Rock climbing, it’s taught me a thing or two.
There’s way more than I listed here as learnings but these are the top three ways I’ve been able to become a better Product Manager through learnings from rock climbing.
In rock climbing, there are many instances where you’re faced with a choice. A choice to trust or not to trust. Of course, the choice you make has its own consequences but 1 gets you a little further than the other. Ultimately, choosing to trust allows you to experience new climbing routes, newfound strength, and new growth.
Let’s take a quick step back. When I first started visiting a rock climbing gym I was pretty immediate to trust the facility and safety. I had a few friends who had been members of the gym for a few months so I immediately thought, “Well if they trust it, I’ve got nothing to worry about”. I went in trusting the employees, the safety of the harnesses, the strength of the ropes, and the cushiness of the mats that would catch me if I fell.
If I had gone in not trusting the gym and what it had to offer I would’ve been scared every step of the way.
In working as a Product Manager, it’s similar. People backstab or take advantage of you here and there and our overall trust in humanity begins to diminish. We, in turn, close ourselves off, stop meeting people or forming new work relationships out of fear of offering trust and it getting chewed on and spit out. I’ve learned that starting with trust is crucial because it means that you’re opening up a brand new door. And what does that lead to? It leads to growth, opportunity, and relationships.
Funny side story: I usually climb with my partner and there have been a good 5 or more times where she’s lost control of the belay system and the rope has slipped and I’ve fallen from different heights. You’d think I stop trusting her belaying, but no. Things go wrong all the time in the product development lifecycle so trust your team to do their best work and don’t lose hope or give up if a release is a disaster.
I consider myself somewhat of a risk-taker in certain situations. Maybe you are too. But when it came to rock climbing, I definitely struggled. I’m not the best with heights and thinking about being held up by a rope on a wall wasn’t super reassuring. Even knowing that if I fell there were baby soft mats to catch me, I was still hesitant. Finally, I gave in. My partner was really growing to like it and I like spending time with my partner plus needed a fitness activity to work into my schedule so ended up signing up.
Taking this initiative to step out of my comfort zone by trying climbing was a biggie for me. It killed my fingers. I couldn’t get far since my upper body strength wasn’t there but I still went for it. I still went and fell time and time over again. And you know what it taught me? It taught resilience. It meant that I was stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing that uncomfortable feeling you get when trying something hard, something new.
Switching to Product Management for a moment, we go through the same exact thing. Seth Godin says it very well, “We’re cogs in the machine”. He says that we are taught to be followers instead of trailblazers. We stay in our comfort zone because it’s easy and everything outside of that is foreign, hard, too risky or simply too out of the ordinary.
That project you want to work on or that Sales Lead on your team that you’re dying to have a chat with just take the leap. Because if you don’t do it now, you might never get the chance to again. Seize the day. Go for it. Embrace the uncomfortable.
I wanted to call this one strategize and problem-solving but, oh well. If you’ve ever watched an experienced climber you’ll see them doing a funny movement with their hands right before they start the route. They’re essentially reading the route they’re about to climb.
Before you start climbing, the idea is that you should be visualizing the holds your hands will grab and the holds your feet will use to propel you upward. Literally, visualizing each move. It’s taken many many months to get used to this to actually, to take a step back.
For me, it meant staring at the wall and at the holds and imagine myself climbing it. It felt weird at first. But wow, it’s made a huge difference. Mindlessly climbing really never got my anywhere but when you intentionally climb and plan your route it makes an incredible difference.
In Product Management, be intentional about what you take on and what you say, “Yes” too. Also, be even more mindful of where you’re using the word “No”. Whether it’s a small “yes” or a big “no”, think about the risks, wins, overall affects for you, your team and your customers before going all in. A little planning and collaboration go a long way.
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