A Leap of Faith - Overcoming Fear

Susanne and Paul McCabe on the glass floor at the CN Tower.

I've been sacred of heights for a long time. I do love to be up a tower, like the CN Tower in Toronto and marvel at the view. It's one of the first things I do when I visit a new city. However, I'm really scared of looking down. There is a photo of me sitting on the glass floor of the CN Tower, with tears in my eyes, petrified that the glass was going to break (see photo). I was too stubborn NOT to do it after my (then) boyfriend (now husband) and his sister were happy to do it.

I have three daughters and many years ago, in Berlin, we took them to do a treetop walk. I wanted to try it, but I had run out of steam. I have chronic fatigue and I need to sleep at a certain time of day or I have difficulty keeping awake. That course was quite low, designed for kids, I thought I could handle it. Instead, I met my immediate need for rest and  took myself off to a grassy area to lie down, secretly pleased I didn't need to test my fear out.

Fast forward to this year and we saw a treetop course at Loch Lomond. I wondered about doing it. Each time we walked by any aerial assault course, it was a reminder that I wanted to try it, but was scared to. I made a promise to myself in summer 2020, that I would do one of the courses by the end of this year.

A bit of momentum

On another visit, I walked under the Loch Lomond course. I thought, worst case, I could try the small course, known as the Treecreeper. At least I would have done it! My eldest two were very keen to get up there. My youngest daughter was interested, but is was more complex than she's done before and she wanted my husband or I to do it with her, along with her sisters. My husband had an injury and I knew he wouldn't do it. So I felt that I could try it, to give my youngest the chance to do the course.

Seizing the day

As of writing, September 2020, Scotland has had increasing restrictions put on us due to Covid-19. Cases and hospital numbers are rising. I for one am half expecting more restrictions to come into play soon. On that basis and with the cold weather looming, I wanted to follow through on my promise to myself, in case we weren't able to do it for months. I booked the course for the three girls and myself.

The coaching perspective

Of course, the elephant in the room is that I am a Executive Coach. I support people to achieve their goals and ambitions, while overcoming obstacles that stop them progressing in life. These are often stress, anxiety and depression. It's important to me that I live and set an example, to my girls and my clients. Fear had held me back from doing this before.

Coaching myself

Here, I treated myself as a client. With a client, I would want to understand their goals and ambitions. Why is this particular goal important to them? If they don't achieve it, what do they lose out on? How does their life look if they don't achieve it? In my case, the goal was important, because I wanted to give my youngest daughter in particular, the opportunity to stretch her own capabilities and increase her confidence. That's incredibly important to me as a Mum. I also enjoy doing challenges together as a family, things that we can share as we challenge ourselves together. This ticked that box. If I didn't do it? There would be other opportunities to support my children and spend family time, but then I wouldn't be testing myself out. That was the crux of it. Showing courage is important to me and I wanted the opportunity to stretch myself mentally and physically.

I now had the reasons for doing it. How would I support a client in this situation? Gradual exposure to a fear is a technique often used by coaches, psychologists and therapists. So I prepared myself by watching videos the company had on their website, which took you through the course. It looked scary, but do-able. Everyone starts on the smaller Treecreeper course, so I knew I could just that if need be. Of course, a video is far from being the real thing!

On the Day

Susanne McCabe pauses and smiles for the camera on a platform on the treetop course.

I was nervous on the day, but pleased that I was at last going to challenge my fear. This pleasure soon disappeared as I began the Treecreeper course and got to my first zipline. I wasn't prepared for it appearing so quickly. I knew I had to do it and jumped, gripping on for my life as if there was no harness!

Soon after that I developed cramp in my foot and was forced to sit inside a wooden frame, suspended 5 metres up, so I could stretch my foot out. I asked myself if I could go ahead. But of course, you're committed once you're up there.

Shortly after that, I was balancing on a beam. I hate those at the best of times, but I focused carefully on one step at a time and realised it wasn't so bad. Some more panic as I reached a rope crossing with a vertical criss-cross for support, as I tightrope-walked along the rope at the bottom. I feared I'd suddenly lunge back towards the ground. By this time, my family were well ahead of me and I felt alone although there were people within sight.

As I ended the small course, I had to zipline. Again, I was scared to jump and as I did so, I held the rope to far up, forcing me to hold tighter than needed. I had rope burns.

The Bigger, badder, buzzard course!

