There is a saying about having the best-laid plans that pretty much concludes that you can’t plan for ridiculousness, which I am a huge advocate of. I’ve never been the kind of person who has been able to make strict life plans and keep them (get married by this age, have kids by that). I think that the idea is at least having a plan B (or acknowledging that one exists, whether you want to use it or not). And sometimes, there simply is no plan (neither long or short-term).
For me, when I go climbing, it isn’t always about mileage and pitches and sends. Once in a while, I go in with a mission, but more often than not, I like to take the time to feel out the day and let it unfold itself the way that it was meant to. That’s what happened last weekend with Scott Albright. We were waiting our turn to warm up on Roseland (5.9). The climbers before us were dealing with a tricky rope issue, which gave us a chance to catch up after a long month of not seeing each other.
I regaled Scott with so many stories of my trips down south that we only climbed two pitches that day, Roseland and Eraserhead (5.12a). Roseland is this really wonderful 5.9 pitch that starts atop a block and climbs a beautiful open book into a slight overhang. The traverse has small ledges that felt good for tiny fingers.
Scott’s turn came, and he racked up for Eraserhead (which is rated R for a good portion of the climb). It was hard to protect. Whiskey Mike told us that a hold had been broken off, making it more difficult.
Then came my time to clean and follow. I pushed past the first part with little difficulty, but when it came to the big bulge move I COULDN’T do it. There is an intermediate crimp hold that Scott skipped and I knew that I might have to use it. Again and again, I fell off of the hold. I knew Scott felt my frustration increasing as I tried to recover from each fall, despite me telling myself that I COULD still push past it and I COULD sink that hold. I couldn’t. Eventually, I gave up.
Not making it to the top of Eraserhead made me feel two things: humbled and hypocritical. I felt hypocritical because I feel like I’m constantly emphasizing how important it is to try and believe that you can. (Believing is what DRIVES your actions and PUSHES you to the Nth degree, but belief alone won’t make things happen. It is the first step, though.)
For a majority of people, climbing is a just another social activity where we can spend our time with those we love and love us, too. But it also becomes an individual campaign for achievement.
I believe in working hard for personal achievements, whatever they may be. The fact that these are goals doesn’t change the fact that I am constantly striving down a path to make MYSELF a better climber to reach these my goals. Climbers, regardless of ability, who say that they don’t have that “ego” are wrong.
When someone admires or congratulates me for something I’ve achieved in my climbing career, it always feels good. And it should! Compliments are meant to make you feel good. However, I remind myself that the confirmation I need should come from myself, first. What self-validation has taught me how to manage my emotions, which I try to effectively practice when it really matters: when I’m climbing.
This has brought me to a place where I can feel genuinely proud of the things I accomplish, and also not become obsessive, hurt or angry when I can’t. Validating myself instead of comparing myself to others and my partners has brought me closer to who I am, and isn’t that what it’s all about? Comparing yourself to other people is a learned trait; it takes time to break out of that habit.
We grew up submerged in a world of comparison, since we were little kids, being put in juxtaposition with our friends, classmates, siblings. We continue to do it in our adult lives, even subconsciously. What I’m learning is that comparison will only separate us from others.
If this was at all helpful, then I might as well start comparing myself to Sasha Digiulian—who is amazing and so cute and blonde and talented. My point is that I will never be blonde. Okay, my other actual point is that it isn’t very helpful. I’m not saying we should ignore everyone around us; I’m just acknowledging that people are different and we all have our own unique skills and value.
Keeping self-awareness high but ego low is an interesting balance. I am forcing myself to recognize the fact that we ALL have our egos to face. The thing is, that like everything else in life, it truly is about the right balance.
I want my ego to be as big as it can be when I’m on that crux pitch and I’m pulling a hard move—that’s when I need it. I’ll tell myself that’s when I’m better than everyone else. When I am better than the climb.
Ego. When to have it, and when to let it go and move forward. I’m learning when to set it aside.
So, humble pie. I’ll take another slice, please.