Life lessons from climbing

I used to be afraid of heights. Then a friend of a friend invited me rock climbing. Why not? That was ten years ago. I’m no longer afraid of heights. I’ve learnt a lot about climbing and also a lot about myself in that time. Many of these lessons apply to life as well:

Find your own way. There is no one way of tackling a climb that fits everyone. We are all different heights, weights, and have different strengths and weaknesses. What works for one person does not always work for another.

Treat difficulties as puzzles that CAN be solved. Brute force approaches rarely work in climbing. Be creative. Experiment with different approaches. Get comfortable failing (falling) safely. Stay positive.

Focus on the little moments. Nothing washes away the stresses of the week like focusing 100% on a climb. Concentrate on every individual move. They are all important. Breathe. Take time to notice how your body and mind are reacting.

The challenge is with the climb, not anyone else. Climbing isn’t a competition so don’t compare yourself to others. Learn from others by all means but remember to focus your energy on developing your own unique set of skills and strengths.

Learn by teaching. Nothing solidifies learning like trying to describe or teach something to someone else. Share your passion with friends, family, and strangers. Be prepared to field some awkward questions that challenge your knowledge and assumptions. Say, “I don’t know” and use this as fuel for more learning.

Find ways to rest and recharge when you can. Give the muscles a rest and get that lactic acid out. Before, during and after climbing. Pace yourself or you will burnout. Planning a few moves ahead will help you pick your rest spots.

Don’t fight the fear. Climbing is often scary. What is up there? Can I cope? What will happen if…? These are healthy, sensible thoughts. Be comfortable with these uncomfortable feelings. Welcome them. Get to know them and their causes. And, when you have settled, proceed regardless. Don’t think too much. Action and progress build confidence and momentum. Doubt does not.

Dare to dream. That really hard climb you’ve seen the sponsored guy on? One day. Keep developing your skills. Slowly. Stubbornly. Quietly. Patience. As Shakespeare said, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”

Enjoy the view from the top. Chances are you’ve sweated, sworn, and maybe bled on the way up. Not everyone gets to experience the view you’ve earned. Breathe it in. Celebrate your successes.

Happy climbing everyone.

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Rob is a consultant, technologist, facilitator and outdoorsman. He lives with his wife in Henley-on-Thames.

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