Friday, 30 August 2013

What has climbing taught me?

Climbing is the first activity I can remember taking part in where I've truly believed in myself.

After a session with my therapist last week, when we had been looking at how my negative self-image affects the important things in my life (relationships, career, etc.) I popped into my old local to watch the Celtic qualifier for the champions league.

Celtic showed great self-belief to keep knocking on the door and eventually overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg with an injury time winner, going through to the lucrative group stages of the world's premier club competition.

There was a pool match going on at the other end of the pub, and I could see a few faces I remembered as pretty handy players from my time in the Hammersmith and District pool league, so after the final whistle I wandered over to see what was going down.

It was a playoff match to see who would be going forward to the EPA Champions of Champions event at Great Yarmouth, so a big event in these guys year, yet I noticed that most of them looked more relaxed than I used to be on a regular league night.

Despite being up against strong opposition, one thing they all had was confidence in their own ability to play well should they get back to the table.

It struck me that was one thing that I never had in my playing days.

From my early days in Peckham up to Willesden Green and down to Shepherds Bush, everywhere I went in London pool team captains would see me play, sign me up, sticking me in the starting 6, and then eventually drop me down the order as I failed to live up to my potential. I was a notorious black ball bottler.


Well looking at that game last night I stopped to think about what would have been going through my head if I was in those player's shoes, and the answer was almost exclusively negative thoughts.

I'd be pre-occupied with not becoming the guy who let the side down by losing from a winning position, rather than thinking about becoming the hero.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised this wouldn't just happen in competitive games - even having a knockabout in the pub I'd be concerned about how others would view my game and what deficiencies they might see.

I could see it must have affected me technically too - there were some shots (like the stun run through) I never really learned to play - I'd be too afraid of the "risk" of trying to work on them, sticking instead with the game I knew wherever possible.

Around the third pint of Guinness, it began to sink in that the same could be applied to the rest of my life too.

I've made a lot of changes in the last year or so and am starting to feel a bit happier as a result. Big life changes are afoot, and I've clearly started to break out of those patterns of behavior and take risks, but how and why did that start?

I guess it first kicked off in 2008 when I decided I was going to train up to climb 7a (indoor) in a year. I don't remember ever thinking about what would happen if I couldn't - I just decided that as long as I was determined, I could do it.

And I did.

Next, in 2009 I took on something different - to train up and compete in a half ironman. This showed me I could pick up something new, learn how to train for it, do so, and perform quite well on race day itself (making my target time by a couple of minutes, and beating my out of practice but vastly experienced training partner in the process).

An outdoor 7a went down that year too, then 7a+ and in 2010 I sent my first 7b. When a 62 year old lady walked up and onsighted that line right after my 4 day seige I didn't feel belittled, just inspired.

I began to truly believe i could do whatever I wanted in climbing - so long as I was prepared to put in the effort, and sure enough in 2011 I knocked off my first 7c.

When injuries started to get in the way of pushing harder on limestone sport for now, I shifted my goals. Emboldened by my successes I took on new challenges - getting into trad climbing and rock types that wouldn't suit my style.

The "failure" didn't matter any more, I was ready to work through it to learn and "succeed". I was no longer limiting myself to the "shots" I thought I could pull off.

But why did I approach things so differently?

I think it was a matter of timing. I've slowly become more accepting of myself and who I am over my time in London. Growing up in small town Scotland there was a distinct set of rules governing the person you were supposed to be which felt inescapable, but down in this melting pot of cultures there's more of a sense of freedom to be yourself.

And whilst that perhaps didn't have a direct effect on my self-image regarding life skills and activities I was already involved in, it meant that new activities could be approached with more of a clean slate.

I've often heard people talking about climbing teaching them life skills and nodded politely but at the back of my mind was probably the thought that it was a little pretentious. But here's a huge life lesson staring me right in the face.

If I can take that approach and apply it to the parts of my life where I do already have that poor self-image, I should be able to continue turning things around and get on a happier path.

Seems climbing's taught me a lot, and there's a lot more to come if I'm prepared to listen.

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