The Rock, the Hard Place, and the Space In-between
by Alexa Francisco
You’ve always wanted to climb but have never done it before. The conditions just weren’t right. There were no natural rock formations in your area, you had no previous knowledge or access to people with knowledge of climbing, no equipment to get started or money for a membership to the climbing gym... Blah, blah, blah.
One day, when you least expect it, into your life enters a person who knows how to climb, and loves climbing, and wants to teach you how. You know, since you told them you’ve always wanted to learn.
Before you know it, you’re at the base of a rock wall in the middle of nowhere. He’s tying you in, explaining what to do and what not to do... All of which basically goes unheard because your heart is beating so loudly you can’t focus. Your body is coursing with adrenaline, already fully aware of what your conscious mind is trying to catch up to. And suddenly, you realize the truth-
You, my friend, are not only terrified of both heights and falling, you are terrified of looking like an idiot in front of everyone. All those excuses before were just that. Excuses. You used them to put off something you wanted to be doing but were too afraid to do. Now, you’ve got two options- step back, or step forward. What’ll it be?
This is the space between the rock and the hard place.
Your decision making from here on out has the power to not only define your entire experience concerning your climb- it has the power to set a pace anew, altering how you choose to handle experiences like this in the future. Paying attention to these moments can change your life in an instant. You’ve been dying to climb giants since you were a kid. Now is your time.
It’s scary as f*ck. But you can handle it.
“The man who says he can, and the man who says he can not… Are both correct.” -Confucius
This is about more than climbing. It’s actually not about climbing at all unless you want it to be. It’s about what happens physically, emotionally, and mentally in the moments of hesitation. What happens while deciding something is a go, or a no- and how to create a relationship with your fear response so you can make decisions more often that lead to growth instead of stagnation. I don’t remember the saying exactly but it’s about the fact that you’re more likely to regret the things you don’t do as opposed to the things you do...
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the things you did.” -Mark Twain
In the past, the fear response was completely necessary for our survival and honestly, not much has changed. Except the fact that due to the evolution of our species we now often experience this response to situations that are not actually life-threatening. A job interview, tension in a relationship, or climbing a wall you’re safely tied into can all trigger survival mode in your body.
So, go? Or no. What’s happening when survival mode is firing during decision time?
Mentally, you are registering a potential threat to your livelihood. You can have all the safety equipment backing you in the world but if you’re afraid of the climb, you’re not going to be able to avoid feeling the fear of falling. Your brain is already sending physical signals to the rest of your body. It doesn’t matter what the fear is- falling, being judged by others, failing to get to the top... Pit, meet stomach. It’s in our nature to feel this. Next comes the urge to rise to the challenge, get the hell out of there, or freeze. Often in tandem with a wide variety of emotions, your handling of this will lead you to make your decision- for better or for worse.
You could be feeling anything and/or everything all at once. And it all happens so quickly it commonly goes unnoticed. Even if you can only manage a minute, give yourself permission to realize what’s happening in the present moment. There is no immediate danger, no need to fight anything.
All you need to do to gain some clarity is ask yourself a question.
What’s going to leave you satisfied at the end of the day?
Starting the climb, risking both success and failure? Or, not climbing at all- risking the disappointment of another missed opportunity?
Listen carefully to that answer. If you want to be satisfied with the life you’re living, and I mean truly satisfied, you’ve got to act accordingly. No one said it was going to be easy, however, it can get easier.
I had to ask myself this question during my first climb. I’ve always had an overwhelming desire to do everything I can barefooted outdoors and climbing was no exception. When I got my chance, I decided to take it but it wasn’t without hesitation. Hurting my feet was of no concern to me, what I was concerned with was looking like an idiot in front of more experienced climbers.
I reminded myself that I might not have the experience they have on the rocks, but I do have years of experience barefooting in extreme conditions. So I took the shoes off and committed to doing it my way. Once I got on and up the wall, I was satisfied as hell. My feet presented no issue and when I came down I was met with high-fives and opened minds from the other climbers.
The takeaway? Respect and get used to politely declining your fear response. It’s there to save your life, but don’t let it keep you from living it.
by Alexa Francisco
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