"Sticking Points" ... Don't Let Them Knock You Outa the Game!

I was awakened with cramping and pain in my lower right back. Burning. I knew it was the onset of a kidney or urinary tract infection. It just couldn’t be! Not now! Not here!

It was a sticking point. A sticking point is defined as a point, issue, or situation that causes or is likely to cause an impasse.

I had set a goal shortly after the first of the year to train with a team of scientists to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to do research. They had been training for six months already when I came to the team. And I had only six months to train. I trained hard and faithfully!

Here I was, on the mountain. We had made it through the moorland, the rain forest, alpine desert, and now we had slept a few hours and were getting up at midnight to make the summit of the Western Breach.  The summit would be in the dark, in below zero temperatures.  We had to reach the summit before the glaciers became slippery and unstable with the rising sun.

My sticking point could keep me from the summit if our flight surgeon, Dr. Brooks, did not allow me to continue.

You’ve had a sticking point before. And likely, if you set your goals at the beginning of the year, you were already facing several sticking points on some of them.

Sticking points often take us by surprise, and they are always disheartening. We start strong, and then all of a sudden there are challenges.

Maybe you set a goal of losing 20 pounds in the first three months of the year. And now you’re future mother-in-law has invited you over for her delicious homemade apple pie and homemade ice cream. What on earth are you going to do?

The first time I heard the words “sticking point” I was getting ready to lifeguard for a deaf camp on the beaches of Hawaii. Jerry Makahanaloa signed: “you surf?” I responded, “Nope.” (although I grew up on Galveston Bay … we had no waves to surf on!) Jerry nodded toward some surfboards and signed: “Grab a board. You’ll need to master surfing before camp starts tomorrow.” Jerry was one of the deaf leaders that put the camp together, and now he was expecting me to lifeguard a camp where kids could not hear a whistle AND to master surfing in one afternoon? I signed back: “NO WAY!” But he acted like he didn’t see me and gave me instructions with one hand as we headed into the surf. He signed to me, “I’ll hold your board. You get on your knees … then when I push you PADDLE! When I yell, stand up and find your sticking point.” I had no time to ask what a sticking point was. 

He shoved me. I paddled, I stood up, and he was beside me and showed me to move my right foot back and forth until I found a sticking point. I DID IT! I rode my first wave all the way in! 

He told me later that the “sticking point” was where you have enough confidence that you can stand and conquer the wave. That became my definition of a sticking point.

The second time I heard the phrase “sticking point” was in an inspirational message from one of my favorite speakers. He said, “A sticking point is when you are doing great things and run into challenges, and start acting ‘stupid.’” I knew EXACTLY what he meant. I had done it dozens of times in my life. I had set goals, or set my sights on hopes, but when the challenges came, I got “stupid” and quit … or just walked away.

Sticking points offer us three opportunities:

1. To give up on our goal, hope or dream

2. To get creative and find alternative strategies

3. To press forward with great determination

Let’s look at all three:

1. To give up on our goal, hope or dream. I like to tell people that this is simply not an option. Do NOT allow yourself to “get stupid” and walk away or quit!

2. To get creative and find alternative strategies. I do think that there are great opportunities to drop back and create alternative strategies. It is amazing how creative we can get when we tell ourselves that quitting or giving up is not an option.

Several years ago, I worked with a client who had taken on an extra job to get out of debt by the end of that year. Toward the end of the year, there was a family tragedy. Everyone in the family was asked to pitch in a certain amount of money to help.

This young man was so disappointed because he was only a few weeks away from being out of debt. But he deeply cared about his family and contributed his share to the family emergency.

But rather than quitting, he realized that his full-time job required that he drive from business to business, often crisscrossing the DFW metroplex several times daily. He decided to sign up to be a driver for Lyft. As a Lyft driver, when he left one business to go to another, he could often pick up a Lyft rider, earning money on a trip he would’ve had to make anyway. Very creative! And he was still able to pay his debt off on schedule and proclaim himself debt-free by the end of the year.

