It is said that you can ever really be good at 2 of 3 things at any given time (who actually originated the saying, I don’t know, but let’s go with it for the purpose of this post). For adults this might look like: Work, Family, Self. For young adults it can look like: Work/School, Friends/Family, Self. You can lump a number of things within each of those pillars, but on the highest level, putting too much focus in any one of them starts to degrade the quality and satisfaction from the other two. Therefore, life becomes a delicate balancing act, either juggling to make it all work, or letting things fall through cracks until one of the scales bottoms out and forces you to abandon everything to bring it back up again.
For me, climbing fits in the Self category. Climbing doesn’t really serve anyone other than myself in that my accomplishments don’t end hunger or feed the poor, but, they can inspire, challenge, and provide an emotional and/or physical outlet for people that is deeply rewarding and satisfying for them and for myself. This result is more tangential to my climbing because while it’s great to be climbing to inspire, I climb because I love the challenge.
When I’m climbing regularly, I’m happy and my Self feels full. Unfortunately, when I’m out climbing too much and only focused on climbing, then I start to lose touch with friends, my communities break down, my relationships begin to suffer, etc. In fact, the impact is more than external to myself; within the Self pillar I know I have several factors to appease: my creative, serving, intellectual, and physical sides (to name a few). If climbing isn’t satisfying all of those areas, then I’m not entirely happy just climbing. I’ll need to branch out and fulfill these other areas in some other way.
If you are at all self-aware, then you have an inkling (or more than an inkling) for what you need to be happy. Fulfilling those areas is not difficult if you have no one but yourself to consider. The reality is most people care about others and care about their quality of life enough to know that energy is required in those pillars in addition to their self-care. As soon as you start caring about anything other than yourself, then you have to make compromises.
In the case of the job, unless you don’t mind the dirt bag lifestyle or being homeless (for realz), then you probably want a job of some stature and caliber that will give you a satisfying lifestyle. Like-wise with your friends and family, if you care about having people in your life, then you will compromise your time to be with them and help or take care of them, when or if needed.
While I care about myself, I care about my lifestyle and people too. This makes my all encompassing obsession with climbing a challenging one. Most of my friends are climbers, but my family, my not so steady boyfriend and some of my closest friends are not climbers.
If I were to put everything into climbing, in the long run, does life really get easier or does life get harder?
To try to answer this question, let’s look at the romanticized life of living in a van to climb full-time.
Taking time off to live the van life is not the same as living the van life 24/7 indefinitely. In the former case, you can always come “home” to something. In the latter, there really is no other place for you to go.
In 2007, I lived on the road for 18 months with my at the time boyfriend. It was 2 years in the making for myself (prior to meeting him) and the first time I would embark on such an experience. It was a memorable and satisfying time in a lot of ways, though that doesn’t mean it didn’t come with issues, like I didn’t have a job and I was bored, a lot.
Living in the van to climb full-time, gave me insight into what it would be like to make my life about climbing. With this mindset and upon reflection, I can see how the job pillar collapsed. I quit my job to go on the road and I didn’t find work while traveling because it didn’t make sense to stay too long in any one place, since we wanted to move around a bit (the digital age hadn’t quite materialized). Initially the family pillar stayed strong because I got to see my family as we traveled through or near enough through to enable that. And, traveling with my boyfriend meant I had my “family” with me.
Part of the road trip was living in Australia. I suffered an injury 5 months into that leg of the trip and couldn’t climb, that’s when my world fell apart. What do you do on a road trip, living in Australia with no work visa, monsoon rains, and too much time? Go crazy!
I tried to stay active, but whatever I tried wasn’t satisfying enough. I was bored, stir crazy and no amount of puzzles was helping me feel better about my situation. I went out and tried to record bird sounds because I was fascinated by them, just to have something to do (but unfortunately, ended up losing all of those recordings). 😦 My boyfriend could climb so I’d belay but it was frustrating to be at the cliff and not climbing. There was the collapse of the self.
I was failing at fulfilling the self in a big way and it was driving me crazy (and probably driving him crazy too, let’s be honest! :). There was no job to focus on so the job pillar was absent. My friends/communities and family had dwindled to just my boyfriend putting all expectations and pressures on him, which caused friction between us and nearly collapsed that pillar. I wasn’t being active and climbing or creating anything so there went the self pillar.
This experience taught me to pay attention to this balance to avoid collapsing pillars and more importantly if one of the pillars should collapse, make sure the other two are strong enough to pick up the slack. The worst is to lose focus on this and watch as your whole life spirals seemingly out of control. For me it means, I can’t put everything into climbing or in the long run, I might end up just like I did during that trip in Australia.
To help me keep my pillars in balance, I focus a lot on my climbing but I also have a remote job that pays well enough and has a flexible schedule to allow me the ability to climb. I have been making more investments in my friends, family, surrogate family, and some strides in understanding the relationship I want for the long haul. Building this gym in KY, assisting the Mission with odds and ends work, giving a career talk to Lee County High School, and coaching are ways I’m keeping my self pillar strong.
Now that my job is being outsourced, I’m holding the vision that I can find something amazing to replace it. By making sure I’m taking care of myself, I have the energy to deal with whatever else life has to throw at me. I encourage others to do the same. What I’ve learned is that while climbing is an important part of my life, creating a stable and more fulfilling life can be had by balancing the 3 simple pillars in our lives.
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