Susanne McCabe traverses an obstacle on the treetop course in Loch Lomond.

At this point, I could have walked away. With my hands shaking and pulse racing, I really wanted to! But how would I feel later having walked away? Courage was important to me. I wanted to try the longer course, named the Buzzard. What helped, was an offer from my 12-year-old daughter to wait for me at each platform. This proved to be a turning point. It gave us an opportunity to chat about the obstacles as we went. I watched and learned from her, sometimes copying her method, sometimes trying my own.

The obstacles were harder this time. Longer gaps between the trees. Lots of tightrope-type obstacles. My worst point was, again, on a zipline, as my husband shouted up a suggestion for me. My brain told me not to jump and I could barely take in what he was saying, as I was overcome with fear. But once you're harnessed in, that's you. You have to do the whole course. I started to visualise myself at the finish, thinking about how good I would feel having finished the course. I told myself to just do it. This time I leapt and held my rope differently. It actually felt good fun!

14m high platform on zipline course. The final stage.

On the second last obstacle, again I had a tightrope situation, with very wobbly, low hanging ropes on either side. You really had to pull on your harness rope and walk the tightrope and ignore the side ropes. Twice I slipped and slid down the slope. I struggled to pull myself up. I was scared and my arms were visibly shaking with the muscles I was using being strained. I felt they were weakening, but I told myself, just take your time, you can do it, you're strong. I pulled myself back up and slowly edged up the tightrope to the final platform.


This was the big finale. 65m of zipline from 14m high. The platform is shown in the photo here. I was uncertain, but by now I told myself, you've done this before, you can do it. I pushed off and screamed in pleasure down the zipline!

Lessons learned

I came off that zipline with a strange combination of feelings. Exhilarated that I'd done it, but still trembling from the whole experience. Reflecting on it, the experience did challenge me. I'm glad I did it, I spent 1.5hrs clambering over high obstacles with a fear of heights!

ask for help

I was reminded that it's ok to ask for help, even if it's from someone much younger than you! My daughter's support was immense. Every needs a cheering squad sometimes. We are social people, here to support one another. If that helps us beat our challenges, then great! In my coaching, I'm often the cheering squad for my clients, who initially need encouragement. Part of the coaching process involves helping them to recognise their own achievements and I'm proud of what I achieved yesterday.

Make your own path

Our use of the Internet can leave us relying too much on others for the answers. Like with my daughter, it's good to know the steps those in front of us have taken, but ultimately we need to find our own way of doing things and be comfortable with our own choices.

one step at a time

If you're not sure how to tackle a problem, simply take it one step at a time. It's easy to get overwhelmed with the whole problem. I focused on the obstacles, carefully thinking on where I'd put my feet and hands. In life, we can plan ahead, but all we really have is this moment and that's what we should focus on. Plus, by focusing on the ropes and wood that I was balancing on, it helped me cope with the height of the obstacles. It was like I filtered it out.

Find your reason why

Tuning into my 'why' was essential. Family is important to me. Showing courage is important to me too. If you live by your values, you'll be more satisfied, fulfilled and happy. Coaching helps you tune into these values, prioritise them and apply them practically in your life.

strengthen your self-talk

Feeling my arms shaking sent me a message of being weak. Instead, I wanted to feel strong at that point and telling myself that I was strong stopped the shaking in my arms and allowed me to pull myself out of the slip I was in and persevere. What we tell ourselves, known as our self-talk, determines our success in life. If you continue to beat yourself up, it's difficult to progress to your goals.

set a date for goals

I'm grateful that I set myself a deadline for this. A goal without a deadline isn't a goal and setting a date to achieve it was important, in order to focus my mind on the results.

visualise success

Visualisation also helped me to progress to my goal. I pictured myself coming off the course, my family around me and the huge sense of achievement that I would feel. Visualisation is powerful in helping you achieve what you want in life. The more detail you can add in terms of what you'll see, hear, smell, touch and feel inside, the better. Repetition helps to embed this and the brain subconsciously finds ways to make it happen.

the happy ending

Finally, like my youngest daughter, I have grown in confidence and in my own capabilities. For her, she really didn't need me by her side. She was happy to power ahead with her older sister in the end!

Coming into land. The end of my final zipline on the treetop course at Loch Lomond.

NB: For interest, this place is bookable at https://iye.scot/treezone-loch-lomond/. I'm not receiving any payment for referring you, simply passing on information.