when we dismiss those needs as cowardice.
Curating safe environments for myself, the teams I work with, and my grantees to explore risk is one of my favorite parts of being a self-actualized adult, leader, and philanthropist.
In any context, the next time you find yourself comparing your risk tolerance to someone else’s, check to see if they have physical, financial, and/or professional support in place that you might not; it’s very easy to seem brave and take leaps when you know you can’t fall.
Cheers, to emotional safety and measured risks 🥂
The ‘Adventures of a Rising Mogul’ are the progress and musings of a human outlier, chronicled for future me and present you. I'll tell you where that name came from in my next letter. Thank you for reading.