I feel my muscles tighten as I look straight up and see the end of my path. There it was: a medium-sized black cargo hold with grooves on the outside. A mixture of adrenaline and fear of falling fuel my racing thoughts.
I’m trying to decipher my next move.
I can feel the sweat on my hands pooling on the handle I’m holding on to just from the friction of my skin. I feel myself slipping.
This is the tenth time I’ve attempted this route. At this point, taking the last step to reach the final hold is a purely mental obstacle. I can feel my mind starting to take over: ‘You can’t fail now, imagine all the people are looking at you right now, you’re embarrassed.’
In a quick attempt to reach the last hold, I use my supporting right leg to give myself momentum to propel myself forward, but it’s too late. My thoughts got the better of me and I fall to the mat – another failure.
Not wanting to leave you on a cliffhanger (climbing pun not intended), I finally completed this climb shortly after attempting it again. However, as a beginner in bouldering, I learned an important lesson that day: I had to accept failure in order to succeed.
Growing up, I was given the title of “high flyer” very early on. In high school, I was in the top 5% of my student body, I did an internship with a well-known congresswoman, I was an editor at my high school newspaper, and I captained my club soccer team. I was “reached” in the truest sense of the word.
But what I really did was push myself to the point of exhaustion for fear of failing and not being as good as others, two perspectives on life that had made me refrain from trying new things.
It wasn’t until I was chatting with my friend Andrew Maher, who is an incredible and amazing climber at SLUG Garden one summer evening, that I really had the confidence to try to break out of the mindset that had been holding me back.
I remember telling them that I was intimidated to start climbing, that the thought of taking a beginner’s course and failing in front of so many people was incredibly scary. I expected them to agree and laugh like so many other people in my life, but their response surprised me.
“Failure is the best thing,” Maher said.
I’m not sure if it was how they said it or if I actually absorbed what they said, but it shocked me. Here was Maher – an experienced and talented climber – who so unabashedly accepted their failure.
Shortly after this conversation, I plucked up the courage to take a beginner’s bouldering course. While it was awkward learning the basics at a gym where people climb extremely challenging routes, I had so much fun learning a new skill and after the course was proud of myself for having pushed my limits.
It got me trying a bunch of new hobbies, some good at and some bad at.
I was so used to feeling tremendous pressure to do well at things that it was refreshing to try so many things – with no strings attached. I started meeting people by taking up new hobbies and I found so much enjoyment in the hobbies I liked, climbing being one of them. I began to feel a new kind of happiness in my life that I believe I lost because of the fear I carried inside.
It’s so easy to stick to everyday life in college. We have set schedules, clubs, work, internships and so much homework. With the added pressure of social media and the demands of life, it’s easy to stick to what’s comfortable and what we know we’re good at. How many of us don’t try new things in our lives because we’re afraid of failure? How many of us have gone back to being beginners?
Climbing has allowed me to get out of my comfort zone and take up hobbies I’ve always wanted to try. But it also taught me that embracing failure is an important part of life that I must accept.
I won’t always succeed. The reality is that in life I will probably fail more than I will succeed. However, it is only possible to achieve the success I want to achieve if I am able to fail and learn from my past experiences.
Kimberly Cortez is the Community Engagement Editor at The Beacon. She can be reached at [email protected].
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