Just before Nik Wallenda made his high-wire walk across the Grand Canyon live on national television, returning Leadership Weekend Experience students ventured 35 minutes north to Taylor University to experience the Escape to Reality Challenge Course. Like Nik Wallenda’s unbelievable journey, campers stepped out of their comfort zone and built life and leadership skills in the process. As a Music for All staff member, I have never participated in the challenge course and decided to join the leaders in a truly life-changing experience.

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In our first exercise, campers were required to transport themselves between three platforms without touching the ground and only using two boards. The group was quickly able to brainstorm and test solutions. Effective communication, patience and support within the group resulted in a successful exercise. When the facilitator gave the group a “freebie” to touch the ground, the group weighed the options of maintaining pride and integrity as a motivator, or utilizing the second chance to be successful. I was impressed by the maturity and focus of this group in this tough challenge.

Nonverbal communication was key at the next station, where we arranged each other by birthdate and age on a narrow log without speaking. This proved to be a daunting challenge (although my place at the end was very obvious), but the group was very patient and incredibly helpful of each other. The group learned that nonverbal listening, or awareness, is integral to success as a leader. In the end, we succeeded, bringing the group of 12 closer, even in less than 24 hours as a team.

After lunch, I was excited to hear a new perspective on leadership from a former band director of mine, Tom Pompeii, in “Leadership Straight from the Horse’s Mouth.” Tom is an accomplished music educator and horseman, and provided the campers a fresh look at nonverbal communication. Tom’s session introduced concepts for interacting and leading introverts vs. extroverts, similar to skittish horses. The awareness required to notice and respond appropriately to different types of people is important for new leaders.

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At the high ropes area, campers learned to live beyond their comfort zone and take a literal leap of faith. There were several stations that provided thrills, but required focus and concentration. Fellow campers on the ground cheered for those in the air, providing a safe, supportive environment for success. The daunting zip line was a favorite for the thrill-seeking campers. Even in my own, clumsy and unsuccessful attempt at climbing a pole and jumping toward a trapeze, campers were supportive, serving as the counterweight. From the apprehension of jumping off the ledge to the electrifying feeling of near free fall, my trip down the zip line was incredible. By stepping out of my own comfort zone, I was able to face my fears and grow, in my own leadership and life skills.