It’s undeniably in our nature to want to do things that we’re good at. The problem is getting too comfortable within the realm of what we are good at and never pushing past boundaries we create. And if we’re responsible for creating our own perimeters, then why is so hard to move beyond them? I know that the majority of the reasons why I DON’T do things is based out of one thing: fear.

It’s an ugly word. Uglier than moist, leech, visceral, and obstreperous COMBINED.

The need to challenge myself should always be greater than my desire to be good at something and any fears I’ve successfully built up in my head. But this is something I have to remind myself every single day.

I’ve taken all of my Brooklyn kids over the years climbing at the gym. My current goal is to convert at least one of them so that I have a rope gun in the next decade or so—I figure by then, they’ve got to have tendons made of kevlar. And in a decade, we can go rock climbing, and then THEY can take ME out for ice cream.

My kids climbing the walls—better than them making ME want to climb the walls!

Despite their age or capability, kids are resolutely fearless tiny humans. Bold. Brave. Intrepid little chicken nuggets. And I have to ask myself, when does this change and what gets in our way?

I’m sure it has to do with becoming more self-aware as we get older, which comes with realizing we’re actually pretty limited in what we can do. If you create your own universe with your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, then aren’t you the god of your own universe? Kids are so great about creating their own realities, but for some reason, it isn’t always transferable into adulthood. Or it isn’t that it can’t be transferable, it’s just that sometimes we forget.

So here I am, wondering these things as I wrap up the 2014 season on east coast rock in the Gunks. I was upstate with Kevin Riley, a friend I’d met in Tennessee, and we simply had the best two days climbing cold rock I’ve had in the Gunks in a while. We raged the Mac Wall and started the day with the first pitch of Birdie Party (5.8). Birdie is one of my FAVORITE 8s in the Gunks. It’s one of those climbs I will do again and again because it’s so wildly fantastic and a solid climb at the grade.

Kevin then got on Mother’s Day Party (5.10b). The first pitch is an amazing climb on solid gear, with quite possibly one of the most fun cruxes I have ever climbed through on the Mac Wall.

Kevin Riley making the first moves on Mother’s Day (5.10b)

We moved on to Coexistence (5.10d), a climb that I’d belayed Matt O’Connor on last season. Matt was one of my biggest inspirations as a climbing partner, and I’m lucky to have had almost three consecutive seasons with him in the Gunks. He led Co-Ex on all passive and I’ve always wanted to try the same. I think I took a few squeezies up with me, just in case, but that beautiful climb will take passive pro the entire way up.

I tiptoe-reached the largest stopper I had with me before clipping the pin. The overhang is the crux of the climb, and where Mother’s crux is fun, this one has ALWAYS felt desperate. I was unsure of pulling the overhang with how tired and pumped I was but the universe smiled on me and showed me a perfect knee bar rest. (I’ve climbed Coex several times and I still can’t believe I’d never found that damn rest before that day!)

So I used to hate this photo because I think I’m making a REALLY stupid face. Now I kind of love it. Also, I had no idea that my arms were that long. Photograph by Sam Cervantes

Sunday was supposed to be slightly warmer with the promise of more sun. After our standard breakfast at the Last Bite (Kevin said: “Your friend Scott knows how to make a mean egg.”), we moseyed over to the Nears. I’ve been talking a lot of talk about how “some day, one day”, I’m going to lead To Be or Not To Be (5.11R/5.12a?). Knowing that today was not a project day, I was happy to run a few laps and play around with my gear beta.

After I was done bitching about my lack of ball nuts and black tri-cams, I had a few trial runs and the climb started feeling……good.

So we pulled the rope.

And I still felt good.

And I didn’t feel worked up or frightened. I felt ready.

Moments before, I was suddenly not sure if this was something I was ready to try. At the end of the day, I told Kevin that I would have been okay with walking away because I didn’t think I could do it safely. In the end, I would have been so much more disappointed with myself had I walked away because I let the fear of failure get the best of me.

With my sudden shift in my focus to cracks, I was mildly concerned I’d forgotten how to face climb. To Be has three cruxes all together and one nasty run out with ground fall potential. The first time I’d ever TR’d it was with Scott Albright. When I was lowered to the ground, he said to me: “You blew the first crux.”

I looked down and said, “Yeah, I know.”

“You blew the first crux, but you sailed through the other two.”

The seed was planted and I knew I wanted it.

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To Be or Not To Be (5.12a), The Shawangunks. Photograph by Sam Cervantes

The last piece of gear before the bear hug was amazingly bomber—and with the reassurance that Kevin could run backward pretty fast if I blew it, I took a few get ready breaths as my hands played with a few pebbles of chalk. And I did exactly what we’d rehearsed three times prior. I didn’t think about my gear below. I didn’t think about the step up high move, I just stepped up high. I hugged the bear. I slapped high with my right—and for a moment, I was unsure if it stuck or not—and crimped with my left. I didn’t think about anything, anything at all.

I just kept moving. Up and up and up. Plugged a piece, held on tightly to a crimp rail (even bigger than the razor sharp ones coming up next) to plug in one more. Then all of the thoughts came rushing back, specifically the: I AM SO PUMPED OUT OF MY MIND thought. IGNORE IT. I took what little rest I could with my left heel hooked by my first piece. IGNORE IT. And I shot out right to an edge. And another. And another. And then found that perfect foot to stand up on. And another. And another. Then the last crimp. And then a good crimp. And then I felt like screaming at the top of my lungs, so I let out a “whaaahoooo!”

How I felt when I clipped the draws (except I didn’t bend the time and space continuum)

So I conclude that the only way I’m ever going to be good at anything is by being bad at it for a while, and trying over and over again. Comfort zones aren’t a bad thing, but I can’t expect things to change if I stay there forever. There’s this amazing quote I’ve been telling myself every morning when I wake up: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

I’ve spent the past few years getting cozy in my comfort zone, preparing and processing the things to come if and when I leave it. That’s good. Calculated risks are okay.

2015 is around the corner but it already feels like a new beginning, to me. I’m saying goodbye to the false illusions that keep me trapped and limited. They’re my illusions, and I’ve owned them long enough to know that they belong in a big box with the rest of the “you shoulds” (“you should” go to a good school, get married and have kids by age x, own a home and be able to support a family, have a respectable job with salary, dental, and PTO.)

The biggest thing I am letting go of this year is the belief that I am not good enough. It’s a judgment I think we’re all too familiar with placing on ourselves. The fear that we’re not good enough comes from both our own beliefs and those of others who also influence our lives. Nothing about this life is about being “good enough”. It’s about trying the best that you can. It’s about breaking barriers and seeing what’s on the other side.

This year? I’m going to learn to trust myself to make the right decisions, and that we are both capable of and responsible for creating our own realities. I think that there’s more success in all of these things than any send, any day.

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