The bell has been a deeply meaningful symbol in my life since my early 20s. In graduate school, as part of my curriculum, I climbed up a narrow 28-foot pole. Three feet in front of me was a large bell, dangling on a sturdy but well-worn rope. The high ropes course instructor said, “Felicia here’s your task. Look at the bell and think of something you want in your life, and then jump off the pole and slap that bell with all you got. You can do this!”
I was in a safety harness and tethered to seven people on the ground trained to ensure no physical harm would come to me. I kept telling myself I was OK but my legs were shaking so hard the pole started to sway. I can’t even remember the goal that I had identified. All I recall was the sheer will it took for me to climb higher and higher towards the sky. Eventually, summoning courage I didn’t know I had, I took the leap.
And I missed the bell.
Attributing a sort of fantastical magic to this bell, I thought that if I hit it, whatever I wished for would come true. As I was lowered to the ground, I mostly felt disappointed. My competitive, goal-oriented and unfalteringly hard-on-myself personality took over. But I also remember reliving the moment again and again later that night and feeling alive and proud for having made the jump.
Eight years later, I somehow convinced a university to let me build an urban high ropes course in Los Angeles just like the one that had challenged me. As the instructor, I led local groups of community youth, faculty, staff and college students, encouraging them to climb the pole. Most would tremble with each step on the iron pegs, palms sweaty, cursing under their breath about how hard it was to climb to the top and get their feet up on the 12-inch diameter platform before jumping off. Encouraging cheers from their colleagues and friends rose up when the person froze or wanted to give up. Once back on the ground, after the hugs and congratulatory slaps on the back, there would always be an infectious smile or laugh and a look of proud disbelief.
Every single person shared it felt like their heart was going to burst out of their chest. Some would get quiet. Others couldn’t stop talking. More than a few would cry. But all of them jumped. Eyes opened or closed, shouting or silent, soaring wildly or gently falling, it was beautiful to witness each person’s courage however it showed up.
Most people who do this activity never actually hit the bell. So why try?
It’s about taking a moment to dream about reaching for something that feels really important to you.
It’s about the realization that you have more capacity and resilience than you give yourself credit for.
It’s about remembering people are there to support you, if you allow it.
It’s recognizing that in order to reach your bell, you must take the first step.