Updated: May 7, 2019
Rock climbing has been an integral part of my life for the past 13 years. What began as a distraction from the madness of undergraduate studies has blossomed into a long-term love affair. I have always loved the physical challenge associated with the sport, but over the years, I have come to notice just how many opportunities it offers for personal and professional development. Below are the 8 key lessons climbing has taught me about leadership, and life:
1. Collaboration and Differing Perspectives
Climbing is solitary, yet highly collaborative in nature. To climb safely, you must have someone to belay and/or spot you, meaning you are always part of a team.
Active encouragement and coaching are common when someone is stuck on a route. This is often quite helpful, as people on the ground have a different vantage point, and can see the route in a way the climber can’t. There have been many instances throughout my climbing career in which I have been able move past a problem as a result of these different perspectives. I am able to get farther faster when I am open and willing to work collaboratively with others.
2. Failure is a Moment, Not an End Result
Climbers face failure often, and with gusto. When working on a route beyond current ability – referred to as a project – it is common to fall. Repeatedly.
Failure is often celebrated. This is possible because failure is seen as a moment, rather than an end result. Just because I didn’t complete a route this time does not mean I never will. Failure, then, is an opportunity to collect information to apply to the next attempt. This information allows climbers to identify their strengths, where they need to grow, and what they need to do differently to successfully complete the project.
3. The Power of Resilience
Given the nature of repeated failure, climbers must be physically and mentally resilient. The strongest climbers learn not to take momentary failure personally. I love to fall, myself. It teaches me that I have what it takes to get back up and try again. It shows me where I can improve, what I need to focus on, what my strengths are, how to play to them, and, perhaps most importantly, how to persevere when things get tough.
4. Resourcefulness: How to Leverage Strengths
Every climbing route has beta – information about how to complete a route. However, beta is not created equally. What works for one climber will not work for another, and every climber will have advantages in one area, and disadvantages in another. Climbers must learn how to be resourceful when faced with a disadvantage; know how to apply their strengths, and how to maximize their leverage within a move.
5. Creative Problem Solving
Problem solving is an inherent aspect of climbing. Every route has a ‘crux’ – the most difficult part of the climb – and it is often as much a mind-bender as it is a physical challenge. To get past the crux, climbers have to determine where they are, where they want to be, and how they are going to get there. Problem solving happens quickly and continuously within climbing. Too much time spent thinking will lead to fatigue. Climbers assess the issue, solve for the problem, commit to the move, execute, regroup, and assess the next problem, at lightning speed.
Climbing is all about trust. When on the wall, I have to trust that my belay partner has my back, that the holds I am using are solid, that my gear is sound. The biggest exercise in trust, however, occurs with self. I have to trust myself through my movements, even when I am not comfortable, or entirely sure to do next. I am strongest when I trust myself, and know that I have everything I need within myself to get through the moment.
7. Move Beyond Fear
Fear is an unavoidable emotion, and climbing is no exception. There are moments on the wall where a hold feels sketchy, or like I’m about to fall. And sometimes, I do fall. However, more often than not, fear is simply an indication that I am about to move beyond my comfort zone. In climbing, and in life, it is imperative to step beyond that fear in order to grow.
8. Climbing as Meditation
Climbing requires focus, concentration, confidence, immediacy, presence, and expanding beyond what you think is possible. I often think of it as a form of physical meditation. It is common for me to begin a climbing session ruminating over something, and end my session with an answer. Following a climbing session, I tend to experience increased feelings of wellbeing, a serene sense of calm, and spikes in productivity and creativity. There is always benefit in movement through mindfulness.
I believe that leadership can be learned anywhere, and I know I have a lot left to learn from climbing. Are there activities in your life that have offered you powerful teachings about life and leadership? Let me know in the comments!