How Rock Climbing Is Teaching Me About Failure (and Success!)


It’s a long way down!

I recently tried rock climbing for the first time. Before they set you loose inside the rock gym you must pass a short course in how to use the harnesses and ropes. I will never forget the moment when  I had climbed halfway up the wall and the instructor said “Okay, now let go and fall.” I looked down, it seemed like a long, long way down, and replied “Are you kidding me?” I remained glued to the wall though my fingers were tiring and my arms beginning to tremble while the instructor coaxed me to simply let go.

I realized a couple things while I was clinging for dear life. First, it’s hard to overcome  a fear that has been ingrained in you for 35 years. Second, it’s difficult to place trust that someone will catch you. Third, that what I was feeling up there on the wall was a lot like my myriad other fears in all facets of my life.

Whatever the struggle, usually we reach a certain point where we are frozen to our wall. Too scared to go up, but even more scared to fall down. We cling to our safety zone, though we become fatigued and tired of being stuck.

When you approach an obstacle, whether it be a 30 foot rock wall or a career or fitness goal, it looks daunting. You observe, gather information, plan your route for reaching the top then tackle it with enthusiasm. Somewhere, halfway up you get stuck and panic sets in. You can let go, give up, and start again, or you can take stock of your resources. Are you using everything available to you to progress? Can you shift right or left, move even an inch up or down to provide more leverage? Does another perspective from a friend or family member offer a solution that you cannot see? 

Usually, the solution isn’t easy. It’s a reach that’s just outside of where you feel stable, a move that requires more power than you think you have left. Your only option is to give it a shot, or give up. I’ve discovered that even though it terrifies me to try, I have been able to reach that next handhold more often than not. Being on the wall is teaching me about trying harder, that you are capable of more than you think you are. Even if you fail, you can try again, and you’ll be stronger the next time. 

So what happened with the first fall I was paralyzed to take? Well, I did it, and you know what? It was kind of fun. Even though I get scared every time I climb, once I reach the top and relish that sense of accomplishment, I can let go, enjoy the smooth ride back down, then tackle the next obstacle.


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