How A Firewalk Experience Challenged Our Tenzing Team, And How We Rose To That Challenge
By Karen Falcon
Every so often I get a ‘lived reminder’, an experience if you like, that reminds me that I may be the one standing in my own way. It challenges me to ask, ‘What could I free myself from? What am I stopping myself doing? What would be the benefit of looking at this challenge differently?’
The firewalk I undertook with my company, Tenzing, offered me that insight.
Terrifying at first.
Exhilarating in the moment.
Thought provoking afterward.
And ultimately, an experience that I was privileged to share with my co-workers. One that we continue to talk about and find unexpected insights from.
Tenzing is a private equity firm that invests in tech and tech enabled companies. Within the company, I lead the Altitude Academy, supporting and helping everyone people to be the very best version of themselves, as well as helping them support others.
Each month we have team events, usually a ‘social’, so the idea of a Firewalk was without doubt at the top of the ‘crazy things to do’ list. That said, now a new standard has been set, who knows what we will do next!
When I heard that we were going to do a firewalk with a dinner afterward, I immediately decided that I would not walk, but I would join to support the team.
I mean walking fire just sounded crazy!
There were other members of the team too, who had also decided that like me, ‘no I won’t be doing that, cheering on from the sidelines, yes. But walking fire? No.’
As I had decided I was not going to firewalk, I would just attend to support the team, I didn’t Google it or really think about it too much. That was probably a good thing.
Once we arrived at Ealing Studios, we were taken into a room overlooking where the firewalk would take place and the seminar began.
I wasn’t expecting a seminar, I had thought we would just, you know, firewalk.
When it was time, we went outside and for some inexplicable reason, remember I am NOT firewalking, and I was given the honour of lighting the fire.
Returning to the room, the training intensified, the skies darkened as sunset approached and the fire that was just 25m away from us, seemed to glow brighter.
It was like we were all on some journey, literally and metaphorically, to gather and unleash our collective and individual strength and courage.
I began to realise that I was buying into this, and I could feel everyone else in the room doing the same.
During the training we also did a glasswalk, which seemed equally impossible to me – walking across 350 broken bottles barefoot.
Our CEO made the mistake of sharing that he had some apprehension around it which obviously meant that Chris, our trainer, would insist that he walked first.
We all watched as he paused in front of the glass, weighing it all up. Said apprehension being present.
Then he took his first step.
The sound of crunching and breaking glass silenced the room.
Then a second step.
More breaking glass.
Then a third.
And before we knew it, he was across the glasswalk and the room erupted in cheers.
We each followed, and my own glasswalk was unbelievable, it was so smooth and easy.
Even now in the office we talk about it, ‘surely it wasn’t real glass? Was it magic?’
But it was. And of course, none of us were cut at all.
We had collectively reached a turning point. If we can walk glass, maybe we can walk fire too.
It was then that I made the unthinkable decision. ‘Yes! I would walk the fire tonight!’
And everyone else who also harboured doubts, or who had decided they were not going to walk, all were won over during the training.
The stories, the drama, the music… all of it seemed to unlock part of us that felt unstoppable. Even our CEO Guy, who had decided ahead of time that he probably wouldn’t firewalk, not only did he do it, he did it three times!
When it came to my walk, my heart raced and I could feel the intensity of the heat on my legs.
But I remembered the training, focussed, took a deep breath and took a step into the unknown.
I am delighted to report that everyone from Tenzing who attended, all walked that hot summer night! Some two or three times too.
Looking back now, one of the biggest outcomes for us has been confronting our own bias about something, before actually having the experience.
So many of us had a negative bias toward the idea of firewalking and yet, once we overcame that barrier, once we committed, not only was it much easier than expected, it also unlocked the potential for it to be enjoyable, even fun.
We also learned about focus too, and about taking smaller steps to achieve our goals. In our business we can become too complex, and when we step back now, and focus on a simpler process, suddenly we are finding we can achieve a more, sometimes even faster. Those were those slow and considered steps of the glasswalk.
Personally, I was moved by the team effort, which was extraordinary. Everyone participated, cheered each other on and celebrated, no matter their position in the company.
One other thing that resonated with me was how the environment and focus really helped messaging land with greater gravity.
We all see memes and hear upbeat messages, and we intellectually know that they are true, but somehow they bounce off us.
During the firewalk, those same messages seemed to penetrate and resonate way more.
As a company, it’s really helped us move from talking about things that we know, into putting those same things into more regular practice, sometimes giving up our own resistance and discovering new opportunities on the other side.
Since the firewalk, the whole experience has been quite the topic of conversation in the office. There are team members who were unable to attend who after hearing the stories, who wish they could have been there. That said, the conversation around it is so elevated that they can also feel the glow of the benefits.
We shared a pretty unique life experience on the firewalk and collectively, we pushed through resistance and fear to discover that not only could we do walk fire, but we could do it twice or even three times, and that actually, we could really enjoy it too.
As a team we are now looking around at what we do, day to day, and investigating and challenging any barriers that we may have put in front of us, to see if we can overcome them. Spoiler, we have found that we usually can.
It has definitely created a bond between us all at Tenzing and it reminds us to keep asking ‘what is it that we are not doing that we could be doing?’
Would I do it again? Well, now that I know how to stand like Wonder Woman, Firewalking would not be too big a challenge. I wonder what will be next for our monthly social event?!
Karen is the Performance and Development Lead and is responsible for supporting people to develop and meet their goals. She focuses on helping the team at Tenzing through the Altitude Academy, our in-house learning hub, and the performance development process.
Work-life began as a secondary geography teacher in Hampshire, which developed to Head of Geography and Head of Humanities. She had a ‘side job’ as a sailing coach of regional and national sailing squads, and the two worlds combined when she started coaching the coaches. Her willingness to say “yes” to new opportunities saw her teach the secondary geography PGCE at the University of Southampton, become the Hampshire Advisor and Inspector for Geography and support the coaches at Leicester Tigers and in the British Sailing Team.
Karen joined Tenzing in 2022 after a chance conversation with Christian that matched what Guy and Christian were looking for with a possible answer. Karen’s role has developed from day one, and when the opportunity came to work more regularly with a team of people who are driven to continually learn and develop, she grabbed it.