Conquistadors of the Useless, or Pursuers of Passion?

 

“Don’t try to change the world, find something that you love
And do it every day
Do that for the rest of your life
And eventually, the world will change.”

––Growing Up, by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Millennials get a lot of flack.

We’re dubbed lazy, entitled, useless.

Our work ethic is questioned, our desire to live in vans reviled, and our love for the outdoors?

Useless.

But is it?

I’ve wrestled with this question late at night with wine in hand, mile 7 of a trail run, and over countless cups of coffee. It’s clear that our society, so centrically created around capitalism, values what we produce. In fact, so often, our value is determined solely on what we create.

In terms of money, it’s easy to define. As a society, we value wealth, and those of us who choose to claw our way up the corporate ladder will, usually, be rewarded for our time and dedication to the man. Whoever he is.

This idea is something I understand well. Working my way through secondary and higher education, I knew following a specific path would ensure my success. I knew how to do exactly what I was told to do.

I soon realized, though, like many of us do, that continuing to pursue that life would be empty. While the security of money is nice, and up to a certain threshold ($75,000 to be exact), can actually make you happier, sacrificing happiness to get to that point isn’t necessarily worth it.

So, when I chose to study creative writing in college, I knew I was setting myself up for societal failure.

 

When I decided I wanted to focus my efforts on writing in the outdoor industry, I laughed at my silly masochistic self.

Because if writing isn’t enough to sustain yourself, or prove your worth in society, playing outdoors is even worse.

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Desert trail and sandstone towers in Moab, UT

My feelings of uselessness increased the more time I spent outside. Days passed without a single thing to show. I hadn’t written anything. I hadn’t changed anyone’s life. I certainly hadn’t made any money.

But I felt so much happier.

What came next was an energy for preserving our wild and beautiful places. This energy evolved into passion, which included writing to government officials and advocating for public land.

It still made me wonder if spending all this time outside––climbing, skiing, running, and whatever else––was actually worthwhile.

As it appears, rock climbing is useless. And despite various attempts to justify the sport, many people continue to agree that nothing good comes from climbing rocks.

It might be true for some people. Maybe there is an entire branch of the climbing community that doesn’t see the value of public lands, refuses to attend crag clean-ups, and will go on their merry way never giving back to the community.

Beneath their inability and lack of desire to give back, however, lay the seeds of passion.

Although I don’t know many (if any) people in the climbing community who do not care about anything and anyone besides themselves, there is something within them that draws them to the sport. This passion, I believe, is exactly what the world needs.

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Anger, resentment, jealousy––these emotions often stem from an experience in our lives that told us we couldn’t. Whether it was society, our parents, our significant other, or a complete stranger. At some (or many) points, we decided to let someone see the fragile, brilliant dream inside of us, and they laughed, or doubted, or overran us with their sarcasm.

Along the way, so much of our passion died because of doubt.

What I love about the climbing community is that “no” isn’t a reasonable answer, and we continually rise to a challenge. We spend our summers waking before the sun, and our autumns climbing in headlamps, because we just want the thing to go. We spend days, weeks, months, sometimes years, climbing the same damn route because we’re too stubborn to admit defeat. We suffer flesh wounds, centipede bites, rock fall, numb toes, tendonitis, rolled ankles, broken ankles, whippers, and thirty-foot run-outs.

In climbing, we shape our character, we define what is and isn’t possible, and we refuse to back down.

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Red Rocks, NV

The same is true of any sport. It’s in the face of adversity that character and resiliency grow. So maybe, on the surface, climbing seems useless.

After all, we’re spending years of our lives hanging off the side of cliffs.

But when you look into the benefits the sport creates, and how the fissures splay throughout our society––the activists it creates, the stories of endurance and the human spirit it tells, the passion it inspires––it’s hard to say the sport is futile.

 

Weekly Round-Up #6

Ever get bored with your gym routine? I know I do. That, or I have no idea where to even begin. Outside Online has some inspiration for you: the kettleball. In this article, Karen Smith, a master kettlebell instructor explains, “A single kettlebell can be used to develop max strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular capacity and power.” Included are four effective and tough kettleball exercises.

This New York Times article is fascinating. It focuses on a new start-up, Unsettled, which organizes retreats in a handful of countries. The retreats are unique in that they’re geared towards working professionals that don’t fit the 9-5 mold. You’re co-living and collaborating. Attending workshops and goals sessions. Exploring the local culture. And creating something meaningful. If it weren’t for the budget-stretching price-tag, I’d be about ten seconds away from booking it myself.

Want to move from processed foods to more home cooking? A few months ago I made my first batch of homemade vegan burgers and they turned out deliciously. This article is a compilation of 35 vegan burger patties that look amazing. Also includes some tips and tricks for getting the patties to stay together. So go ahead, bust out the BBQ!

To be digital, or not to be digital: that is the question. Adventure Journal came out with an article this week detailing some of the best apps to download for the outdoors, from trail finders to mushrooms identifiers. And while I’m becoming more and more accepting (and moving towards embracing) the role technology plays in the outdoors, I’m still a diehard lover of the paper version. Even if that means a few extra pounds in my pack. It’s weight training, after all, right?

The Chasm Between Social Media and Real Life

A few years ago, NPR aired a story about the rise of our discontentment as it relates to the rise of social media. My generation isn’t numb to these effects, in fact, we are arguably the most affected by it.

The rise of social media outlets and our obsession with, and dedication to them, has shown us just how much is possible for our lives. We’re well past the days where word of first ascents came a month later in the American Alpine Journal.

If you’re a woman who wants to be a CEO or a man who wants to be a homemaker, you can find at least one other person who’s done what you’re setting out to do, and find comfort in knowing you aren’t alone.

Literally, anything is possible.

For this, I am so thankful for Facebook, Instagram, Google, and other sites like them. I can figure out who came before me and what they did to get there. I can hop on Instagram, search a hashtag, and find a burst of inspiration to get my butt in the gym.

Along with the good, however, comes the bad.

Like how many times I feel shitty about myself because I don’t feel like I’m doing enough. I have a job and other things I love to do and I’m not out climbing or skiing or running everyday. And the problem with Instagram is it makes it seem like everybody else is.

So many accounts, my own included, display an ongoing stream of outdoor photos, and it’s time to confess: that’s not my whole life.

Don’t get me wrong, I wish it was, and I hope someday it will be. I hope someday I can make enough to set out with my husband and our future dog in tow. But until then, I think it’s important to be honest.

So I decided that going forward I’m going to be real.

For example:

I binge watch The Great British Baking Show.

I scroll through Facebook until my eyeballs hurt.

I rarely read a novel through the first time.

Sometimes I literally groan as I enter the gym.

I get scared when I’m lead climbing.

I get even more scared on multi-pitches.

I love to cook.

Sometimes I take four hour naps on sunny days.

I’m still overcoming my irrational fear of bears.

Some days I feel sad and overwhelmed by my dreams.

I often feel lost.

I consistently question my ability to write or climb or ski.

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops.

I am the definition of a work in progress.

What I’m trying to say is this, before you put yourself up against everyone else on Instagram and Facebook, give yourself some credit for being human, and then some more for all that you’re doing already.

It’s weird and beautiful to be human, and it’s important to recognize that in ourselves and everyone around us.