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Throwing Yourself at the wall
Eventually there is always a task that cannot be sidestepped or brute-forced.
When I first started climbing, there was a route at the local gym I badly wanted to complete. What started as a casual attempt became a compounding case of embarrassment: The more the problem defeated me, the more I needed to defeat it.
I can still picture the handhold that caused me so much grief. The little orange rectangle was just small enough to cup in your hand. It stuck out about an inch from the wall. The top ledge sloped downward, and this always gave me the sensation I was about to slide off.
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Up until this point, I would try to simplify problems like this; reaching around the troublesome hold in favor of more secure ones.
This was the only thing to latch onto, and I’d have to place my full body weight on it before I could stand to reach for the next one.
My unwillingness to commit wound up preventing me from succeeding for much longer than my lack of strength. Each attempt went about the same way. I would scurry up the first three quarters of the climb, grab the objectionable hold tentatively in my right hand, cling to the wall for a bit, and eventually give up.
It took a couple weeks, along with some prodding from my friend, to point out the issue: I’d never actually tried the thing I had convinced myself I couldn’t do.
Instead, I wasted my strength agonizing over the prospect of trying.
“You can make the reach, slip and fall,” he told me, “Or you can just hang there until you’re too tired to keep going. But only one of those options will help you get any higher.”
So I reached.
The first time, my fingers immediately slipped off the hold. I swung away from the wall and fell until the belay line caught me. But that single failure taught me more than I’d learned in weeks.
Next time I adjusted my fingers a little and got a better grip. I managed to hold on longer. After that, I pressed my body closer to the wall, shifted my weight, and came closer still.
After a few more falls, I finally had it. If I could go back to the same route today, that little orange rectangle would be my rock of stability in a sea of crimpy uncertainty — a true testament to the power of persistence.
Fear of failure is perhaps the most powerful hinderance we must overcome. Often times we only think we are trying to move forward. First we need to fail, and fall.
I Want to Hear From You
Are there any obstacles or challenges you’re reluctant to even attempt? Tell me about it and leave a comment below!
I’m putting a little post script here, because it’s a bit to meta for the main letter. This post came from a story I planned to submit for publication on a completely different blog — two years ago. I never published it because I became too caught up in wondering if it was adequate.
But you have to reach for the hold to find out whether you’re strong enough to hang on.