I am terrified of heights. On a recent trip to Venice, my daughter and I climbed multiple campaniles (bell towers). When I got to the top of every one, I felt like jumping. For me, heights and open spaces don’t mix well.
So what was I doing wearing a whole-body harness while assessing a 40-foot-high ropes course at Nemacolin Resort in Pennsylvania last fall?
I must have misread the brochure when I checked the canopy tour option as one of my activities. Yes, it included a supercool zipline ride, which—strangely—I like. But a high ropes course …
I was about to slink out of line when I overheard a woman I’d just met, Karen Dawkins, right ahead of me. “I’m 60 years old,” Karen said. “Last time I was supposed to do a ropes course, I chickened out. But I’m going to do it this time.”
Her comment gave me pause. I am 55 years old. What was my excuse? If she was going to do it, then I should at least give it a shot. Right?
Maybe. The woman who was three people ahead of me in the line climbed up the very scary telephone pole to the 40-foot-high landing, looked at the first obstacle (swinging steps), and then came right back down.
On the Ropes
Still incredulous that I was even in line, I watched Nicole, a fit woman in her early 30s, adeptly climb up and step in. Ahead of me, Karen was already scampering up the telephone pole to the first platform.
Finally catching up to reality, my heart beat like it would burst my ribcage. Waves of fear raced through me. I tried to take yogic breaths and started to climb.
You’ll be attached the whole time, I told myself. You can’t actually die.
I looked across the suspended, swinging steps (known as the Burma bridge) and decided to backtrack. What the hell was I thinking?
I looked across the suspended, swinging steps and decided to backtrack. What the hell was I thinking?
Then Karen, who had just crossed the Burma bridge, turned around from the second platform. “Amy, you’ve got this!” she said. “Here’s what you do. Grab the ropes high and lean forward. Step one foot right into the middle. Then put your other foot on the middle of the next step.”
So I followed her instructions. Miraculously, the steps hardly swung. Ten seconds later, I was on the second platform, decisively not looking down. My only way was forward.
As I watched Karen navigate the cargo net rope wall, I realized something. Just ahead of Karen, Nicole was turning to advise her every move, and then Karen passed that info to me. I couldn’t remember the name of the woman behind me—terror will do that to you—but I could pass on the collective wisdom.
“Grab the ropes high,” I told her. “Lean forward and put only one foot on each step at a time.”
Karen’s guidance got me across the cargo wall. We also conquered a tightrope walk and swinging tires. After the fourth obstacle, you could continue the course or ride a short zipline down. I chose the zipline.
Back on solid ground, I hugged Karen, one of my new BFFs. “That was incredible!” I said. “I couldn’t have done it without you!” She’d given me one of the best girlfriend pep talks ever. We were a chain of women empowering each other to take bold and risky steps.
Pep Talks in Real Life
Since then, I’ve come to think of our cooperative achievement as a metaphor for women’s friendship. Whether we know how to navigate a scary ropes course or can write engrossing novels, we’re all the masters of certain skills. And we all can guide each other through the challenges ahead with pep talks.
When a friend of mine left her verbally abusive husband, I could tell from one of her emails that she was overwhelmed by the financial and emotional logistics of her uncooperative ex and all the uncertainty ahead.
What sort of power can we pass along if we turn around and share our wisdom with the woman a few steps or a few years behind us?
“Do you need a pep talk?” I texted her. Later that day, we FaceTimed. “You got this!” I told her while I listened and helped her think through those next frightening steps and how far to lean in. I gave her a virtual hug and promised to help with a business venture.
Since that ropes course, I’ve tried harder to tune into the needs of the women in my life—my friends, my mom, my sisters, and my college-aged daughter. My sister, Beth, is launching a new business as a Beta reader for novels, and I’ve cheered her on with pep talks and concrete advice about a website and client communication. I even referred her first client.
I also try to give myself pep talks so that I’m brave enough to step outside my comfort zone by learning how to write a nonfiction book proposal and also pitching my novel to agents.
Women face the equivalent of a high ropes course every single day. What sort of power can we pass along if we coach each other concretely? If we turn around and share our wisdom with the woman a few steps or a few years behind us? I’m exhilarated, again, just thinking about the possibilities.
Karen has since conquered other ropes courses, but I’m content to rest on my laurels. I’ll do my girlfriend pep talks a little closer to earth.
How to Give a Girlfriend Pep Talk:
- Be specific. If you know where your friend can place her feet—literally or metaphorically—say so. Share your concrete wisdom.
- Tell the truth: none of us need platitudes or lies.
- Practice an abundance mindset (as opposed to a scarcity or hoarding mindset). You have abundant skills and love to share with the women around you.
- Listen well. We all want to be heard and not talked over.
- Offer your pep talk services often. If a friend doesn’t want one, she’ll let you know.
- Give pep talks to strangers. Studies have shown that we’re actually happier when we talk to each other on the street, in a line, or on public transportation.
- Ask for a pep talk when you need one. Nobody navigates her best life (or a ropes course) alone.
Amy Brecount White is a travel writer, essayist, and novelist based in Arlington, VA. She’s working on Intertwined, a novel about how women’s lives intersect. She’s also the author of the YA novel Forget-Her-Nots (Greenwillow/HarperCollins).