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The Thing About Climbing
The important life lessons this sport has to offer, particularly for girls.
The following is a guest post from Jeff Matlow. Jeff writes, “By Title Only,” a newsletter about leadership and business that’s both humorous and poignant.
When I started reading Cole’s newsletter, and saw the life lessons he’s gleaned from climbing, it actually reminded me a bit of Ellen. So, I’m honored to be able to be talking with you now.
I’m in awe of my friend Ellen. If you know her, you probably are too.
You see, Ellen is one of the nicest people on the planet. That alone is worthy of awe. She’s also enormously humble. In speaking with her you wouldn’t realize that she is one of the most accomplished mountaineers in the world. Among her many feats, she is the only American woman (and one of only five women in the world) to have summitted Everest from both the North and the South.
I had been friends with her for a year before I even knew she was an alpinist.
Ellen is hugely encouraging and supportive of other people. So, naturally, the day I took my 5-year-old daughter to a climbing gym for the first time, Ellen was the person I immediately texted with a photo.
Her exuberance blasted through the phone like a glitter bomb (minus the annoying cleaning up parts). Keep in mind, she had never even met my daughter. But nobody encourages girls to climb more than Ellen.
My daughter is now 9. She loves climbing.
Recently my wife, daughter and I went out to Joshua Tree National Park for a family getaway. My wife and I were excited to go on some nice hikes. We were less than 5 minutes into the first trail before we realized that our daughter wasn’t walking with us anymore. She had found a large cropping of boulders she liked and began climbing.
She loves climbing. But I told you that already.
So, my wife and I stood there and watched her go from one boulder to another, higher and higher, kind of like a little mountain goat, but not really.
“Mama! Daddy! Look how high I climbed!” she’d yell down every few steps up.
“That’s awesome!” I’d yell back.
“It’s too dangerous! Come down!” My wife would yell.
I’d say the truth was somewhere in-between us.
Regardless, as I was watching the kid balancing on the rocks, effortlessly and fearlessly scaling higher, I was reminded of a few things that Ellen had told me years before. Things that proved to be absolutely spot-on correct.
Climbing, she said, is a really important sport for girls.
The importance actually has very little to do with whether or not they are good at it or even continue to pursue it long term. The importance is that the sport of climbing builds a foundation for so many important personality traits without the competition and judgement that is found in team sports.
It teaches self-confidence and self-worth. Goal setting, planning and the joy of accomplishment. It teaches strength and balance. Failure and reward. It teaches the trust and reliance on others with no judgement of skill level.
A single day in a climbing gym can provide more life lessons than a season’s worth of other sports.
Ellen was right. And I now understand why she wishes she could introduce every young girl to climbing.
I love that my daughter loves climbing. It’s helped develop her into an amazing human being and strengthened the bond that I have with her.
Now if she’d only come down from the damn rocks, my wife and I really want to go for a hike.
If you’d like to read more of Jeff’s work and lessons in leadership: check out this recent piece from “By Title Only:”