While breathlessly watching Nik Wallenda’s teeth-clenching, death-defying, and awe-inspiring tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon, I found myself reminded of another type of daredevil: freelancers.
While most of us are not literally going to plummet to our death if we make a mistake, as a freelancer it can often feel like we are all alone in the world, trying to get from Point A to Point B, hundreds of feet in the air without a safety net.
So what can a Flying Wallenda teach us about the solo wire-walking act that we have to do every single day?
First of all, you may be asking, “What the heck is a “Flying Wallenda?” For those who may not know, Nik Wallenda, a 7th-generation aerialist from the acrobatic Flying Wallenda family, just walked a high-wire across the Grand Canyon. Yes, you read that right: The Grand Canyon. 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River Gorge. That’s the height of the Empire State Building. In a gusting 35 mph wind. On a two-inch wide steel cable. With the world watching. And he did it in just under 23 minutes. Most of us couldn’t walk a perfectly straight line on a sidewalk in ideal weather for 23 straight minutes. (If you need proof or want to experience what it was like, you can learn more about it here.)
While pondering Wallenda’s feat, I was struck with these 10 life lessons for freelancers:
1. You’re Not Alone Up There
Sometimes, as a freelancer, or as any business leader, it can feel like we’re up there all alone on a high-wire (or maybe even like we’re carrying a bunch of other people on our shoulders!). But if you surround yourself with a team of people who care about and support one another, and are cheering each other on, it makes the journey much more manageable, and so much more fun. Whether it’s creating your own personal Board of Advisors, or just having a trusted mentor, coach, friend, or significant other to talk to, it’s important to build a support network you can rely on.
2. Know Whom to Listen To — and When
During the walk, Wallenda was hooked up by microphone to his father who was whispering in his ear the entire time, guiding and encouraging him. While that was helpful at certain points, there were also times that Nik Wallenda needed to tell his father to, basically, “shut up,” so he could focus on what he was doing without distraction. Having a mentor, coach, or advisor is invaluable, but there are certain times when we need to quiet those external voices so we can concentrate, focus, think, decide, and act on our own.
3. There are People Rooting for You to Fall
The brutal reality is that there are people who – for various reasons – were waiting, and hoping, and rooting for him to fail… and to fall. The same goes for each of us who set foot on the entrepreneurial tightrope. It’s important to know who you can trust, and who you can’t. Surround yourself with people who have your back. Block out those who want to hold you back or drag you down.
4. Don’t Look Down, and Don’t Look Back
Once you’ve begun your freelance journey, move full steam ahead without looking back. Second-guessing yourself only serves to undermine your own confidence and others’ confidence in you. And while it’s probably a breathtaking view, looking down will only make you dizzy and distract you from reaching your goal. Avoid temptations, distractions, and self-doubt, and keep your head held high as you venture forward.
5. Stop and Catch your Breath Occasionally
A few times along the way, Wallenda stopped for a moment. Yes, he just stopped and squatted down. On the wire. To catch his breath. To take it all in. To re-group, re-calibrate, and re-focus. There are times, even when a deadline is pressing, that we need to hit the pause button and take a deep breath before moving on to the next step.
6. Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Wallenda had one — and only one — goal: to get from one side of the Canyon to the other. That overwhelming sense of purpose and unwavering focus led to his success. Too often, we try to please everyone and do too many things at once. When we do, we end up doing none of them successfully.
7. Confidence is Key
Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter once defined “confidence” simply as “the expectation of a positive outcome.” Having faith in yourself, backed up by positive self-talk, will help you to battle the negative voices of doubt and fear (what Seth Godin calls the “lizard brain”). Positivity, hope, and optimism, are crucial ingredients to your success. During his walk, Wallenda was talking to himself (as well as to certain “unseen others”), aloud and with enthusiasm, from start to finish. As Henry Ford said, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” (See my previous posts for more on Confidence and Overcoming Stress & Anxiety.)
8. Don’t START With the Grand Canyon
As a 7th-generation aerialist, Wallenda had been working towards this tremendous feat practically since birth. From walking on a rope just a few inches above his childhood backyard to walking a tightrope across Niagara Falls last year, Wallenda’s conquest of the Grand Canyon was years in the making. It’s important to dream big, but it’s equally important to recognize our limitations and have realistic expectations that will increase our odds of success. Then we can build on those and work our way up.
9. Practice, Practice, Practice
Cervantes said, “To be prepared is half the victory.” Though we like to say that someone is “a natural” or “an overnight success,” it is more likely that we failed to notice the behind-the-scenes years of blood, sweat, and tears that led them to that point. Being willing to take intelligent risks and having the resiliency to bounce back from the inevitable setbacks is what separates those who make it across the Canyon from those who don’t.
10. Don’t Forget to Reflect and Celebrate
When Wallenda finally made it to the other side, after the hugs and kisses and pats on the back, he took a moment – on his own – to walk back over to the lip of the Canyon to reflect in silence on what he had just accomplished. When questioned about rumors of a potential high-wire walk between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, Wallenda responded that he just wanted to rejoice in the moment before thinking about the future. That night was all about sitting down for a prime rib dinner with his family.
So as you ponder Wallenda’s amazing feat, and the lessons learned that you can apply to your own life and career, I hope this piece will inspire you to great heights — whatever or wherever they may be.