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Catholic Teacher Blog: Risk & Success

Brendan Nicholls |  11 October 2017

Recently Mr Maximilien Penel, an adventurer from Sydney, ‘highlined’ between two peaks an astonishing 3840m above sea level in the French Alps. Highlining is a contemporary form of tightrope walking. The difference being that instead of a taut cable, a un-tensioned flat piece of webbing an inch wide is used, and no pole is allowed to assist with balance. Maximilien was able to traverse the 250m between the peaks safely, in so doing completed a goal he had set years before and adding his name to a tiny and exclusive list. His achievement offers some insights that we might contemplate and apply in our own lives, particularly our Year 12 students who next week finish up their day-to-day studies and leave to prepare for their final exams.

Although the distance from Maximilien highline rope to the ground was not 3840m, it was an approximate 100m drop if he or his equipment failed! Completing his task at such an altitude is astounding as the lack of oxygen magnifies the difficulty of the task.  Just like Maximilien, we must take some risks if we are to achieve our goals. Sometimes the threat of failure might weigh on our mind, but without some risk, progress cannot be made.

St Ignatius also learnt this as a young man. All of the things he yearned for required him to enter into situations in which the risk was high and the consequences of failure were life-threatening. At Pamplona, the risks caught up with him and after being severely injured he spent many months suffering through an agonising recovery. However, this failure opened a new door, with its own risks and severe consequences if he failed. To become the Saint we celebrate today, Ignatius spent his entire adult life working for ‘the greater glory of God' and in doing so accepted all of the risks involved along the way. 

To achieve success and reap the rewards, we all must accept that failure is a possibility and that the price of failure is worth the risk entered into to achieve the goal set.

Maximilien accepted the risks but did so only after meticulous planning and development of his knowledge and skills. As our students finish their studies, they can be inspired by this example. Maximilien did not wake up one morning, march up Mont Blanc and casually stroll across a piece of rope thrown between two peaks. He spent years preparing in every way for this challenge. He did all that he could to not only ensure success but in fact, guarantee it! Our students have spent six years in secondary education preparing for what is ahead. The task is yet unfinished, and they now have roughly one month to ensure that they achieve their very best, but this is dependent upon these last weeks or planning and preparation.

Maximilien was determined to achieve his goal and committed everything he had to this venture. If he did not it's likely he would not have been successful. St Ignatius had a similar approach. He gave up everything he had previously worked towards to achieve his revised life goal. When he found the true purpose of his life, he did only what was helpful to complete this plan. At Monserrat, he made a decision and committed his entire focus to his plan. His dedication was rewarded not only at Manresa, but also throughout the rest of his life. Our students can apply these concepts to their final weeks of school. Setting a goal, accepting risk, planning for success, making a decision and committing to and sacrificing superfluous things will ensure success, as it did for Maximilien and St Ignatius.

Maximilien had to be patient. The weather in the Alps is fickle and does not offer many opportunities for highlining. St Ignatius also illustrates to us the virtue of patience. In every aspect Ignatius had to be patient, nothing came to fruition swiftly. His greatest achievement was in fact becoming patient with himself. Once he was able to do this, he was then able to proceed and approach the many other hurdles that blocked the path towards him achieving his vision. Each of these barriers required him to again practice patience and build towards success through strategic and timely actions. Our students now are required to do the same. As difficult as being patient may seem, there is nothing that can be done to speed up this time of preparation and anticipation. Patience can also reduce the sense of anxiety that many experience at this time. 

The final lesson Maximilien feat offers us is the most important of all – balance! To succeed the defining attribute was of course balance. Ignatius took a long time to discover this. Many months of solitude and contemplation taught him that peace and contentment could only be achieved through balance. Finding and applying the right amount of time and attention to his relationship with God, studying, inspiring and serving others, and being at peace with himself enabled Ignatius to find the balance required to achieve all that he was able to. Our Year 12’s would do well to seek balance throughout these last weeks. In putting the right amount of energy and time in their study, social lives, exercise, prayer/meditation and monitoring their progression during the weeks leading up to their final exams will be, just as it was for Maximilien and St Ignatius, balance is the most important thing of all!


Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius College, Geelong.

Image: Maximilien Penel traversing the peaks, via highline, at an altitude of 3840m in the French Alps; Photo Credit: Aiden Williams.



Topic tags: heroesandrolemodels, vocationsandlifechoices

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