During our interview, Kathleen Arnold, Office Manager for Rope Works, Mountain Climber, shares how relying on God has kept her and others safe while she’s worked at height on ropes. She also shares how she found her job, trusted in God to help her company grow, why she likes climbing, and why commitment and equanimity are important in her career and in mountain climbing.
What does Rope Works do?
It’s rock climbers gone professional. Our company works at height on ropes on structures. We work on buildings, wind turbines (the windmills you see in the deserts), and dams, such as Hoover Dam, the San Francisco Bridge, the NY Brooklyn Bridge. Our purpose is to gain access to things up high by using ropes, which allows people to do their jobs. For instance, we took an engineer up on the Brooklyn Bridge so he could do an inspection for the Department of Transportation.
What do you do with the company?
Currently, I’m the office manager. But Rope Works tries not to have any titles. What’s neat about the company is that it’s democratic. We can all answer any questions that come up. It’s an open-book company. For instance, all the employees can see the finances. I’ve been the accounting manager, the sales manager, the HR manager, and a rope access technician -- a field person who goes out and does work on ropes at height.
What’s your primary concern when working with people at height?
When I’m the one working on the rope, and especially when I’m with a client who hasn’t worked at height before, I’m always double checking to make sure that all of the safeties are attached to the rope so there can’t be any room for human error. You always double check so that you know that that person is secure, whether it’s your client or your co-worker. I’m always double checking my own stuff to make sure that the others are attached to me in the right way so that I can bring them down safely.
Have there ever been any problems?
I have rescued people when they needed to be rescued. We had a situation where we were up high and had to get someone down very quickly, which we did. There’s constriction working in a harness. Sometimes the environment is such that it can cause people to lose consciousness. We have one client, a water company, where we have to work in pipes underground. The slopes can be tremendous, and the space is difficult for breathing; it’s confined and claustrophobic. People have passed out. So I’ve had to be in control, remain calm, and take one step at a time to get them out successfully.
How do you pray about such risky situations? Are there any experiences you can share?
I always pray the 91st Psalm whenever I’m going on my own climb or one for work. We’re dealing with safety on a day-in-day-out basis, especially when we ’re at height, under ground, or even in questionable environments. Sometimes we’re going onto structures that can emit gasses that aren’t good for anyone -- oil refineries, epoxy on the wind turbines, or gasses in pipes.
For this one job I had, we were in a sphere doing an inspection. I knew I didn’t want to breathe the environment. I knew with all my heart and soul and being that the whole team and our client shouldn’t be there. But the client needed the job done. I was pretty nervous about the toxic environment. So I prayed a hymn that is set to Beethoven’s "Ode to Joy": “Father, we Thy loving children / Lift our hearts in joy today, / Knowing well that Thou wilt keep us / Ever in Thy blessed way.”
By calming my thought, I was able to go ahead and work very closely with the client and accomplish the job much more efficiently than we had been doing. Everyone was aware of the situation; everyone was calm; and we just worked very well together. We ended up finishing the project two days early. It was cool. I know that I had the necessary focus from calming myself with prayer. The psalm, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety” (4:8), was very helpful.
How did you come into this job?
I prayed about it. I was working for a real estate firm, and I was unhappy. I felt that a little part of my soul was withering away every day. So I listened to God to find out where I needed to be. One day on a bike ride, a friend of mine told me about this company looking for someone to run finances. Though I didn’t know a thing about finances, I read their mission statement and core values and found that they were in agreement with mine. They believed in a balance of work and play, career and family life. So I applied for the job, and they offered it to me. When I told them I didn’t have any accounting experience, they said they didn’t care; they were hiring me for me; I could learn the finance stuff, which I did. It’s been a good match for me and the business. But it’s not been without its ups and downs and some strife or trials.
What have been some of the challenges?
When I first came on board, they weren’t profitable, which I didn’t realize until I started working for them. With every payroll, I wondered where I was going to get the money to pay the staff. For the first six months, I was really struggling. I had come from a company that was very solid financially. Though I took a pay cut to take this job, I felt so right about the work I was doing. Making a lot of money doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. I was fulfilled by doing something I enjoyed in a healthy environment. Still, there needed to be a change.
I went to the owner and told him I was not okay with how the business was going and asked him if we could come up with a business plan (there wasn’t one) to try to get money in the bank and become profitable. He was very willing, open, and receptive; he said he would work towards it, but nothing would come of it. So initially I was afraid; I didn’t know where our paychecks were going to come from. I decided to stop doubting. I realized it was the owner’s responsibility. He’s a very moral and ethical business owner, and I knew he was doing his best. I knew he was going to do it right. So I started trusting. Four or five months into working for the company, checks would come in the mail every week that would meet our needs. I was so grateful. The business started growing.
How did you start trusting when the situation looked so bleak?
I just let it all go. I had to let go of forcing my own human will -- me making something work. That was the biggest lesson I learned. I relied on God’s will being done, not on my own will, as we read in the Bible. I remember, too, that the owner seemed to push and push and push. He knows that I study the Bible, so one time I talked with him and said, “It seems like you’re really trying to will this business. Instead of pushing humanly, what can we do to step back and see the business unfold, let go instead of push?”
So did the business unfold?
Yes. It seemed to me that the owner didn’t really want to commit to growing the business. After a couple of years, it came to a point where I asked him if he wanted to commit. I wanted to take it to the next level by building a training center. Just working on Hoover or Parker Dam, just using other clients’ facilities to train, was not going to help us grow. After about a month, he said he wanted to grow, and that became a collective decision. So I was praying about the location of the training center. One day on a bike ride, I rode by a warehouse. I called up the owner: “I think I found the place we want to be.” I was receptive to the right idea and was obedient in following through with the idea. He was receptive. We didn’t push. It just unfolded. We moved into the warehouse.
How important is commitment in your career and in mountain climbing?
To me, commitment is your foundation. Once you commit to something, you are empowered to accomplish anything, any goal or task, no matter how little or big it is. But if you’re wishy-washy, you’re pretty much setting yourself up for failure at the outset. One of my favorite statements, which I’ve used a lot in business and in climbing, is from William Hutchinson Murray, a famous mountain climber, who said:
Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.
To me, once you commit yourself, you have all the power on your side -- self power, which is good, but more importantly, you have God’s power. And no matter what comes along, a snow storm or a tough situation, you’re going to learn from it because you’ve committed to the climb, to the goal. You’re looking up, not down. You’re confident, not doubting. When you’re looking down, it can be scary. But when I’m looking up at a climb, nothing seems daunting. It’s more: “Cool, there’s a mountain and a climb; let’s go up.”
What do you enjoy about mountain climbing?
Lots of things! I love being outdoors and seeing things from a different perspective. Climbing is a metaphor for life: it gives you lots of different challenges which you have to figure out. Since there’s no exact one way to climb the face of a mountain or to go through life, it’s all about being open and receptive to whatever is necessary for you to learn and grow. It’s very peaceful and harmonious. Some people are afraid of heights, but for me, I’ve always enjoyed finding a balance -- overcoming fear in what can be perceived as a stressful situation. I love the word “equanimity” because it means “calmness or evenness of mind or temper under stress.” The one thing you can do under any given situation is to stay calm. Climbing is probably my favorite thing to do. It’s very spiritual. There’s a lot of freedom, too.