I think that it’s undeniably in our nature to want to do things that we’re good at. The problem is getting too comfortable within the realm of what we are good at and never pushing past boundaries WE create. And if we’re responsible for creating our own perimeters, then why is so hard to move beyond them? I’m no psychologist, but I know that the majority of the reasons why I DON’T do things is based out of one thing: fear.
It’s an ugly word. Uglier than moist, leech, visceral, and obstreperous COMBINED.
I’ve always believed that being brave isn’t necessarily the absence of fear; it’s about being scared and not giving in. The need to challenge myself should always be greater than my desire to be good at something and any fears I’ve successfully built up in my head. But this is something I have to remind myself from time to time – and by that, I mean every single day.
I don’t remember this at all, but when I was a kid, I used to swim at the local Y. There was a relay race and my aunt told me I’d finished before all of the boys. I’d gotten out of the pool, handed her my goggles and said, “I quit.” and walked off to the locker rooms. I think that I was 6 or 7.
After having worked with kids for the past two years, I’ve successfully taken 15 plus (ages 2 through 12) rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders. My current goal is to convert at least one of them so that I have a rope gun in the next decade or so – I figure by then they’ve got to have tendons made of kevlar. And in a decade, we can go rock climbing, and then THEY can take ME out for ice cream.
The interesting thing that I’ve noticed after two years is that despite their age or capability, little kids are resolutely fearless. They are completely without fear. Bold. Brave. Intrepid little chicken nuggets. And I have to ask myself, when exactly does this change and what gets in our way? One of my kids quit a couple of recreational after school activities this year and she told me that the reason why was because she “wasn’t good at them”. She’s about 9 years old.
Maybe becoming more self-aware as we get older comes with realizing we are limited in what we do. I’m not saying this should go hand in hand with growing up, but the more worldly experience we add to our memoir, the more inhibitions and self-judgement we discover or create for ourselves. Adults are always telling kids what we “should” or “shouldn’t do”. (I’ve been guilty of this, and every time I catch myself I want to slap my brain a little bit. Who am I to tell a kid to stop being a kid?!) When we’re little, we’re too busy creating our own reality to give too much thought to what anybody else thinks. It’s why I’m so jealous of my dog: all she has to worry about who is going to walk and feed her, which frees up the rest of her time to do what she wants (think about belly rubs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pizza and bones).
If you create your own universe with your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, then aren’t you the god of your own universe? Kids are so great about creating their own realities, but for some reason it isn’t always transferable into adulthood. Or it isn’t that it can’t be transferable, it’s just that sometimes, we forget.
Maybe the trick is to become more self-aware and realize that we create our own limitations – nobody else is responsible for that. I think that that knowledge is powerful, and it’s how to reclaim our own power. The “not good enough” belief gets so deep-seated that it can be paralyzing. That’s no way to live…
There’s a difference between not being good enough (and by that, I mean physically strong enough – something you can always get to be with time) and thinking you’re not good enough. I’m still uncovering the subtleties between these two, every day. I ended the 2014 season on east coast rock in the Gunks a few weeks ago. For almost a year, I’ve been thinking about leading To Be or Not To Be (5.11R/5.12a X?). I was upstate with Kevin Riley and we simply had the best two days climbing cold rock I’ve had in the Gunks in a while.
We raged the Mac Wall and warmed up on the first pitch of Birdie Party (a 5.8 and one of my first Gunks leads) and then Kevin got on Mother’s Day Party (5.10b, his first Gunks 10). Birdie is one of my FAVORITE 8s in the Gunks. It’s one of those climbs I will do again and again because it’s so wildly fantastic and a solid climb at the grade. There was a period of time where I was hating on 8s in the Gunks and would back off of them (I have yet to redeem myself on Absurdland, a classic three star 5.8. I’d like to blame February temps, and I remember thinking I would break my ankles on the first low crux).
Birdie’s first pitch has great moves on the face before it has you traversing over to a thin crack and continuing upward to bolts. The first pitch of Mother’s Day is an amazing climb on solid gear, with quite possibly one of the most fun cruxes I have ever climbed through on the Mac Wall. The last time I’d been on Mother’s, I was on the sharp end with Natal in our attempt to climb 30 pitches of 5.10 in November 2013. I’d climbed it many times before, but I took a huge fall at the crux and repeated my attempt over and over again. My brain didn’t understand how tired my body actually was at the end of pitch 14, and it was a good lesson in bonking. (Ask me how I climbed in a circle on Graveyard Shift some day!)
We moved on to Coexistence (5.10d, also known as Coex) where I’d belayed Matt O’Connor last season. Matt was one of my biggest inspirations as a climbing partner, and I’m lucky to have had almost three seasons in the Gunks with him as both a friend and mentor. He led Coex on all passive and I’ve always wanted to do the same. I think I took a few squeezies up with me, per Kevin’s request (and I’m glad I had them with me). But the beautiful thing about this line is that after you make it to the ledge, it will take nuts the entire way up; AWESOME.
