Philosophers have spent lifetimes studying and theorizing, and have eventually been able to declare that the human understanding of our own basic happiness is founded on our ever-changing, day to day existence. Day by day, we will always want different things—different people in our lives, different social situations. Our definition of happiness constantly changes with how we define our lives.

All choices are hard and all change takes work. If it didn’t take time to truly grow up and grow into the people we are to become, then life would seem much shorter (and much more boring!)

I’ve spent so much time away from the Northeast to play down south that I was feeling really apprehensive to come back to the Gunks. So many things have changed since the days I followed my first trad climbs. I was nervous then, too. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to match up to my partners’ skill level and I would, in many ways, hold them back.

I remembered driving back from a weekend of New Hampshire ice climbing with Jon Hutt, a partner and friend I have cherished for years.

Jon, who has the knowledge, skill, and heart of a true mountain man, told me that regardless of how many years of experience he had with him, he had honestly barely even scratched the surface. Where he was in his own climbing was only the tip of the iceberg. What that made me realize is that you will always be better than someone else and that someone else will always be better than you, which is why it was more important to focus on how far I’d come rather than on how far I had left to go.

Jon and me after a day of slaying ice in Ouray, Colorado

And so Scott Albright and I met up with our friend, Tom Chervenak, for a day in Lost City. Tom put up the FA of an awesome new 5.11 (which he lovingly named after his wife). It’s seen about four or five ascents and I was excited to try it on toprope.

Dropping our packs and digging out the rope and rack, Tom asked me if I was ready to rack up. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t horrified as I began rattling off a list of excuses: I hadn’t climbed in weeks, I was just getting over a horrible cold, my strength wasn’t back. Luckily, excuses aren’t enough to stop me (and if that wasn’t enough, the funny look on Scott’s face that I’ve come to know so well motivated me to start clipping gear to my harness.)

I thought I’d totally blown the first crux down low. I’d looked at the thin line to the left that I was supposed to go up and thought: F that. I started traversing right. Realizing I was completely off route now with gear far below me, I focused on down climbing back to my starting point.

My fingers began to grease off of the left hold and I sank them into sharp edges, then sucked my entire torso into the wall. I got it back. “Well done Kathy!” I heard Scott’s voice from below and thought: Not yet! as I scraped and scooted my way up to a better rest and a place to plug gear.

Getting the FFA would have been rad, but I blew the roof. I wasn’t pumped but I as I started to pull the roof, I kicked up a right heel hook and then hucked for what I thought was a hold. It wasn’t really a hold, and I peeled off, but it was okay—I was feeling confident on gear again and confident taking falls.

Exploring Lost City on a perfect fall day

Finally getting some of my mojo back, my friend Sam Cervantes and I woke up at 5 a.m. the following weekend to drive north. It’s been at least two years since I’ve done any Massachusetts climbing, and Mikey Perkins, Day Acheson and I had ourselves a pretty heartwarming little reunion.

 I met Mikey two years ago when he wandered into the gear shop I was working in and we spent a NY minute talking about rock climbing. In my excitement, I gave him my number and months later, made it up to visit with the hope to check out a monster offwidth I’d only heard about. I’d never climbed an offwidth in my life.

Bulletproof is a 5.13 overhanging offwidth which has been freed just a handful of times. My first time on it, I don’t think Mikey and I got past the first moves—hand stacks in an overhanging crack. It became a project I put on the backburner, but I knew I’d come back to it someday.

This weekend was not the one. The whole thing felt pretty bad. The invert went pretty well, but the hardest parts were getting established into the crack, where I used chicken wings and hand/fist stacks. I’m not ashamed that I flailed so badly, nor am I upset that I couldn’t send it. As we drove back to Brooklyn, I started wondering how long until the next time I was in the northeast to try again. To be honest, probably not for a while…

I want to be a butterfly. Photograph by Wayne Burleson

Right now, there a few things are happening. For starters, I’m moving out of my charming Brooklyn townhouse apartment. I’ve been asking myself why we need STUFF? I’ve been feeling like your stuff should support YOU and you shouldn’t support your stuff. There’s a really good chance that I’m going through a quarter life crisis, because when I came home from Tennessee a month ago, the wheels started turning in my head. I sold all of my furniture and bed, gave up my apartment and lease, bought a couple of plane tickets and have plans to live out of my car (KIDDING).

(Sort of.)

(But if you’re reading this and you’re my mom, I’m totally kidding.)

What am I doing? Well, I’ve been looking for easy buttons and easy answers, but there aren’t any. Erick tells me that it’s just a rough pitch, and I’ll get through it. Sam thinks I’ve purposely backed myself into a corner which will force me to make a decision, and hopefully, it’s the right one. I’ll keep considering risk versus the reward, and obviously the greater the risk, the greater the reward. Isn’t that how climbing works? Aren’t we supposed to apply the skills we’ve learned on the rock in other areas of our lives? Arturo told me that if you remain in the fishbowl with all of the other fish, you’ll never be a butterfly.

And I want to be a butterfly, damnit.

But I’m actually just a caterpillar. Photograph by Day Acheson

When I was packing, I found a list titled “Twenty-five things to do before I turn twenty-five”. I laughed as I read through some pretty ridiculous bullet points (such as: fill a jar with magical thinking, go snow camping, learn to play ukulele, make a thousand paper cranes, Arctic dive—I’m really good at romanticizing ridiculousness.)

I’ve changed so much since that girl entering her twenties haphazardly wrote some random list of “things” she thought she wanted to do with her life. For me, the thing that makes me happy (right now) is creating change. Right now, I’m all about shaking that snowglobe. When you start restructuring your life from the ground up, you don’t always know where you are heading. I like that. I like the idea of taking myself apart and putting myself back together.

Guys, this whole pursuit of happiness is a sham. Saying that you are searching for something suggests that it isn’t here yet. And then there’s a chance that it may never get here, or that we’ll never find it. A constant search for happiness is what thwarts happiness. A constant search for change and growth—a desire to become more—keeps us steady and focused but open and receiving. Engaged, curious, and available. Whatever the circumstance whatever the moment: you are choosing rather than chasing. I don’t want to chase my dreams; I want to live them.

I am not stating; I am declaring.

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