Hundreds of feet off the ground, hanging off a cliff, Mark Owen panicked. Several hundred feet above him was the summit, but he couldn't imagine how he could get there. He was achy, scared, and incoherent. He knew he couldn't go back down; as a lead climber, his partner depended upon him to place the gear safely and get the two of them to the top.
He was stuck.
Ever feel like that? You know which way you have to go but you can't picture yourself getting there. You know better, you know you are better, but you can't bring yourself to do what you need to do. You're so full of doubt, you don't even trust that you know what to do next. You just wish you were already there, wherever it is, and it was already over with, whatever the challenge is that you're facing.
Mark Owen was an accomplished Navy SEAL, and he'd recently passed the test to join the elite SEAL Team 6, the most dangerous and highest performing warriors in the world. He'd passed the most rigorous tests, spent hundreds of days in life and death combat situations, and volunteered for this activity. At least learning rock climbing, he couldn't drown.
Imagine the shame he was feeling, stuck on a rock, with ropes, safety gear, and a guide. He was mortal after all. The more he beat himself up, the more danger he was in.
Then he heard a noise at his side and saw his guide, hanging right beside him, without any ropes attached at all, in what had to have been a much more dangerous route. "Relax," says the guide, "focus on your three-foot world."
The guide went on to explain that nothing else matters except the very next move. Put your hand here, your foot there. Move. Repeat. Stay focused on your three-foot world.
Mark did so, completed the climb, and went on to become one of the SEALs who saved Captain Phillips. He also led the team that killed Osama Bin Laden.
Retirement is scary like that. We don't have the training of a Navy SEAL, but we do have the help of experts to guide us on the path. Stay focused on the next step. It might seem insurmountable at times, with all the associated threats and fears and challenges, only some of them are monetary.
For almost all of the challenges we face in life, the money situation will either exacerbate or mitigate the issues. The three-foot world we live in, financially speaking, is basic. Invest some money for the long haul. Spend less than you bring in, and don't do anything stupid.
Mark Owen says SEALs do three things: shoot, move, and communicate. It's not so different, is it, for those of us heading into retirement?
For more on Mark Owen, read one of his books: "No Easy Day" or "No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy Seal."