The three foot rule…

rock wall

This isn’t post about proximity…unless you mean proximity to things that stress you out!

I read a great book this week from the perspective of a navy SEAL. He detailed several missions (some heavily redacted) and went through what key lessons he learned from each one. There were general suggestions about being a team player, what that meant to a SEAL, and some that were were specific.“No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy Seal” was written by a SEAL, and it makes for easy reading.

Mark Owen  (pen name for Matt Bissonette) who is just worth googling himself, had a fear of heights but went to great lengths to overcome it. He was aware that his weakness, any weakness, could compromise a mission at any given moment. One of his early training exercises was to climb a giant rock wall, whose” shadow of this wall seemed to stretch on for miles.”. While climbing, he decided to do it in his own way. They were told to place their cams, the tools jammed into crevices that would catch them if they fell, every ten feet, but Mark placed them every 5 thinking that if he were to fall he would only fall those few feet.

Having used entirely too many camming devices he ran out and was essentially, stuck, not quite half way there. He then made the mistake of  looking at something other than the rock face in front of him, and realized how high up he was. Starting to panic, his struggle was obvious. Luckily his guide had noticed what he had been doing and he scampered over all the extra cams he’d collected from below him. He then offered him a brilliant piece of advice. 

He completed the rest of the climb easily, by only thinking about each three feet in front of him as he finished.

You can’t do anything about what is behind you. You can’t worry about what is ahead of you. The best thing you can do is worry about where you are RIGHT now. It is liberating once you let go of things you can’t control. This advice seems to work for just about every situation.

Transitioning this summer from AP to Principal, I completely feel the panic of the wall ahead of me. Am I going to know what to do every day? What about tricky situations? How do I be the very best first year principal in the history of the world?!?

But that advice…”Stay in your three feet world.” is so powerful. I need to focus on the now, on preparing, on learning all that I can about my new campus, on getting situated…and then when the future gets here…I’ll handle it in the same “three feet world” style.

Wall climbing,



  1. Thomas Smith said:

    As I struggle to even get an interview to become an AP, this article helped me understand that I have to become the best at my “three feet” so that when I get an interview that I can impress them. I think that I have been worried do much about trying to get to the administration level that I forget that my job right now is an important part of me being recognized.
    Thanks for the article.

    June 30, 2015
  2. Lisa said:

    This is a great article! Keeping things in perspective and simple is key. In my 12 years as an administrator, I still feel that “wall” in the middle of each August thinking of all that needs to be done or what I think should be done. I then step back and think about what is in that three feet – is there an adult in each room for the students and has each student been assigned to a room with an adult? If so, then I can move on to other things that are critical for the first day of school…we can get pulled in so many directions!!

    June 30, 2015
  3. This was such a helpful post. I keep thinking of the “three foot rule” and have shared the perspective with family members who are facing important learning challenges.

    July 10, 2015
  4. Eva Harvell said:

    Great post! The “three foot rule” is something we should remind ourselves daily.

    July 17, 2015

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