As I write, I am in the city of Shenzhen working after a one-week tour of China. It was an amazing experience that I shared with a friend and 26 other people I did not know on an organized tour. One of those people was a single woman traveling alone so the two of us adopted her for the duration of the trip.

On the first day, we were taken to a remote part of the Great Wall of China where we were left to do what we wanted. Certificates could be purchased to document the fact that we climbed the wall’s over 1,500 steps. I chose not to get the certificate, believing the experience itself would be unforgettable, not needing to officially document it. My two colleagues agreed.

The next step was to climb up to where you could see the top of the wall. It was a daunting climb. One woman said she was happy where she was, not needing to go any further. She was content to watch and wait for me and our other friend. The two of us began the challenging climb to the top.

It took everything I had to get to the top. The steps were incredibly uneven, with one step requiring minimal effort and the next step being so big it was challenging to keep my balance. I needed several breaks along the way to catch my breath, but I made it to the top. I was singing the Rocky song on the last few steps. There was a stone building with a peaked roof, indicating the culmination of the climb with three final steps leading up to it. As I positioned myself on the top step for a picture, I noticed a person could walk into that building. My fellow climber and I went through that building and much to my dismay, I realized it was just a gateway to a whole lot more climbing. In fact, I had only climbed about a fifth of the way possible! Talk about taking the wind out of my sails.

I had a decision to make. Was I going to attempt to climb further or was I going to stop where I was? My body didn’t give me much choice. I imagine if someone had a gun to my head, I probably could have climbed more but absent that external pressure, my body said enough . . . loudly.

A lot factored into my decision to stop climbing. I thought about how much I don’t like to quit. I thought about how competitive I am, and I didn’t want to stop while my friend continued to climb. I spent a little time berating myself for not exercising enough to be fit enough to finish. I thought of my other friend who stopped much earlier than I did. I spent a good bit of time comparing myself to others.

And then I thought about what I really wanted. Did I want to climb so far that I couldn’t enjoy the rest of my time in China because of sore legs? Was it so important to win? What does win mean? Am I looking for a personal best or beating someone else?

When my crisis of identity was over, I realized I needed to be smart for the good of my overall health. It was a missed opportunity for me that I definitely regret. I wanted to go to the top but truly wasn’t physically capable. Once I stopped berating myself, I realized this obstacle presented an opportunity. I now know if I want to be able to meet physical challenges, I must exercise more often than I do now. I believe I am in decent shape, but I want to be better. Because I believe in the growth mindset, I don’t believe ‘use it or lose it’ is the end of the story.

My friend went on to climb the Great China Wall as far as was humanly possible. It was an amazing feat. I was super proud of her and felt not one iota of jealousy. She is a daily cyclist and bikes some serious hills in California. It was right for her to go for the gold. She did it and had been engaging in daily activity to support it. I had not. Will I change that? Yes, I will. There were many lessons for me from 3 Women and the Great China Wall:

  1. It’s extremely difficult to use a squatting toilet after developing painful quads.
  2. Do not compete with others but always work for your personal best.
  3. Push to your limit and even a little beyond but know when to stop for your personal health.
  4. If there are things you want to do that require either physical or mental agility, practice these things on a regular basis. You can’t always count on them to always be there unless you are making the investment to maintain them.

My most important lesson of the day was about girlfriends. Girlfriends are essential for a woman’s soul. They bolster you when you need courage, challenge you when you need to push forward, and applaud your accomplishments, big and small. If you don’t have girlfriends to climb your great wall, whatever that is, I suggest you audition some today.

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