When I was a professional climbing guide, those were some of the most rewarding years of my life. Being in the mountains taught me a lot of things.
How to deal with 30 days of freezing rain and only three pairs of nasty socks with everything I needed on my back.
How to be really hungry and thirsty and conserve my energy so I could keep going, knowing food and water were a long way away.
How to eat pasta that had white gas spilled on it, because hey, that’s what we had (in case you’re wondering, yes, you do fart and burp it out).
How to sleep with my helmet on because we were camped under a place with notorious rockfall and no other alternatives. Not to mentioning managing my thoughts around a rock landing on my head so I could relax enough to get much-needed sleep!
How to feel pain in my hands and feet due to extreme cold for hours and hours during a climb, getting temporary respite when I had time to swing my limbs around to bring the blood flow to the tips of my fingers and toes.
How to deal with my legs going numb after hours of boredom on a hanging belay (and this was before ipods and podcasts to chip away at the time).
I could keep going on, but you get the point.
You don’t get to do cool shit without knowing how to be uncomfortable.
In the peak of my mountaineering days, I wasn’t the strongest climber. I wasn’t the most skilled climber. But I got asked to go on a lot of expeditions.
One of my favorite partners said, “I like climbing with Ana because she knows how to suffer.”
Isn’t that crazy? But what they meant was I could suffer and not bitch and moan about it all day. I could suffer and just take it, keeping focused on the task at hand. I could suffer and know how to take care of myself so that others didn’t have to. I could suffer and keep moving forward. I could suffer and still laugh and make jokes and lend my partners a hand.
That’s what you want in a climbing partner. Frankly, I think it’s what you want in any kind of partner.
It’s also what you want as a character trait if you want to do cool shit in this life.
Dr. Martin Luther King said:
“The ultimate measure of a [wo]man is not where [s]he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where [s]he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Knowing how to suffer and be uncomfortable opened up a lot of doors for me. It wasn’t just the trips I got to go on. I also learned to do hard things, things that would possibly take a long time, and having to stick with it through and through.
I learned how to fail, sometimes literally falling on a climb and physically hurting myself. And how to get back up, over and over.
I learned how to take risks – and how fear does not help AT ALL when trying to get out of a sticky situation.
I learned how to be present despite my discomfort so that I could stay focused on the task at hand.
And so much more.
You can see how this probably helped me in a lot of other things having nothing to do with the outdoors – like starting my business. Or getting my doctorate degree. Or hanging in there with my marriage when things got tough. Or grieving the death of my parents.
This is why I don’t wish you comfort and joy. I wish you better.
I wish you the ability to be uncomfortable.
I wish you the ability to know that life inherently includes suffering and that you don’t need to run from it.
I wish you the knowledge that there’s nothing “wrong” happening when shit gets hard. It’s just the way it is.
I wish you the courage to step into discomfort, knowing that what lies on the other side will be so worth it.
I wish you the deep knowing that you can handle anything so that you don’t shy away from taking risks in life (aka ziji!)
So no, you don’t deserve comfort. You deserve better.
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