I often remind myself not to be so afraid of being intimidated. Let’s face it: intimidation sucks. It doesn’t matter if it’s coming from a friend, the workplace, or a rock climb. It comes at us from everywhere. For me, it can be such a paralyzing experience that, in just moments, I’m suddenly in a downward spiral of negative self-talk and feelings of low self-esteem (rather, no self-esteem).

It’s one of my biggest shortcomings because I’ll avoid dealing with it at all costs. But while I don’t necessarily like things that challenge me, once the moment is behind me, I can always look back and appreciate what I went through to get to the other side.

Intimidation can be the thing that keeps you from achieving the end goals you desire, or it can be the thing that brings you closer to them. Perhaps the best antidote is to fight back.

Feet cut and I needed to clip my cam. Whoops! Photograph by Irene Yee

Late in the fall of last year, I took a trip to Las Vegas. I discovered that an old friend, Chalu Kim, had also relocated to the desert. Chalu introduced me to Gašper Pintar and we emailed back and forth for several days. Somehow it was decided that we’d climb The Great Red Roof (5.13b) together.

I’ve never tried to free climb anything at that grade before. 5.13 is a hard grade, and yet we all kept a cheerful outlook on the day as we hiked to the base of the climb.

Gašper recalled some beta he’d obtained earlier, stating that there was some “sketchy gear” and a lack of good jams in the roof crack. True, for larger hands, any reasonable jamming might have been difficult. We found the crack to be sloping in areas, but it did allow for a few jams coupled with good footwork throughout the route in sections.

Gašper redpointed the roof on his second burn, and even though my second turn was much more of a hang-dog session, I felt as though I’d accomplished something much bigger. Maybe I’d been uncertain of how good the gear would be or was afraid of the overall difficulty of the route. The Great Red Roof requires an extremely high level of fitness, and that alone was an intimidating thought.

Mr. Pintar makes quick work of the roof. Photograph by Irene Yee

Fact: figuring out why you are scared of something makes something less scary. Looking up at the horizontal crack for the first time, there was so much doubt at first. When uncertainty is built around something, it always seems so impossible to see past that cloud of mystery.

Understanding why we feel a certain way gives us the power to overcome a situation. I like to think of it as reverse intimidation. The less we know and understand, the more room our imaginations have to run amuck. They say that ninety percent of what you really fear will never actually turn into a reality and that it’s just the monsters in your own head.

So, for me, if I start confronting feelings of intimidation by recognizing them, they lose some of their influence. Right now, I feel frightened by the thought of losing myself in the doldrums of winter. I’m scared to see what’s out there in the world because there’s a chance I won’t belong there. I’m scared to try and develop new passions because maybe I won’t be any good at them. I’m afraid to open up to people for fear of being clobbered, and yet, I’m equally afraid of that familiar feeling of disconnection. And maybe these thoughts only exist because moving to a new place can be hard as hell. But at least I can start admitting some of those fears and put them out there.

Irene Yee captures a quiet moment in Red Rocks (I’m obviously daydreaming about the amazing burrito we ate afterwards)
Processed with VSCOcam with kk1 preset
What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.“—Emerson. Photograph by Brandon Scott

I never thought that starting over in a new place would be half as hard as it’s felt, but I also know that change only happens when you make a conscious effort. Things like breathing have always helped in the smaller moments, like when I’m climbing. Well, it turns out that deep breathing can help in the bigger ones, too. In addition, I’ve been taking the time to realize that artificial fears are only keeping me from reaching a higher potential.

Sometimes I find it ironic that the thought of a huge roof is no longer intimidating to me, meanwhile dealing with the everyday questions of life, is. When I talked about it with Amanda Benoit during Christmas time, she told me:

“I remember last year at this time and how nervous you were and questioning your decisions. I know that deep inside, you still question yourself a lot which is healthy because you are aware of yourself and your place in this world. But you are giving yourself such a wealth of experience to draw from in the future. Future Kathy is going to thank past Kathy for all the high and low moments. And you just can’t wrap stuff like that up and put it under a tree.”

And I know that she’s right. I’ll look back on some of my low moments and draw strength from them. They’re the proof to future you that you can do anything. And it might seem like a trivial victory, but to me, it’s a thousand times more gratifying than sending The Roof (but you know, that would be cool, too).

Admitting some of my doubt gave me a chance to be honest with myself. For now, I can only focus on the things that are right in front of me, be grateful for the friends who have all been in a similar place and were willing to listen, and tell you that if something intimidates you, you’re doing something right.

4 thoughts

  1. Great piece Kathy! The part about reverse intimidation and identifying what exactly scares us. I struggle to keep a calm head while climbing and you’ve inspired me to call out what actually scares me while attempting a route. Keep your head up! Moving to a new place and establishing new friends, routines, etc. is challenging. Just keep breathing 🙂

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