‘Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up’. Batman Begins
As you may have read, a few weeks ago I had a pretty bad day out climbing. No accidents but I came away very disappointed with myself. I find writing about these experiences very cathartic and I hoped that sharing the experience would help me move on. I wasn’t ready though.
The last 10 days have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster with me questioning everything that I am doing, what I am trying to achieve, and if I am on the right path. In short, I found myself feeling quite lost and purposeless. I have come from a position of expertise and credibility in London and have moved to a world where I have so much to learn. My rookie enthusiasm got burnt and that left me feeling confused and upset.
Putting things down and moving on
I have been very fortunate the last few weeks, I have been surrounded by both old and new friends offering a beer, a climb, or just a chat with my wonderful wife, Sophie, being just unbelievably supportive and understanding. I kept feeling I was over it and ready to move on only to find myself getting irrationally worked up over minutiae.
I wasn’t there yet but I am getting there though.
My recent crash highlighted the instability of breaking trail in a new life, the security nets have been cast off and I’m trying to find my way, when something I consider a sure thing fails, it felt like the house of cards was coming down on top. It wasn’t. That might have been a little melodramatic.
As with any situation in life, there are ups and downs. We learn to ride them, roll with the punches, and to keep our chins up but that doesn’t make them any easier. We just know that they will pass eventually. All you can do is put it down and move on, though this can be easier said than done.
Getting past all of this, I have found three steps that have helped me massively and I am very grateful for the people who helped me with them.
The first: focus on the positives.
I was out climbing with Pete Frost, a fascinating man who knows pretty much every animal, plant and bird you pass, on the heart fluttering slabs of Barberine, in Switzerland. Pete has returned to climbing after a 20 year hiatus and is keen to make up for lost time. Like me, he has strong ambition and drive but, unlike me, he has a little more patience. While talking away about goals and objectives, it was great to see someone who knew they would get there and, by chipping away, you make great progress.
At the end of our climb he passed on his greatest pearl of wisdom
‘Don’t focus on the negatives, this will cement the poor performance or negative attitude in your mind. Instead, focus on the things you did right, the moves you executed well, or decision making that was spot on. This will reinforce the positives and help you get it right next time’
Thank you for your advice, Pete.
The second: remember why you’re doing this.
The next day I headed out with Ash, a field assistant for the British Antarctic Survey meaning he spends half his year in very remote cold places. We wandered up to a classic rock route on the Aiguilles Rouges but, by the time we got near to the base of the route, we spotted at least 7 parties had the same idea and were quicker off the mark. Neither of us had a desire to sit in queues on belays, so we thought we go on a bit of an explore. The Aiguilles Rouges are a stunning chain of gneiss rock formations that would keep you entertained for a lifetime. By pure chance, we stumbled across a hidden wall with bolts and equipped belays at the top. I’ve no idea who set this up but we thought we’d give it a go.
We both quickly dispatched the easier line and then set to work on a much harder problem. After a few tries Ash made it to the top though my efforts only got me half way. It was great fun though, just climbing around, trying things out, giving each other advice, and generally enjoying the outdoors.
Once we tired of the little crag we thought traversing over the next few peaks would be a bit of fun. Nothing much more than scrambling but stunning views and beautiful weather. As we moved along, we carried on talking, about decisions each of us were making, what to look out for, and trying to get a really good picture of where we were and what was going on. After a few abseils, we reached a natural end to our tour and decided to head home, both incredibly satisfied just having been in the great outdoors for the day.
I had forgotten this recently. I had been so caught up in what other people were climbing, what I wanted to climb, and what I hoped to one day climb, that I lost track of the now. I need to make sure I hold onto what brought me here in the first place, what inspires me the most, and that is enjoying this varied and beautiful terrain, in all its forms.
Thank you for a great day out, Ash.
The third: those around you only want to see you succeed.
There were a few times when it felt like the whole world was against me, judging my failures, and out to get me. That could not be further from the truth. After an irrational disagreement with Sophie, I went away and thought about what was going on. Why was the whole world against me? Was it just me?
Yes. It was just me. It is amazing but when you take a step back and really think about it: everyone (well, nearly everyone) genuinely just wants to see you succeed, for you to be happy, and to achieve whatever it is you want to achieve. Having that faith in others that they are trying to help, or at least they are not actively trying to hinder your progress, allows you to get back to focussing on the positives, and get on with what will make you happy.
Thank you everyone, especially Sophie, for being there and supporting me.
So, it’s been a funny few weeks where I’ve got myself in a bit of a pickle but that’s what life is about: rolling with the punches and making sure you get back up after. It always reminds me of this great video Sophie once shared with me. This compilation includes great speeches from Rocky, Al Pacino, and more. Enjoy!