I was sitting with my lifelong friend Jake on his patio talking climbing and talking life–where those two end and begin, I’m not sure. He laughed in reference to the amount of people who compare their climbing ability and progress with his, and, often so, they haven’t spent a fraction of the time honing the craft as he. It was just what I needed to hear. He explained that it has been over the course of nearly a decade that brought him to this point in his climbing progression, and it was a welcome slap in the face that my ego needed to hear, because the solution is so blatantly obvious. We never start out as experts, but instead achieve mastery through thousands and thousands of hours of hard work and failed attempts.
I had a good friend, sponsor, and mentor, all in one, who I met early on in my recovery, and he used to tell me often that it’s easy to get all high and mighty, egotistical, entitled, and expect to earn 20 years in 20 days. I see this too often in myself, in people I work with, or people I climb with. It’s so easy to get enthralled and psyched, obsessed, and oversee the value of participating in something wholeheartedly over a long duration of time. There is nothing quite like it, and our language actually has a precise word for that type of steadfast action: experience.
I was sitting at a campfire last night watching the bed of embers flicker and glow long after everyone else had gone to sleep, and I thought about all the different niches each one of us finds in this world. No one’s any more important than the other’s; we just find what we like and strive to be better. I’ve found several niches, and I’ve been imploding emotionally and exploding physically pushing my limits and thresholds. I set unrealistic goals, and then I beat myself up for not meeting those ridiculous standards. Then I push harder implementing insane training routines and eating disorder worthy diets until I deteriorate into injury.
Obsession doesn’t even contend with the passage of time and hours spent pushing towards a goal and honing our craft, whatever that may be. Obsession must be kept at bay, because in the end it will bring nothing but unhealthy patterns into our lives, setting us back. The process of learning something new is extensive, and it is mentally taxing, because we naturally want to be good at the things we try, no matter how unfamiliar they may be. And that’s all they are, unfamiliar.
When I started slack lining I couldn’t stand up on the damn thing from the ground. Over a year I continued to hone my skill, until I started to push thinner and longer lines, getting steadier on my feet and more acrobatic on the line. But it took me a year, and now I’m just starting to push into the long lines that inspired me to start in the first place–and stepping up on a 200 ft line feels just as shaky and improbable as the first day I stood on a 20 ft line. And that’s discouraging, if I let it be. Or, I can learn to embrace the process of learning and enjoy trudging the tedious path towards mastery.
So, in the end, just do the best you can. If your best doesn’t get you the results you want, continue until you meet that standard. You’ll find that where it’s easy to be really critical in the start of a new endeavor, later on down the road you reach a place of comfort and skill you’d never have deemed yourself capable. And that is, in my opinion, one of the most resilient and unique characteristics exemplified by humanity.