Climbing lessons

I stumbled across this video today from a recent TED conference.  It’s a talk given by Matthew Childs, an avid rock climber, guide, and marketing professional.  He lays out nine life lessons he learned from rock climbing.  As a climber myself I first watched the video to see what climbing taught him about climbing.  Then I watched it again; this time watching to see what climbing taught him about life. It’s nothing brilliant or new; it’s actually quite simple, but it really does say a lot about climbing and about life in general.


My climbing career has gone through high’s (ranking first in the U.S. and Canada for my age group; even if it was only for one week) and low’s (two separate occasions of injuring opposite ankles to the point the Dr.’s have recommended, “Next time, break it. It’ll heal faster.”), but through it all the sport has taught me a lot about myself, life situations, and relationships. 


Climbing, to me, is about solving problems.  In fact, that’s what we call bouldering routes; problems.  Everything you need to solve the problem is right in front of you, but it doesn’t mean that you are ready to solve it.  Along with the tools that the climb provides, there are certain aspects of yourself that need to be ready in order to utilize the tools effectively.


As a newlywed, I have a whole new set of problems in front of me; to keep on with the climbing analogy.  Watching Matthew’s presentation, it reminded me just how fitting the methods I use to get better at climbing are also applicable to how I get better at my marriage.  Here is how I look at Matt's nine lessons in the way they apply to me:


Lesson # 1 – Don’t let go

Childs says, “You think about giving up way before your body does.” When Gigi and I were dating there were plenty of times it would have been easier to “let go” of the relationship rather than endure through whatever problem was.  I have learned from climbing that the exhilaration of solving a problem I thought was bigger than I was is always much better than saying I tried, but just had to let it go. 


Lesson # 2 – Hesitation is bad

I might re-phrase this to what he says later in the point, “…momentum is good.”  In relationships, just like in climbing, momentum is good.  Keep striving to do things that push the relationship forward.  Get passionate about showing the other person how much you love them and push yourself to constantly get better at it.


Lesson # 3 – Have a plan

Before I actually attempt to solve a climbing problem, I always step back and look at the whole problem first.  I look at what kind of holds are there, where my feet need to be, what parts may give me more trouble than others, and where I may land if I fall.  I try to bring this aspect into my marriage as well.  Whether it is a problem that Gigi and I have together, or individually, I try to take a step back and look at the problem itself; what caused it, what is the best way to deal with it now, and what do I/we need to change to prevent it from happening again.


Lesson # 4 – The move is the end

When I have taught people how to climb, I notice that everyone wants to solve the whole problem.  Of course the do, that’s the idea!  The problem is that when you are first starting out, it is more important to learn how to use the tools than it is to solve the problem.  Once you have a firm grasp of each of the tools, the solution to the problem becomes a lot easier.  Don’t get caught up in solving the problem the first time.  Look at each step toward solving the problem as a smaller problem solved on the way to solving the larger problem.


Lesson # 5 – Know how to rest

A couple of years back one of my standard gym workouts included a 200 foot long traverse. There were some parts of the traverse that were a lot tougher than others, and I would need a rest to keep on going.  I would find a small corner to lean into or a huge hold to pause on to give my hands and feet a small rest, to allow myself to keep going.  With my relationship with Gigi, I have found that rest to be important as well.  There have been times when everything going on in our lives has been overwhelming or stressful.  In those times, we have found that a weekend or a couple of evenings of “our time” helps us rest, regroup, and allows us to keep going.


Lesson # 6 – Fear sucks

I remember the problem vividly.  The Elevator Shaft is a problem in Bishop, CA I attempted three years ago.  About 20 feet high, long dynamic moves, and a large boulder directly underneath where I would fall.  I tried that problem about 10-15 times, but the fear of falling on that boulder, well, sucked. I didn’t end up solving it that day.  A year later I went back, pushed through that fear and solved the problem.  In my previous attempts, I was too scared of falling I didn’t realize how big my next hold was.  I didn’t have much to worry about.  That happens a lot in relationships.  Don’t let fear stop you from making the next move.


Lesson #7 – Opposites are good

Climbing, and bouldering especially, uses a lot of opposing forces to maintain balance.  Different opinions, interests, habits, aren’t always a bad thing.  Gigi and I certainly have our differences, but we are learning how to use those differences to become better at solving problems that arise.  We are using each others strengths to stay balanced in our relationship.


Lesson # 8 – Strength does not equal success

When I was learning about climbing I thought “the stronger you are, the better you are at climbing.”  What I failed to realize is that strength is only part of what makes you a good climber.  Just being strong does not mean you will get to the top.  There are many aspects to climbing, as there are in relationships, in addition to strength that need to be constantly worked on before success can be had.   Getting to the top based on strength alone, is not going to prepare you for reaching the top of the next problem that comes your way. 


Lesson # 9 – Know when to let go

About 3 years ago I was working on a problem in the gym.  The problem was harder than I normally climb, but I was doing really well on it.  I was about three moves from finishing it when I heard something in my right ring finger go “SNAP!”  I can actually remember seeing my finger bend just a little bit farther than I had seen it go before. It didn’t really hurt so I thought I might just ignore it and finish.  Then I decided that “SNAP!” isn’t usually a good sound so I should get down and check it out.  Ended up I partially tore a tendon in my finger.  Had I decided to push through it, it was likely I would have torn the tendon completely and needed surgery.  I have learned that there are times in a relationship when you need to let go also.  Compromise is tough, but it’s better than surgery. 


So in a very large analogical nutshell, climbing is a lot like relationships.  I am positive that I have volumes more to learn about relationships and climbing, but I also know that I have someone climbing with me who is just as willing to learn how to get to the top as I am.  Together we will make each other stronger, use our strengths to our advantage, help the other get over fears, maintain motivation, figure out the best plan forward, get through each step of the way, and learn how to let go of things that may create bigger problems.


Okay, this post REALLY makes me want to get outside and go climbing soon.  Who’s with me?!

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