Tuesday, March 4, 2014

SOLSC 4 of 31 March 4, 2014 - Failure or redefined success?

Join me this month as I write a slice of my life each day this March and join many others sharing slices at twowritingteachers.com.  My students will also be slicing this month and you can find links to their daily blogs HERE.  

As my fingertips grip the tiny handholds, my climbing shoes search for purchase on a tiny protruding nubbin. My forearms ache, my fingers scream as I hold my core tight and try to stick to the slightly overhanging face I’m scaling. I try to use my left leg to push over to the handhold I need to grasp with my right hand.

Before I even make the move, I know it’s useless. I just don’t have the skill for this move.  What am I doing here?  Was this a bad idea? My fingers start to slip and I fall…twelve inches onto the thick, padded mat in the climbing gym.

I sigh.  I’m trying a GREEN bouldering route, which is at the recreational, or easiest level.  I didn’t make it past the first move. While I’ve successfully climbed two routes already (although they may be called problems. I’m not sure). One was just plain easy and the other took me several attempts and it’s no sure thing I will be able to do it again.

Not me, but an example of the lithe-like people in the gym and the moves they do.

Around me in the “Bouldering Cave,” a dozen lithe bodies take turns clinging to the walls, seeming to defy gravity, easily working from one handhold to another.  They are also at least a dozen years younger than my thirty-eight years and I’m rarely accused of being lithe. I work to stave off frustration as they make routes, far above my level, seem simple.

The thing is, I’m a confident rock scrambler. I’m relatively athletic, have climbed mountains, made rock climbing moves while looking between my legs at rocks a hundred feet below. I’ve been roped up and climbed some rock pitches and belayed others as well.  But this bouldering is another matter.  I am a beginner, a Noob. I don’t know the lingo. I don’t know the etiquette. I am sure everyone else knows I have no real idea what I’m doing.  I do know; this is how my students feel when I ask them to try something new.

Earlier in the day was the first day of Ultimate (Frisbee football to some) practice at my school. I told the fifteen, eleven-to-thirteen year old boys:
That we all had different skills levels, from beginner to skilled.
Everyone would make mistakes and everyone needed to be able to move past it and try again without feeling badly.
That skilled people fail at a something and just try again.
Beginners fail and sometimes never try again, but with good support they often do.
All that mattered was that we tried hard and supported each other to keep trying and getting better.
If we were not having fun, we were not doing it right.

I look back at those initial handholds on the wall in front of me. Right now, I do not have the required skill, understanding of the first move, or strength to figure it out.  I know that and IT IS frustrating. I pick up and move to that green route I’ve only solved once this evening. I expect with practice, my body will figure out this new skill.  For now, I work to believe that success means, try to get better and don't give up. 

I put my hands on the first handhold, smile to make sure I'm having fun, and try again.  

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/mloskot/6998433459/">Pantera and Mateusz</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a><a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>


  1. This sort of thing terrifies me. Have you seen this fellow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SR1jwwagtaQ ... crazy stuff! But, good for you that you push yourself to try new things, Max, and that you do so in a spirit of fun. And, I love the connection to teaching and being patient with our kids. Absolutely!

    1. Tara, I have not seen that video, but I saw some footage of him and shared it with my class before we went to Yosemite three years ago. He's pretty amazing. And that is not at all what I do or want to do. Crazy!

  2. I don't know if I can do it even in a harness anymore, but when I did climb with my students a few years ago, I loved it, but you're working on free-climbing/bouldering. Wow, what a trip that would be. I too am glad you connected to the teaching. We ask a lot of the students and I'm always so proud that they are so willing! Thanks Max!

  3. What an excellent lesson for all humans! Thanks for sharing, Max!

  4. So important for us to force some struggles upon ourselves and take us out of our own comfort zones. It offers up such great perspective to understand what our students face on a daily basis. Thanks for the great slice!