Letting Go of Expectations

The first time my family decided to go to Walt Disney World, my parents were worried about what every parent worries about at Disney: lines. Lines for every ride, potty break, snack, and meal. Lines you wait in so you can get to more lines….essentially child torture. So on the car ride down they schemed up a solution to the line problem: low expectations. In the hopes of avoiding meltdowns during hour long waits, they began saying things to us like, “wouldn’t it be cool if we got on ONE ride!” They must have been convincing because by the end of the car ride, we kids were happily discussing just how crazy it would be to get on more than one roller-coaster.

The point wasn’t that we wouldn’t try to get on as many rides as possible, just that for every additional one after the first, we would consider ourselves lucky. As it turned out, it was a relatively quiet afternoon and I remember getting on many roller-coasters that day.  My sister and I walked out all smiles – our expectations had been met and exceeded, simply because we’d set them so low.

What if we went through life the way my parents took us to Disney World? Because here’s the truth: expectations are judgements on the way reality should be. And what happens when we judge reality?

Suffering.

I should have gotten that job, but I didn’t. I should have been able to climb that route, but I couldn’t. That vacation should have been relaxing, but it wasn’t. My partner should be able to read my mind by now, but they can’t.

When expectations go unmet, we end up sad, resentful, or angry. We’ve deemed our own circumstances wrong – of course we feel sad and angry. But life is full of the unexpected, and reality isn’t something we can easily argue with. We will fail, succeed, grieve, celebrate, get promoted, get fired, be asked on dates, be turned down, achieve athletic goals, and miss the mark again and again. And what if all of that is okay? What if, even when we try our hardest and things don’t go as planned, it’s still okay because we never identified how it should look from the get-go?

By creating expectations, we eliminate all roads to success except for one. There is one path that leads to satisfaction and everything else is something we must overcome, deal with, or tolerate. It can be exhausting. Not only that, but sometimes when our expectations are met, we bypass happiness and gratitude all together and go straight to righteousness – of course it’s like this, this is what I deserve (and can I have more too?). But when we begin to peel away our expectations of life, we become more open to whatever is in front of us in that moment. We are less stressed, more grateful, and more open-minded. We can pivot faster when things don’t go as planned, and we can learn and grow from our experiences more easily as a result.  We aim for whatever it is that we want and are fully open to whatever reality presents to us in return.

It’s not about setting your sights low, it’s about recognizing there are many ways to achieve success. As we find the bravery and boldness to aim for everything that we want in life, we simultaneously accept whatever it is that we already have. There will be always be lines in life, but there’s (at least) one ride to be grateful for, too.

 

Advertisements

Fear’s Most Dangerous Disguise: Practicality

 

We’ve all been there: trying to rationalize to a friend why exactly we’re sticking with that thing we’ve been complaining about for months (or even years). The thing that brings more pain than joy, that’s not serving us, and sucks our life energy. We say things like, “it’s the smart move” or “I should see where it goes.” We throw in a couple of “have to’s” and “need to’s” alongside a few financial and long-term benefits and BAM! Suddenly we’ve got ourselves a downright practical argument for why we’re going to continue suffering. We stop living passionately because we’re afraid of what we might lose in the process. And worst of all? It looks like we’re being smart.

Fear-based decisions are dangerous because they sound so good. “I’m not really happy here, but I don’t want to move because it’s so expensive and what if I don’t find anything better?” Seems like a good point. But our reasoning is problem-focused. We’re organizing our lives around avoiding suffering that hasn’t even happened yet. And the crazy part is, we’re already unhappy. Responding to fear is like choosing to abdicate your own power. You surrender agency over your own life. What if we stop organizing our lives around avoiding possible challenges, and instead take responsibility for our own happiness? What if we do things because we want to, not because we have to?

Yes, living a life ruled by desire and passion comes with its own set of questions. How much do we focus on the long-term? The short-term? Do we delay gratification? If so, for how long? Think about the life you feel excited to wake up and live each morning. Not the person you think you should be, but the person you are. Consider your values – integrity, consistency, playfulness, bravery, knowledge, accountability or others. When in your life did you feel like everything was aligned, going smoothly, on track? In those moments, what were your priorities? Use this information as a guideline. And despite how cliché it may sound, picking a direction and changing your mind is just as good as knowing what you want from the get-go.

