F R I C T I O N

Have you noticed it yet?

Some describe it as a line,
A faint division,
Or a worn groove.

A friend once told me:
It’s friction.

You may not have a name for it yet.
But surely you have felt it,
For it is too strong
To go unnoticed.

This friction
Is between two sides
Of self-love.

On one side there is acceptance | The other, growth

On one side there is gentleness | The other, discipline

On one side there is peace | The other, motivation

On one side there is presence | The other, vision

Perhaps you can remember
What it feels like
To be torn between the two.

Or to be so far from center
That you forgot
There was once a choice.

Now all we can do
Is pay attention.
And learn to play…

A little here.
A little there.

For if we strive for balance
It does not occur between the scales,
But when there is equal weight on both sides.

So where will you fall today?
This week?
This year?

You’ll know you’re close
When you faintly feel
The heat of friction.

Degrees of Oomph

With the arrival of 2019, I’ve been reflecting on what kind of energy I want to bring into the new year. Who do I want to be and what do I want to focus on in the coming 365 days? In 2018, I focused on career and poured my heart and soul into working hard to create something new. But I also ended the year feeling slightly unbalanced and out of touch with my body. My pendulum swung wildly from working crazy hours every week to struggling with motivation and working only part-time. I got a never-ending cold and could feel that my hormones were out-of-whack. My neck and shoulders felt tight and I was craving sweets. Not really a strong finish, I’d say.

In 2019 I want to focus on creating a steadier lifestyle for myself – working and playing evenly throughout the year instead of diving between spectrums. I also want to take better care of my body and mind by stretching often and incorporating more cardio into my week, not to mention meditating, writing, and cooking new things.

Leading a workshop at the Outwild Festival in November of 2018 (photo: Eliza Earle)

 

This left me thinking – how committed am I to my resolutions? Of the lengthy list of objectives above, which ones am I willing to push hard and make happen?

Asking myself these questions reminded me of a client I’d had awhile back who was struggling to follow through with the goals we’d set each week. If the smallest obstacle got in their way it was game over. After noticing the pattern, we worked on becoming more intentional when drafting their to-do list, but also identified one goal every week that the client would be willing to fight for and prioritize even if it wasn’t easy. This practice slowly developed into a measurement system that we called their “Degree of Oomph.”

Degrees of Oomf can be ranked from 1-10 with one meaning the smallest of factors could get in your way and you would bail, and ten meaning that hell and high water could cross your path and you’d still march forward. For instance, let’s say I wake up and want to go on a hike, but there’s a 10% chance of rain at 11 am. If I cancel the hike, that would be a fairly low Degree of Oomph – say a 2. Now let’s say it’s actively raining, my car battery is dead, and due to the late start I’m barely going to make it back in time for work. But, instead of abandoning ship, I grab my raincoat, coordinate a carpool, and hustle down the trail. Even when the number of excuses I could have used piled up, I decided to stick to my plan. That would be a much higher Degree of Oomf – maybe an 8.

The point is not that we should get outside in every hurricane. The point is that every time we set a goal we should ask ourselves about our Degree of Oomph. How much hardship are we willing to endure to create our desired outcome? Is this a “one good excuse and I’m out” type of goal? Or is this a “with every barrier there is a potential solution” type of goal? We get to choose. Ideally, we stop making measly excuses for things we really want or finding ourselves fighting hard for something that isn’t important to us.

Oftentimes, I think we allow societal pressure to guide our Degree of Oomph, especially regarding what we’re willing to do to excel in the workplace versus what we’ll do to take care of our bodies and minds. We’ll skip doctor’s appointments to make it to a meeting on time, but cancel our camping trip because we have errands. We’ll sit in hours of traffic to get to work, but miss a yoga class because it’s across town. We’ll sit through conflict-resolution courses that our boss insists on, but tell our partners we don’t have time for counseling. Too often we find solutions when it comes to work and make excuses when it comes to health and happiness.

Financial security and career are obviously important tenets of our lives and I’m not advocating that we should abandon our grit in the workplace in order to play outside. But what if we brought the same problem-solving work ethic we have in our careers to ourselves? And if our Degree of Oomph was slightly higher for one or two things, we might start seeing results around goals we’ve wanted for a long time.

As for me, I’m still deciding on what will receive my highest Degree of Oomph this year. For now I’m being more intentional with my work schedule and have prioritized healthy eating for the month of January. Most importantly, I’m checking in regularly with myself and noticing before I make excuses that are out of laziness or upside down priorities.  Oomph is high, so bring it on, 2019.

Panorama from a hike at home in Las Vegas

Honest, Timely, & Kind Communication

The word authentic is everywhere these days. It’s a hashtag on Instagram. It’s discussed by your yoga teacher while you lie in savasana. It’s written into corporate mission statements and in the title of more than 8,000 books on Goodreads. But like any word that’s repeated over and over again, it’s beginning to lose its meaning. We’ve thrown it around so often that we’ve forgotten how it actually applies to real life.

I became so frustrated with authenticity the other day that I swore to stop saying it. Authenticity was a marketing ploy, a platitude, not a form of self expression. Definitely not a way of life.

But, reality check: I’m a life coach. I can’t abandon the word authenticity. It comes up almost every day in my work with clients. For example:

“I’m tired all the time.” How much energy are you expending trying to be someone you’re not?
“I’m so far away from reaching my goals.” When was the last time you actually said out loud what you really want?
“I feel disconnected from the people around me.” How much of yourself are you letting others see?

So today I want to claim back authenticity. Not by saying we should all recommit to our favorite hobby or reclaim our sense of style (and definitely not by saying the word authentic repeatedly in every day conversation in the hopes that saying will make it so). But instead, with something slightly more subtle: communication. And not just any communication.

With honest, timely, and kind communication.

This means sharing your real opinions, insights, and perspectives. And I don’t mean after you’ve filtered them, a few months after you originally thought them, or in a explosive reaction that shuts down all meaningful conversation. No. In a way that actually represents how you feel, when you feel it. In a way that reeks of vulnerability and courage.

Why honest?
So often we are afraid to let others know who we really are – to be weird, to have strong opinions, to stand up for what we believe in. We associate being ourselves with conflict, confrontation, or disappointment. But the fastest way to authenticity is with your voice. How much energy are we exerting by constantly filtering our thoughts through the “societal norms” and “is this what people expect of me” checklist? And while we may lose the people in our lives who want the quiet, non-confrontational version of us, we gain deeper, more real, more exciting, and less exhausting connection with everyone else.

Why timely?
What is gained when we express ourselves months after a situation arose? Especially if during those months we became increasingly resentful or watched an opportunity slip away? Communicating in a timely manner is important, because otherwise we’re allowing the damage to be done. We’re not taking responsibility for our own desires or happiness. In all the time we spent stewing on our feelings, we could have been making compromises, finding better arrangements, or prioritizing our health and sanity. 

Why kind?
When we communicate how we feel, it has to be about us. It’s not an appraisal of someone else, and it’s never shaming, calling names, or acting out of spite. Making judgements shuts others out and prevents real communication from happening. So when it comes to vocalizing your opinion, be smart and sincere. Use I statements. Tap into your empathy. Channel compassion. Don’t tell others how they should or shouldn’t be, remember this is about you. Explain what brings you happiness, hurts your feelings, satiates your desires, and what is it you want from the world. It’s not an attack on anyone else, simply a declaration of yourself.

Every time we speak up, we become more ourself and less a churning production line of pre-approved societal mannerisms. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always comfortable, but it is freeing. Even better, it can help us begin to create what we actually want in life, by being who we want to be in life.

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.

 

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.