Scars from the climb

A state-of-the-art climbing gym opened recently here in Memphis and I’ve gone twice (and definitely planning on going back) to get my body tortured by fake rock walls. There is something deeply elemental about the act of climbing – it has been used to symbolize so many facets of life and the human experience: we climb the corporate ladder, we reach the mountaintop, you’re over the hill, etc. We use the idea of climbing as a metaphor for the struggle of life, and it’s an illustration as old as the mountains themselves.

“But Jarrod,” you may be thinking, “you went climbing on a fake bouldering wall in an air-conditioned building. How can you use this as a metaphor? Check your privilege!” Sure, you have a point (although I hate that “privilege” phrase), but think about this: do the lessons learned while playing on a basketball team in middle school mean less than similar ones learned while playing in the NBA? Context doesn’t always dilute the power of content. A lesson taken to heart sticks because of the content, not the context. Sometimes people are too quick to dismiss a potential learning experience and they miss out on meaningful growth. Don’t be that person.

Rock climbing is a fantastic workout because it pushes you mentally as well as physically. You need balance, coordination, strength, endurance, and careful planning and execution to climb a face without getting yourself stuck or worse falling. When you slack off in any of the areas I listed above, you set yourself up for trouble.

As I was climbing, struggling to conquer a difficult route that had bested me on my four previous attempts, I made a mistake in my desire to finally beat the wall – I over-reached. When I did this, it caused my body’s momentum to swing out away from the face, and as I grabbed the hold I had over-reached for, the momentum ripped it out of my hand, causing the gash you see above. I’m sure my fall to the padded floor was entertaining for those who saw it, but my pride was hurting more than my backside. Laying there on the floor in a sweaty heap, staring at my throbbing hand, I realized that I was done climbing for the day and probably done climbing for at least a week while it healed up. I found myself more disappointed that I couldn’t go again, not that I had failed. If anything, the failure had motivated me more. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that this thought hit me:

Why have I let failures in the past paralyze or depress me when this one did the opposite? What about this one was different?

I was attacking instead of reacting.

A rock wall is a problem (for all intents and purposes) and I attacked the problem instead of letting the problem attack me and simply reacting to it. Even though I had made a mistake, the problem was still mine to conquer. Why did this make me view failure differently?

I read somewhere that special forces soldiers (Navy Seals, Delta, etc) tend to suffer from PTSD less than the average foot soldier who goes on patrol, and one of the reasons postulated is that the typical special forces operative spends the majority of their time in combat as the aggressor. Their missions usually involve hunting down the enemy and having set targets and goals, while regular soldiers often simply patrol enemy territory and are waiting for something to happen. In more simple terms, the spec ops guys tend to be in “predator” mode, while other soldiers more often find themselves in “prey” mode. Prey mode is a life of high anxiety and stress, constantly on alert, waiting for a threat to strike, powerless over when and where it will come. It’s the equivalent to being a rabbit in a forest full of wolves. When soldiers are in these types of high anxiety/stress situations for extended periods of time, it tends to correlate with higher instances of PTSD. This concept can apply to life as a whole – if you are never in control, if you never have a plan of action and you never act on that plan, you are not navigating the seas of life, you are toy boat being tossed around like a plaything.

What would happen if we attacked life with a plan instead of just simply reacting? What if we looked at failure as a minor setback in a larger conflict instead of the decisive battle that loses us the war?

You cannot passively climb a rock wall, and if you want to have any real significant experiences or relationships, you cannot passively approach life. If you try to get through life without any scars you’re going to end your life without any meaning.

That gash on my hand reminds me that scars should serve as reminders of how to adapt and grow, not warnings to quit. Life isn’t something you simply endure and somehow still enjoy. You cannot endure and enjoy at the same time. Life is an everchanging adventure that we must constantly attack, and every mistake should be viewed as one more thing that will lead to victory.

Go rock climbing. Attack that wall. Fall down a lot. Then beat it by using those falls as a map to the top, not a history of inadequacies.

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