This summer my kids completed a week of indoor rock climbing camp, where they did four days of gym climbing and then got to spend a day climbing at Pilot Mountain State Park. After experiencing real rock climbing for the first time, they shared with me the top lessons they learned:


Pilot Mountain State Park NC


  • Fear of heights is normal

  • Plot out your route and don’t rush

  • Use parts of your body that you didn’t think about before

  • Conserve your energy

  • Make sure your knots are tied right

  • Just hang for a minute

  • Concentrate on what is within reach

  • Trust your belayer and focus on your climb

  • Watch what others do and learn from them


Listening to this advice, I wondered if these words of wisdom could be applied to the world of startups:

Fear of heights is normal. In business, you’re going to face a lot of scary moments. If you have a pit in your stomach or wake up in the night racked with anxiety, those are normal reactions to a high-risk, high-stakes situation. If you’re not a little scared, you might not be pushing yourself hard enough.

Plot out your route and don’t rush. Take a look at the landscape ahead of you, and try to determine the safest, most efficient route to where you want to go. Starting off without a good plan could get you stuck. When advisers tell you to write a good business plan and talk to a lawyer before getting too far along on your journey, you should do it, even if it seems unnecessary or boring. These preparations can save you valuable time and effort later on.

Use parts of your body that you didn’t think about before. My daughter explained, “… like your knees and toes. You can’t just use your arms and legs and feet. In some spots you can’t get a foothold, but you can get a knee-hold. If you use your toes, you can move around better.”  In order to be successful, you’re going to need to get creative. Think about resources that you might not have thought about before. Dig deep and find creative solutions to the problems you encounter.

Conserve your energy. You may be tempted to pull all-nighters and live on caffeine and doughnuts to get everything done, but we all know that’s not a good long-term strategy. If you’re in this for the long haul, get some rest, take some breaks.

Make sure your knots are tied right. In whatever you’re doing, there is probably one very important thing upon which everything else depends. For a climber, if you don’t tie your knots right, you’re not going to get very far, and it could be fatal.  You need to identify the thing you’re doing that is absolutely crucial, and make sure you’re getting it right. For many entrepreneurs, that thing is the integrity of their business practices — a commitment to honesty and fairness. For others, it’s the excellence of the product. For others, it’s the quality and engagement of the talent they hire. If something is bound to make or break you, you have to take the time to get it right.

Just hang for a minute. My daughter said, “Sometimes you are exhausted and you can’t see the path forward. Just hang for a minute. Extend your arms and don’t move.”  Don’t move? That goes against all the high-achieving instincts in the typical entrepreneur’s wiring.  But you will have those moments where you feel stuck, unsure, tired. If you take some time to be still and recover, you’ll be surprised at how the tangles can unravel. Wait for that shift in your mind and body that will allow you to find your way.

Trust ykid awesomeour belayer and focus on your climb. Think for a minute about what or who is holding you up — carrying you so you can do this work. Your spouse? Your parents? That inner voice that gives you strength? Your friends? Your college professors? You might not be aware of it, but there is probably a whole collection of people supporting you in your climb. Trust that those people are there for you, and focus on your work.  Remember and be grateful that they are there.

Concentrate on what is within reach. You may know where you’re ultimately headed. Or, maybe all you know is that you want to get as high as you possibly can. But you can’t see the whole route from where you are right now, and you can’t reach any farther than the next step at any given point. Keep feeling, testing, stretching.

Watch what others do and learn from them. As an entrepreneur in this ever-changing business climate, you must devote yourself to a lifetime of learning. There is always someone who has been in your shoes, and if you can learn from them – their victories and failures – it can help get you farther, faster.  There is always more to learn.


Erika Williamson, founder of Protagonist Lab. Database developer and IT consultant. Future philanthropist.