And don’t get me wrong – it’s not about always having fun or escaping duty. It’s about stepping up and acknowledging the control you have in the creation of your life. Sometimes we suffer through an activity because, while it may not be enjoyable, we’re prioritizing something we truly care about, like financial stability, health, family, or service. But we must own our role in the process. This is something we’ve chosen, and therefore want, to do.

So in the decision-making moment, you’ve got two options: move toward the things that bring you happiness or change your perspective and acknowledge what you’re prioritizing in those difficult moments.

Why? Because feeling powerless will never serve you. And the longer you wallow, the harder it becomes to take action. When you live intentionally, you become a force of nature. You begin to create instead of react. Your energy shifts. Suddenly, there’s not only momentum in your life, but it’s moving in the direction you wanted to go. That doesn’t just serve you, it serves everyone around you. When you create a fulfilling life for yourself, you raise the bar on what success should look like – you demonstrate that it’s not just about functioning, it’s about thriving.

Some of this feels cheesy, even to me. But our society is so often driven by fear. We’re terrified of the unknown and riddled with anxiety about outcomes that aren’t even close to happening. We avoid pain at all costs, even our own wellbeing. Our “practical” excuses are just that. Excuses. But every day we make decisions and have the opportunity to start living more intentionally. And each time we do, the world becomes a little bit better, and a lot happier.

Two quotes that I feel like sum it up fairly well?

Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Murakami

Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you in better living conditions.” -Hafiz

My First Hard Look at Life and Death

The first time I saw a dead body I was 11 years old and my grandfather had died. He was lying on a couch in the den of my grandparent’s house. The severity of death hit me immediately. He was so still. There was no one there, no one inside. Just a body. It wasn’t long before he visited me in my dreams. A friendly ghost coming to check in, looking the same as always. I don’t believe in heaven or hell, but I did feel his presence in my sleep.

It’s been over 13 years since my grandpa died. Besides witnessing a terrible car accident, death has been only a lingering thought in the back of my head. Then, this spring, a flurry of unfortunate events forced me to yank open the blinds and take a real and honest look at just how fragile life can be. It started two weeks ago when my friend, Linda, and I were climbing outside Red Rock Canyon on a multipitch called Frogland. In the middle of the third pitch we heard the leader of the group below us scream and rip gear, followed by silence. We heard his partner call up his name tentatively. When the climber was unresponsive, I downclimbed to the anchor where Linda could just barely see the outline of a man hanging upside down. For about 5 minutes we weren’t sure what we would find when we rapped down to help. After passing a stream of blood longer than my body, we got to the ledge where he’d been lowered. Thankfully, he’d regained consciousness. Within a few hours he was at a hospital where he was diagnosed with a few skull fractures and severe concussion. That night, I sat in bed unsure how to feel. Was I sad, angry, scared? I could only discern that I felt very small and very raw.

Less than two weeks after the accident on Frogland, I was hopping in a van for an overnight kayaking trip when I got a text from Alex that said Ueli Steck had died on Everest. He’d been out alone because his partner had frostbite. My tears and feelings came quickly. For a moment, I simply stood there and let the grief rage through me. Why did it hurt so much? I had met Ueli only briefly the summer before. For a week or so we’d all hung out, climbing at the crag or eating dinner at the house with his wife, Nicole. But it was time to leave, so I quickly shoved the news down into my chest and grabbed my life jacket.

A few hours into our kayaking trip I noticed what I thought was a bottle floating in the river just ahead of me. A boat with park service rangers was bobbing nearby, but they seemed distracted. As I reached to recover the bottle I saw it was actually a bundle of twine that was attached to the river floor. I peered into the clear, green water, only to realize I was staring down at a very white, very water-logged dead body. My heart jumped to my chest. “Holy shit,” I said aloud. The rangers looked over and called out that we should move along. “Is that a dead body?” I asked. “Yes it is,” he called back.

We learned later that it was likely a suicide. The kayakers just ahead of us on the river had seen the body and called it in, but there hadn’t been time to remove it yet.

What was going on?? Was the universe trying to tell me something? Death had been shoved in my face and I was cowering in front of it, terrified of its finality and heartbroken by its consequences.

