In the rock climbing community, the term beta refers to information about a climb, which may also be called a route. Beta can include anything from a route’s rating of difficulty, style, or length, all the way to specific hand, foot, or body positions needed to successfully complete the climb.
For those who are new to climbing, it might seem that utilizing effective beta is the quickest way to improve as a climber. I certainly thought this was true when I began climbing almost two years ago. While understanding and using correct beta is of immense value, the mental rather than physical aspects of the sport are often just as, if not more, important to successful climbing.
Over the past year and a half, I have learned five valuable lessons that take me beyond beta to a deeper level of understanding of myself. Both as a climber and as a person, these lessons have helped me consider who I am and who I want to be, and I find them applicable both on and off the wall.
- Comparison is the enemy.
In climbing, just as in life, the people next to us are seldom equal to us in skill. On rare occasions, they might know less than we do, but far more often, we find ourselves surrounded by those who are miles more experienced. Compare yourself to others and you are sure to board a one-way flight to failure. Yet, the lesson I have learned through climbing is not that we should isolate ourselves from those who are more accomplished in an attempt to feel confident about ourselves. Indeed, I have learned quite the opposite. Dr. Daniel Rose, my professor and academic advisor, loves to remind his class, “If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.” In both climbing and life, this saying rings true. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, never compare yourself, and be humble enough to learn from the knowledge and wisdom of others.
- Give encouragement and seek out encouragers.
If you read my blog “Handling Criticism: Five Lessons from the Great British Baking Show,” you probably remember me stressing that encouragement is an important ingredient for success. This fact is true of anything that we set out to accomplish, but it is especially true on the wall. Not only must we seek encouragers, but we must readily give encouragement ourselves. As in life, you’re not likely to succeed as a climber unless you intentionally surround yourself with people who desire to see you succeed.
- Your mind will hold you back if you let it.
When allowed, the mind can and will shackle the body. There are so many temptations, in life and in climbing, to view tasks as impossible to accomplish. For example, take the ratings of routes, which in a typical climbing gym range anywhere from 5.6 to 5.13. These ratings, while in some ways helpful, may also hold climbers back if they allow themselves to dwell too long on them. Rather than rating the difficulty of the mountains we must climb, both literally and figuratively, what if we chose to free our minds from these shackles and truly believe that anything is possible with enough faith?
- Fail often and always try again.
Failure is a part of life, and it is definitely a part of climbing. If you’re not failing, you’re doing something wrong. Never be afraid to push yourself to the limit. In both climbing and life, try a harder route, take the road less traveled even when there is no map. And, when failure comes your way, dedicate yourself to getting back on your feet, dusting yourself off, and trying again. I have found that my greatest achievements on the wall, the routes I am proudest of completing, have come after a long, hard struggle for success.
- Talk to the person next to you.
Our days are filled with so many people whom we have the opportunity to talk to, and yet, so often, we choose to remain isolated. This is especially true when climbing. In a climbing gym, there are many people crowded together in a close vicinity, each struggling toward the same goal, yet there is still such a temptation to find your route, get in the zone, and stick to yourself. Perhaps the most treasured lesson I’ve learned on the wall is that, sometimes, the greatest joy in climbing is talking to the person next to you. In climbing, just as in life, every person has a story. So the next time you’re sizing up the wall or sitting in the break room or waiting for class to start, take a leap of faith and reach out to the person next to you. You never know the joy that this simple act might bring.
It has been far more difficult than expected to put into words all the passionate thoughts and feelings I experience while climbing. However, for both climbers and those who prefer to keep their feet planted firmly on the ground, I truly hope that these five lessons encourage you to shoot for new heights both on and off the wall.
Written by Meredith (NEW: Click on author’s name to learn more about him or her!)