I tiptoe-reached the largest stopper I had with me before clipping the pin. The overhang is the crux of the climb, and where Mother’s crux is fun, this one has ALWAYS felt desperate. I was unsure of pulling the overhang with how tired and pumped I was but the universe smiled on me and showed me a perfect knee bar rest. (I’ve climbed Coex several times and I still can’t believe I’d never found that damn rest! I’m bewildered as to how I could have missed it all of the times before.)
Sunday was supposed to be a warmer day with the promise of more sun. After our standard breakfast at the Last Bite (Kevin said, “Your friend Scott knows how to make a mean egg.”), we moseyed to the Nears. Like I said, I’ve been talking a lot of talk about how “some day, one day”, I’m going to lead TBNTB. I’ve done it a few times on TR and, knowing that today was not a project day, I was happy to run a few laps and play with my gear beta.
After I was done bitching about my lack of ball nuts and black tri-cams and three runs on TR, the climb started feeling……good.
So we pulled the rope.
And I still felt good.
And I didn’t feel worked up or frightened. I felt ready.
I remember earlier in the season, Sam Cervantes and I had such an awesome time TRing TBNTB and working on beta and gear together. I was reminded that spring day why the climber’s spirit is so much fun and full of love after hanging out with Sam.
That leftover feeling from that day was with me when I tied my bowline into my harness with Kevin. Moments before, I was still not sure if this was something I was ready to try. At the end of the day, I told Kevin that I would have been okay with walking away because I didn’t think I could do it (or that I didn’t think I could do it safely). In the end, I would have been so much more disappointed with myself had I walked away because I let fear get the best of me. I re-watched Randy Pausch’s last lecture again the other night, and this has always stuck out to me:
“Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”
Being afraid is another brick wall we have to smash through to prove how much we want it.
No kidding aside, with all of my focus shifted recently to cracks and off-widths, I was mildly concerned I’d forgotten how to face climb. To Be has three cruxes all together and one nasty run out with ground fall potential. The first time I’d ever TR’d was with Scott, and when I was lowered to the ground, he said to me, “You blew the first crux.”
I looked down and said, “Yeah, I know.”
“You blew the first crux, but you sailed through the other two.”
The seed was planted and I knew I wanted it. Sometimes, I get really fixated on things and it’s not like I have a bucket list of climbs that I feel like I need to tick off. I don’t want to do something to be able to say that I did it – it’s more that I want to KNOW in my heart that I can. And the only way to know is to try.
The last piece of gear before the bear hug was amazingly bomber – and with the reassurance that Kevin could run backwards pretty fast if I blew it, I took my get ready breath as my hands fingered pebbles of chalk, breaking each one into tiny explosions. And then nothing. I did exactly what we’d rehearsed three times prior. I didn’t think about my gear below. I didn’t think about the step up high move, I just stepped up high. I hugged the bear. I slapped high with my right – and for a moment, was unsure if it stuck or not – and crimped with my left. I didn’t think about anything, anything at all.
I just kept moving. Up and up and up. Plugged a piece, held on tightly to a crimp rail (even bigger than the razor sharp ones coming up next) to plug in one more. Then all of the thoughts came rushing back, specifically the: “I AM SO PUMPED OUT OF MY MIND” thought. IGNORE IT. I took what little rest I could with my left heel hooked by my first piece. IGNORE IT. And I shot out right to an edge. And another. And another. And then found that perfect foot to stand up on. And another. And another. Then the last crimp (“Ifyoublowithereyou’retotallysafethegearisgoodnow”, I’m not even sure if that was a thought or a feeling I allowed myself to have). And then the good crimp. And then I felt like screaming at the top of my lungs as I let out a “whaaahoooo!”
The only way I’m ever going to be good at anything is by being bad at it for a while, and trying over and over again. My comfort zone isn’t a bad or a good place to be, it just IS a place to be. But nothing will change if I live there forever. There’s this amazing quote I’ve been telling myself every morning when I wake up: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
Everything you want is on the other side of fear.
I’ve spent the past few years getting cozy in my comfort zone, preparing and processing the things to come if and when I leave it. That’s good. Calculated risks are okay.
2015 is around the corner but it already feels like a new beginning, to me. I’m saying goodbye to false illusions that keep me trapped and limited. They’re my illusions, and I’ve owned them long enough to know that they belong in a big box with the rest of the “you shoulds” (“you should” go to a good school, get married and have kids by age x, own a home and be able to support a family, have a respectable job with salary and dental).
The biggest thing I am letting go of this year is the belief that I am not good enough. It’s a judgement I think we’re all too familiar with placing on ourselves. The fear that we’re not good enough comes from both our own beliefs and those of others who also influence our lives. Nothing about this life is about being “good enough”. It’s about trying the best that you can. It’s about embracing your inner child and getting back in touch with your own inner nature. It’s about breaking barriers and seeing what’s on the other side.
This year? I’m learning to trust myself to make the right decisions, rediscovering that we are both capable of and responsible for creating our own realities, and reintroducing my heart with my head. I think that there’s more success in all of these things than any send, any day.