When I first started dating Alex, people would ask me about death. They wanted to know how I felt about his profession and the risk involved in soloing. But I wasn’t wondering if he would die, I was wondering if we even liked each other. Instead of deep contemplations on risk and consequence I felt an intense curiosity to learn more about relationships in his world. I was drawn to partnerships that mimicked our own situation, half professional climber, half athletic dabbler. Ones that demonstrated qualities I cared about: independence and closeness, balance and community, love and commitment. I had so many questions. How often will we see each other? When I pursue my own interests will we inevitably be pulled apart? Can you raise a family?  I saw myself in Becca and Tommy Caldwell. In Nicole and Ueli Steck. They were examples of a possible future yet to come. And then Ueli died. And I was forced to remember that people I love are living life dangerously close to the edge.

Now, I suddenly feel the need to establish a new stance on death, not just because of Alex, but because I’m clearly growing up.

It’s funny how even writing this, I feel like it’s inappropriate and morbid. I’m somehow breaking an unwritten code that death should be discussed quietly and privately. But I hate the unspoken. For my whole life I’ve said what I feel when I feel it. I don’t hold grudges or hang on to past offenses, instead I (sometimes awkwardly) bring up issues moments after they occur. I want death to be no different. No longer taboo, no longer off-limits.

Because no matter how much we like to avoid thinking about it, death is as much a part of living as life itself. In modern society, dying is something to be feared. Something to run away from at all costs. And while I would fight for my life to the very end, I also want to know that if I die, the people around me will look back on our time together fondly, not tinged with tragedy and devastation, but thankful for the time we had together. I would never want my death to take the joy of living from someone else.

It’s natural and healthy to grieve, but maybe it’s also okay when the time is up. Not because we won’t miss the shit out of people we love, but because death is coming for us all. Out of respect, we should live life fully while we’re here, thankful that our loved ones did the same.

I’m trying to see it that way, anyway. The more I reflect on my experiences this month, the more apparent it is that I have a lot of anxiety about losing people in my life.  And as a climber, I’m beginning to see just how closely to the line we all play. But, I want to open myself up to other ways of thinking about our mortality.  I want to be honest with myself about the realities of life and death – they are both unavoidable, both natural, and both reasons to celebrate our brief time on this planet.

Digging up the Roots of Sexism

I want people to be treated equally. I want women and men, people of all colors, sexualities, and socio-economic statuses to be treated without the pre-judgements, stereotypes, or bigoted beliefs that prevent them from being seen as anything more or less than exactly who they are.  No assumptions of intelligence or background, strengths or weaknesses. I want simply to take people at face-value and allow them the opportunity to show themselves.

So the other day when I read the article, “When Feminism Goes Too Far,” by Davita Gurian, illustrating her belief that female climbers are not as oppressed as they may claim and that such claims distract from real issues of sexism, I was surprised when I found a few of her arguments hard to ignore. Throughout the article, she made many examples that I agree with: climbing is a very inclusive sport with many female superstars, female-oriented articles and events, and a community that is psyched for anyone to join who is excited about climbing.

Davita’s article, and others like it, make us question, can feminism go too far? By fighting microaggressions (actions that are often unconscious, innocent, or innocuous) are we distracting ourselves from the bigger picture, and putting ourselves at risk of crying wolf? Or the opposite: does ignoring these actions hinder the broader goal of equality?

Put more simply, we all want equality but can’t agree on where exactly we see sexism. It took me awhile to crystallize what I believe to be true: that the moderate base reinforces the extreme upper tiers. Microaggressions are the pillars of the patriarchy. Unconscious biases are prevalent today because of the small, daily reminders that strength is the equivalent of testicles, and that pussy is the equivalent of weak and cowardly. Just as importantly, we cannot be careless in our identification of these more subtle repressions or jump to conclusions without providing the opportunity for discussion.

fullsizerender-3In Shelma Jun’s article, “How Gender Affects Your Experience at the Climbing Gym” she sites a few examples of women’s experiences of sexism while climbing.  When these situations occur, let’s stand firmly and unhesitatingly in support of equality, but assume best intentions while we do it.  When someone shouts to “man up” are they purposefully reinforcing the engrained societal belief that being brave is associated with the masculine? Likely, no. But, do his or her actions fortify that idea?  Yes. Either way, don’t be afraid to start a dialogue. It is when we step on our high horse and assume the worst of people that we inadvertently prevent growth and change.  And yes, once someone is made aware that their “harmless” actions are actually the underpinnings of oppressive societal stereotypes, it becomes their responsibility to take action and change their ways. 

