Tell Me Again, How do I Become a Badass?
At theme parks with my family as a kid, I remember feeling terrified that my sister, Jaime, would insist we get onto the biggest rollercoaster at the park. I felt even more terrified that I wouldn’t work up the courage to ride it if she did. I remember sailing trips with Jaime, my cousin Ellie, and my grandparents during the summers of my adolescence, nervous for the moment when they decided to jump off the boat into the dark pacific northwest waters, and equally horrified at the thought of being the only one not to do it. I’d get on the rollercoaster only after hours of coaxing, clutching Jaime’s hand for the full length of the ride. I’d jump into the water only if she was waiting for me in the freezing cold water with outstretched arms. I spent my whole childhood full of fear, but continuously pushed to explore due to my family’s tenacity to show me just how rad the world can be.
As an adult, I’ve continued to surround myself with courageous and outdoorsy people, mostly because I’ve found over and over again that every time I push myself I’m delighted with the outcome. Rollercoasters leave me breathless and wide-eyed, the ocean leaves me energetic and alive, and, more recently, climbing leaves me feeling strong and capable. But despite my love for adventure, I continue to face fear on a weekly basis. As I push the limits of my comfort, I find myself more and more frustrated by my anxiety. Why am I haunted by it? Why can’t I step into the void of unknown as comfortably as my peers?
I spent the past month sport climbing at crags throughout Switzerland. As I worked to lead harder and harder routes, it was often fear of falling, not ability that stopped me. While climbing does involve some risk, the falls I feared were usually well protected, high off the ground (no danger of decking), and under the guidance of a skilled belayer - essentially harmless. I watched the climbers next to me move high above their bolts, tackling the wall boldly and silently, taking falls that appeared graceful and delicate - “butterflies floating down the wall” I called them. It became clear that getting better meant facing my fear of falling - learning to transform fearful energy into focused and controlled energy.
After multiple conversations with Alex, chapters of The Rock Warriors Way, some inspiring climbing days, and some not-so-inspiring climbing days, I found that my techniques for dealing with life’s stressors should be the same as those I use in the outdoors. Primarily watching my thoughts, but not feeling forced to act upon them, maybe even laughing at them - to remember that my thoughts do not control or define me (like at home when I think, "I should eat a whole pizza for dinner").
In climbing, when I tell myself “oh god, oh god I’m going to die” and then claw at the holds until my fingernails bleed, I can instead simply observe the thought, and maybe comment to myself, “huh, it would appear that I am scared shitless…interesting… good thing I’ve got good protection and I am a leaf on the wind…”
Often my fear on the wall occurs when I project anxiety into the future, even if everything is fine in the moment. Yes, I can grab this hold, but what if I can’t grab the next one? What if it gets too hard? In my personal life, my plans are currently as flexible and moldable as my creativity allows, and I find myself engaged and inspired by the emptiness. What if I took this approach in my climbing? Instead of being afraid that I won’t be able to handle the move in front of me, I’m instead excited by the opportunity to figure it out - maybe on the first try, or maybe 450 attempts later.
The parallels between creating a fulfilling life and pushing myself in the outdoors continue to appear… I’m always better off when I move toward the things I don’t understand because they give me the opportunity to learn more. I’m always stronger when I push myself to confront fear because I learn to trust and rely on my own body and mind. I’m a more open and receptive human when I don’t resist what the universe has put in front of me, but instead move gracefully towards it.
There is still a fearful girl inside me, and that’s okay. First and foremost I want to accept who I am. And secondly I want to become an unstoppable exploring machine. No, just kidding. I’d settle for a confident outdoor enthusiast. Or just an enthusiast really…ok anything goes as long as I keep getting my butt out of bed in the morning.