I went rock climbing on Saturday for the first time ever and it was awesome and I totally recommend it and I’m going back tomorrow! There are no ropes or harnesses at the New Orleans Boulder Lounge; Instead you free-climb up their 15 foot walls (with a padded floor underneath) along routes of hand- and foot-holds. The routes are color coded by difficulty, and so I chose the easiest routes because it was my first time ever and I’m no fool.
My first dozen times up the wall, I’d get about 8 or 10 feet off the floor and panic. My brain would start up the alarm bells and I’d freeze on the wall. I’m not particularly afraid of heights, but I felt paralyzed, unable to lift my hand away from its hold to find the next one up. But I persisted, and finally managed to get to the top of the wall. I climbed for a couple of hours until I was too tuckered out to do any more.
It was exhilarating! My arms and legs were sore for days afterwards, and my face was too from smiling. I was amazed at how happy climbing made me, and how free I felt from my own self-criticisms. So much of the time I feel stuck like I was halfway up the wall, incapacitated by the fear of failure, or maybe fear of my own ascent.
As I sat and watched other more experienced climbers do their thing, one of the employees came from behind the desk and put on her climbing shoes. She approached the wall at an easy route, one I had attempted, repeatedly failed at, and finally successfully climbed. She stood quietly, assessing her route. She took a breath, walked to the wall, and with more grace than I could have imagined, she climbed to the top. There was an effortlessness to her movements that amazed me. It was like she had danced up the wall.
I’ve spent a whole lot of my life comparing myself to other people. This is a destructive force. It was so freeing to go to the climbing gym, where I have no stakes in the game, nothing to prove. It didn’t matter to me how good I was at what I was doing. It was fun and fulfilling and I didn’t need it to be anything else.
But in so many other areas of my life (art-making, relationships, appearance, finances, etc) I find myself comparing myself to other people. These comparisons are so often without context, and without knowing it, we compare our own beginning to someone else’s middle. This route that had been insurmountable to me was automatic to her. I don’t know the graceful climber’s story, her background, or her prior athletic experience, so to compare myself to her is utterly without basis.
Even when I manage to escape the trap of comparing myself to other people, I still often end up comparing myself to some idealized version of myself that, surprise surprise, I never seem to live up to. The inner judge doesn’t give a shit about context. Its only function is to criticize, to condemn, to keep us small.
Look at the ways that you compare yourself to other people. What expectations do you have of yourself? Do they harm you when you don’t live up to them? How much freer would you feel if you let go of those comparisons? If you didn’t have a predetermined ideal to live up to, who could you be? What could you do?
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