If you had known me in my early high school years, you may not have liked me that much. I was that really annoying person who put little effort into things but got pretty great results. Schoolwork and sport in particular came really easily to me. I have a great memory and I found I didn’t have to do a lot of study to get consistently good grades. Yep, I was that person.
I think I had my first real experience of failure was when I tried out for the Auckland representative football team. I was 13 or 14 and I was used to being a valued defender. I made it through a couple of rounds of selection, right up until the final match. I was put in the “A” team but I ended up missing out on the final cut. I was absolutely devastated. I cried and cried and cried and I compared myself to my older brother who in my eyes was perfect at everything and played football himself.
No part of me wanted to continue going to the training sessions but my parents gently pushed me. It was really tough turning up to practice and being faced with my disappointment every week. But the blow softened and the practices were actually pretty fun. I never tried out for the team again because I moved cities and went to boarding school, but I continued to play football at a high level and absolutely loved it.
That change of schools was a big defining time in my life. I went from being at a school were I was being pushed and accelerated through the curriculum and achieving highly (junior dux 2006 no biggie), to feeling like I was a nuisance and I had to wait for everyone to catch up. It was really tough on me academically and socially. Needless to say I don’t really look back at high school with the fondest of memories. I never learned how to try hard and work at something that I wasn’t good at and so I’ve had to do that in my own time.
That’s where climbing comes into this reflection. I was thinking about what it is about rock climbing that really fires me up. I absolutely love climbing and I’m not excellent at it, and for me that is a really beautiful thing. I’m not terrible or anything, but I have to work really hard both mentally and physically. Mentally, because I’m not gonna lie, it terrifies me sometimes; and physically, because it’s really really hard.
It’s only recently that realised how valuable it is for me to be getting more comfortable with the idea of working at something that doesn’t come easily to me. I know it sounds silly, of course you can’t just be good at something without practice. But if I’m being honest it’s something I logically know to be true, but not something I’ve really been willing to embrace as being applicable to my own life.
Miraculously and completely by accident, rock climbing is teach me all sorts of valuable life lessons. I have come to love the problem solving aspect of it; Trying something over and over with slight adjustments until you find the right method; Coming back week after week and being able to measure your progression, however small; and most importantly, learning to be okay with falling off without embarrassment.
I’m not excellent at climbing and that doesn’t bother me one bit. As long as I am striving to be better than I was the last time, then that’s enough. I intend to keep revelling in the lessons of falling off and seeing tangible proof that effort and persistence really do yield results. Failure is temporary and necessary and if I am going to do anything remotely exciting in my life, I need be okay with sitting with failure just long enough to want to get back on the wall.