The Lessons I Learned from Climbing
I couldn’t imagine how it was possible for me. Until I made it.
I’ve always been scared of heights.
At the same time, I’ve always been attracted by rocks. Inaccessible walls to me.
At 49, I started climbing, after years of occasional safe hiking.
In the beginning, it’s been extremely difficult. I couldn’t afford a few feet off the ground. The fear was unbearable.
Anybody could easily reach the top without concerns.
My physical traits didn’t help, and still don’t help. Too tall and too heavy.
But I wanted to make it.
And I made it.
The fear, especially when I have to go down, when you’re hanging on the rope, and your life depends on your partner down below and everything being in perfect condition, is there. It’s always there, for me. Too much of it. My stomach knows well.
But it doesn’t matter. All that I want, in front of a crag, is to climb it. It was a dream for me. I’m now 50. Time to climb.
And I learned three essential lessons for my life too.
This is the most obvious lesson, but it’s damn true. Unless you have inescapable constraints, you can bet it’s possible.
It doesn’t happen overnight, of course. A lot can get in the way, but what you want is possible if you hack the major obstacle: yourself.
You may not fully control your fear. But you can avoid to feed it. You can check everything, and tell your mind that it’s okay. You can go step by step. You can get used to situations. You can ask for help and advice in the process. You can control your fear up to the point that it doesn’t get in the way. Will is power. You can fight fear, together with other limiting conditions, if you want.
Climbing is not my first experience of intentional change. I went through more drastic changes. Remember I’m 50.
If you want, you can.
One foot at a time
I can’t think of any activity where one foot at a time is truer.
You don’t climb dozens of feet high. You climb one foot. The next one.
At the ground, you plan the whole thing, if necessary. When you climb, you plan the next few feet, and you climb only the next one.
You’re totally focused on the immediate task. Gain one foot of height. It may be difficult. It may require to change perspective, to change the balance of your weights. If you’re in a tiring position, it should be quick. But, unless exceptions, it’s one foot.
After that foot, everything changes. You’re in a new position. New possibilities. New risks. A little bit closer to your goal.
When your immediate next foot seems impossible, you have to put everything in it. When you make it, the situation may change for the better. Or not, and another foot will be difficult. But you’re one foot higher.
Your goals can be huge, but everything boils down to the next task. Repeat your effort, and you’ll reach the top. Hard as that. Simple as that.
When a high wall is above, especially if you’re a novice like me, it feels insurmountable. You feel impotent. You feel stupid for having put yourself in that position.
So, you prepare for the next move. Only the next move. You move your foot, the hands grabbed to too small handhold, and you feel that you can’t do it. It won’t support the weight of your body. Your fingers can’t afford it.
This is the moment you have two options.
You can renounce, and that’s what I usually did when I started.
This way, you not only renounce to an opportunity, but you’re capping your growth. If you don’t make that next step, you won’t grow. If you don’t risk to fail, you can’t risk succeeding.
Risk is there because you’re doing something that’s not easy for everybody. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be a goal. No rewards.
The other option is to try. You don’t want to risk life, of course. If you’re way unprepared, try with a more accessible challenge. If you know you’ll fall, try differently. But if it seems possible, put everything in it. A tiny bit less than everything and you’ll fall. A willing everything and your fingers will hold, and your feet won’t slip. Surprisingly, you’re going up.
You need to see what happens, to learn. Be it a success or a failure. Contain damages, but move.
You need to see the possibility and to believe in it.
Determination will make the difference. The rock knows when you’re hesitant.
Life knows when you fear to fail and you’re not putting everything in your venture.
Don’t fail. Place protections. If you fail, it will hurt. And, sooner or later, it will happen. But you need to try. No effort, no gain. No risk, no growth.
Believe that it’s possible, take the next step, put the effort in it, and…
Well, I should say “you’ll reach the top” here, but it sounds blatant.
I’ll say… You won’t regret it.
Originally published at https://www.narrative.org on June 5, 2019.