Some individuals may never feel the demoralizing and disheartening affects of sexism, but to this day the playing field between the sexes is overwhelmingly uneven. For instance, in a 2016 study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company, it was found that men are 30% more likely to be promoted from entry level to managerial positions than women. These studies should not only anger us, but fuel our resolve to make a change. Ultimately, we must push ourselves to exist in a place where society is equal at its foundation and in the very depths of our pysche, not just topically. It’s the difference between pulling off the leaves of a weed or getting it at its roots.

Tell Me Again, How do I Become a Badass?

IMG_1761

At theme parks with my family as a kid, I remember feeling terrified that my sister, Jaime, would insist we get onto the biggest rollercoaster at the park. I felt even more terrified that I wouldn’t work up the courage to ride it if she did. I remember sailing trips with Jaime, my cousin Ellie, and my grandparents during the summers of my adolescence, nervous for the moment when they decided to jump off the boat into the dark pacific northwest waters, and equally horrified at the thought of being the only one not to do it. I’d get on the rollercoaster only after hours of coaxing, clutching Jaime’s hand for the full length of the ride. I’d jump into the water only if she was waiting for me in the freezing cold water with outstretched arms. I spent my whole childhood full of fear, but continuously pushed to explore due to my family’s tenacity to show me just how rad the world can be.

As an adult, I’ve continued to surround myself with courageous and outdoorsy people, mostly because I’ve found over and over again that every time I push myself I’m delighted with the outcome. Rollercoasters leave me breathless and wide-eyed, the ocean leaves me energetic and alive, and, more recently, climbing leaves me feeling strong and capable. But despite my love for adventure, I continue to face fear on a weekly basis. As I push the limits of my comfort, I find myself more and more frustrated by my anxiety. Why am I haunted by it? Why can’t I step into the void of unknown as comfortably as my peers?

P1030292

Photo Credit: Nick Greenwell

I spent the past month sport climbing at crags throughout Switzerland.  As I worked to lead harder and harder routes, it was often fear of falling, not ability that stopped me. While climbing does involve some risk, the falls I feared were usually well protected, high off the ground (no danger of decking), and under the guidance of a skilled belayer – essentially harmless. I watched the climbers next to me move high above their bolts, tackling the wall boldly and silently, taking falls that appeared graceful and delicate – “butterflies floating down the wall” I called them. It became clear that getting better meant facing my fear of falling – learning to transform fearful energy into focused and controlled energy.

After multiple conversations with Alex, chapters of The Rock Warriors Way, some inspiring climbing days, and some not-so-inspiring climbing days, I found that my techniques for dealing with life’s stressors should be the same as those I use in the outdoors. Primarily watching my thoughts, but not feeling forced to act upon them, maybe even laughing at them – to remember that my thoughts do not control or define me (like at home when I think, “I should eat a whole pizza for dinner”).

In climbing, when I tell myself “oh god, oh god I’m going to die” and then claw at the holds until my fingernails bleed, I can instead simply observe the thought, and maybe comment to myself, “huh, it would appear that I am scared shitless…interesting… good thing I’ve got good protection and I am a leaf on the wind…”

Often my fear on the wall occurs when I project anxiety into the future, even if everything is fine in the moment. Yes, I can grab this hold, but what if I can’t grab the next one? What if it gets too hard? In my personal life, my plans are currently as flexible and moldable as my creativity allows, and I find myself engaged and inspired by the emptiness. What if I took this approach in my climbing? Instead of being afraid that I won’t be able to handle the move in front of me, I’m instead excited by the opportunity to figure it out – maybe on the first try, or maybe 450 attempts later.

The parallels between creating a fulfilling life and pushing myself in the outdoors continue to appear… I’m always better off when I move toward the things I don’t understand because they give me the opportunity to learn more. I’m always stronger when I push myself to confront fear because I learn to trust and rely on my own body and mind. I’m a more open and receptive human when I don’t resist what the universe has put in front of me, but instead move gracefully towards it.

FullSizeRender-2There is still a fearful girl inside me, and that’s okay. First and foremost I want to accept who I am. And secondly I want to become an unstoppable exploring machine. No, just kidding. I’d settle for a confident outdoor enthusiast. Or just an enthusiast really…ok anything goes as long as I keep getting my butt out of bed in the morning.

