Lessons in Lead Climbing (Part 2): The Process

I’ve spent the majority of my life en route to the “next thing.” In middle school I wanted to be a teenager. As a teenager I wanted to drive. After my license, I wanted to graduate. Upon graduation, I wanted to be in college, and on and on and on. My goal, until recently, was this: to be there already. Unfortunately, once I got there, and threw myself a micro-victory-party, I quickly moved onto the next thing.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with this. Through my job I’ve met many people who are satisfied with this kind of lifestyle. In some ways it correlates to the American dream, which urges people onto whatever’s next, whatever’s better, whatever’s more than what they have now.

At first, I directly transferred this almost cultural lifestyle to my climbing. I climbed to get stronger. I climbed because I wanted to be a badass. I climbed because wouldn’t it be awesome to someday send a 5.12? Except I wasn’t getting strong fast enough, I certainly didn’t feel like a badass flailing all over the wall on top rope, and 5.12 seemed so flippin’ far out of reach that I quickly grew tired and disheartened and quit. I climbed infrequently and only when someone else suggested it.


Last year I took a three month break from climbing during a particularly challenging time in my life. I needed to figure out what I found valuable, and what characteristics I desired in myself.

I frequently thought about climbing. I missed the sport, but I didn’t miss the way it made me feel. At that point, the challenge put me off. I didn’t want the hard work, the sacrifice of my time, the not being good enough (always with the not being good enough!).

During this time, I also thought about the unsatisfying accomplishments of my previous “goals.” The only goals I’d pursued were the ones that came natural to me. Any activities that built character, perseverance, and dedication were activities I stayed away from. It’s no wonder I stopped climbing. Wanting to be even remotely better than decent requires all those things I’d never given myself the opportunity to learn.

I had no idea what I was capable of.


When I finally returned to the gym I immediately noticed a difference. The holds felt wonderful beneath my palms. The movement was natural and uninhibited. My footwork was precise and thoughtful.

Of course, this only lasted a few climbs until I was pumped out of my mind and my hands were completely raw. But it was clear to me that something changed in those three months. It wasn’t about getting stronger (which was a bonus), and it wasn’t about being cool, and it definitely wasn’t about climbing 5.12 (although that eventually came…HOORAY!!!!!!); it was simply about climbing. It became the community and the friendships, the movement, the sense of accomplishment, the feel of rock against my gnarly calloused hands. It became the sense of freedom, of courage, of facing fear and failure. It became a journey, one that I will continue for as long as I love it.

For me, climbing, and everything else in life, isn’t about the end goal, it’s about the process to get there. We spend 99% of our lives in process, and we don’t take the time to enjoy it. The first 25 years of my life were spent like this—in discontent, always reaching and aiming and dreaming of the next thing. Now I take the time to think about my goals, about what direction I want my life to take and what I have to accomplish in order to get there, but more importantly, I enjoy the minor day-to-day struggles and victories because collectively they are as important (if not even slightly more) than what lies ahead.

Happy climbing!


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