3. To press forward with great determination. Sometimes a sticking point gives us a great opportunity to just press forward with great determination. (And to form a new habit of practicing determination! I have a general rule of thumb … any time there are setbacks, there are potentially great outcomes with the goal you have set. Great resistance accompanies great missions.

I always love any opportunity to rev up some great determination!

When we were trying to get some nutritional supplements (that we believed could help some children who were struggling with the AIDS virus) into another country, we faced challenges. We had raised the money to get the supplements to the children, and we had found a way to get them there in crates. But we knew that there could be challenges getting them through customs. We refused to give up, and we refused to accept NO as the answer. Although it took almost 6 months to get them into the country, we kept pressing through with determination. Eventually, we were given permission to send them in, and the results in the lives of the children were literally miraculous.  

At times when I’m facing challenges and trying to rev up some determination, I remember the faces of those children in the videos they sent to us. The children had received the supplements we shipped and their health had turned around. What could create greater determination than that? 

Back to my challenge on the mountain… I was lying in my tent still clinging to the warmth of my sleeping bag while considering my “sticking point.” I knew that it was one of the most important moments of my life. I decided that all I needed in my backpack was a bottle of water and that if I left everything else behind, I could make it.

Thankfully, Dr. Brooks was more concerned with our team captain who was showing some signs of pulmonary edema. Thankfully, he did not seem too concerned about my infection.

I had already chosen option number three in my tent. I knew that I was just going to push my way through it with determination.

It was not easy. I was quite uncomfortable. But there was absolutely no way that we were going to return to the United States with the news that one of the two females on the team did not make it!

Most people climb the “Coca-Cola” route up Mt. Kilimanjaro; so named because of the ease of that climbing route.  But of course, the day that we arrived, our team captains were feeling like superheroes. Without discussing it with us, they chose the Western Breach route. I had studied the other routes and did not know much about this one. But I did remember one article I read.  When I learned we were climbing the Western Breach, I could see the words clearly in my head: “Reaching the Kilimanjaro summit, the crater rim, and the glaciers: no matter which of the five climbing routes you choose, there are only two paths to get to the crater rim (not counting the dangerous and seldom used Western Breach Route)!!!”

Determination. Pure determination kept me in the game. Retreat was not an option. Quitting was not an option. The only option was in front of me, and that was summitting the tallest freestanding mountain in the world!

I learned some very interesting things about sticking points on that all-night summit. Here is what I learned:

1. Determination means never looking back. I never once glanced back over my shoulder to see our porters that I could have gone back to descend with. It simply was not an option. I wasn’t going to turn into a pillar of salt like someone in an ancient story.

2. There will always be a part of a worthy goal (or a time on the journey) that you do not like and is not enjoyable! No one ever said that you had to enjoy every step of the journey. Or that when it got difficult, you should opt-out!

3. You must keep your focus on where you’re going and why you are going there. Some of you know that I call this “A fire in my belly!” The “WHY” of your mission must be blazing hot! I committed to achieving the summit to complete my research, and I knew it was a story that would change my life (and others’) from “ordinary” to “extraordinary.” My WHY would help me when all else failed!

4. At the same time, you must always remember you need a fire on your backside. This fire is what you will miss out on if you quit or give up! My blazing fire on my backside was that the photo at the summit could be missing one person on our mission. And the missing person was NOT going to be ME! Of that I was certain!

5. You must be willing to humble yourself and ask for help. I did that in two ways. I humbly asked God to help me before I got out of my sleeping bag that morning. But I also asked our tour guide, Julius, to help me later when we were going through the scree (long patches of loose gravel) we had to cross.  I began to slide backward. He told me to grab hold of his backpack, and place my feet exactly where his feet were … step by step. Teamwork made the dream work!

I was the first to pull myself up to the top of the crater rim and stand on the summit!

It was worth hanging in through the sticking point.

If you are in a sticking point… particularly after setting goals for the new year … make sure that the fire in your belly is burning hot. Fan the flames of the fire on your backside! Decide that quitting is not an option! And that you will pull yourself through the sticking point! With pure determination!

You will find a great victory!

I’m cheering you on! 

Find your stance where you can ride the wave, and don’t “get stupid” and give up! There is life beyond the sticking point!