Things are Going Well, it Must be Time to Hit the Road

I spent the past few years coming to the firm conclusion that my happiness is dependent on three things: a rock solid community, a strong sense of self, and my fierce independence. In both high school and college, I committed myself to serious relationships, which while wonderful in their own way, ultimately left me feeling unsure and insecure. I craved the affirmation that came from having a partner and the structure that came from a partnership. And then on the eve of my senior year of college, I suddenly found myself very single and started asking questions like… what do I bring to the table when I show up alone?

As time went by, I flew through my final classes, started casually dating, traveled across the world, applied for jobs, and eventually came to Seattle to start a life, while every step of the way checking in—was this what I wanted? Was this my dream or someone else’s? Am I happy? Did I remember to put on deodorant?

Slowly, I developed a more unique (and questionably more aggressive) personality. I discovered the person I am when no one else is around and there is no one to call, the person I am when there is no decision maker but me (not that I necessarily make great decisions, or even good decisions, but at least I’m making them). I became my own source of strength. I’ll argue that not everybody needs this time as much as I did, or needs to be independent as much as I do. I have friends who gained more strength from being in relationships then they did from being alone. But for me, being on my own was crucial.

So… here I am, living my not-so-glamorous, but wonderfully hilarious basement-chic life, firm in my belief that I discovered the secrets to happiness, when I decide to give my number to a guy at the Seattle Town Hall last December.

And then basically, in a matter of months I took what I knew to be true, accepted it, and threw it out the window.

After a 6-month whirlwind romance, I suddenly had the option of leaving behind my beautiful community, my amazing friends, my beloved room to instead jump on the road for a half planned, half fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants, rendezvous climbing trip in Europe. I would let go of all the stability in my life. I would dive headfirst into a relationship. I would be, for all intents and purposes, homeless and jobless. I always knew I wanted to travel again, to hit the road and push my boundaries, but was I letting go of the woman-power mantra I’d come to live by?

FullSizeRender (1)Despite moments of panic here and there, in the last few weeks I’ve come to realize what’s really true. Maybe I won’t be the solo decision maker anymore, maybe the showers will be fewer and farther between (which goes back to the important questions to ask oneself – Am I happy? Did I remember to put on deodorant?), but ultimately, I am not abandoning my happiness dogma, just stepping forward with a strong foundation beneath my feet. I’m finally ready to be part of something bigger than myself, something I can’t predict, something with potential high risk, but an even greater potential reward.

 

 

Liking Yourself and Other Acts of Rebellion

image1 (1)Out on the climbing wall, I’ll often yell up to my friends as they’re struggling through a particularly hard section that their ass looks great. For one, it’s the only angle I have. And two, it’s usually true. They’ll grunt back something unintelligible, and I’ll yell again, “remember, it’s not what you do, it’s how good you look while you do it!”

Yes, it’s a joke. If anything, climbers have a reputation for taking their sweet time between showers…but I use the phrase to serve as a reminder to relax and have fun.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about beauty and what it means to me. As I transition from socially awkward teen to socially awkward adult, there’s been a shift in my priorities. It probably began when I moved to a new city and found a huge amount of enjoyment in reinventing my style. Gypsy skirts and thrift-store clogs have not-so-subtly crept into my wardrobe. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but more importantly, I find I don’t really care. Am I comfy? Did I remember to put on pants? OK. We’re good to go.

My love for fashion is still alive and thriving – it’s my perspective on beauty that has changed. Beauty is no longer something I love to pursue, it’s the result of pursuing things that I love. I want my skin to be tan because I’ve been playing outside, and my body to look lean because I’m an athlete. I want my arms to be strong because I scale walls, and my belly to be soft because I’m healthy and eat well. I want my hair to be sun streaked because I’ve spent the summer under the sun, and my pores to look clear because the air around me is clean. Here’s a crazy thought, rather than worrying about the circles under my eyes, I want my skin to look bright because I allow myself time to rest and sleep (is it bad that many of us just scoffed at the very idea of this?).

I recently came across a quote that summarized my feelings fairly well.

In a society that profits from your self-doubt, liking yourself is a rebellious act.

 Instead of letting society profit, I think I’ll grant myself my time and energy. I think I’ll be OK with letting my body and appearance evolve as a result of doing what I love, and nothing more. Because being comfortable is beautiful. Being happy is beautiful.

Is this just a huge exposé to justify the sheer number of hours I spend in pajamas?! Maybe. But then again, anybody who loves me is just going to have to love my pajamas too.