NON FICTION: Life lessons I learned from climbing

stu climb

Shit I don’t think I can make this move.

Looks like a scary drop if I don’t stick this.

Am I tied in properly?

Why am I doing this again?

Not limited to one thought per climb, I often find myself second-guessing my intent of trusting my life with a pulley the width of my pinky. Not to mention the tedious work involved in building the strength and technique needed to finish a route. But completing a project I’ve been working on makes it all worth it in the end.

It’s much like life, really. Work sucks, results rock. The reason why I enjoy seeking out stuff I’m terrible at is because there’s so many unrelated lessons to glean from them. For instance, I learned that you can’t fake true effort through Muay Thai. Didn’t do your practice? No problem. You’re going to get your ass kicked, is all.

I’ve also learned the importance of likeability through my tenure as a hairdresser. In essence, you can get away with a wrong haircut if a customer likes you enough, but rub them the wrong way, and they’ll sue you for getting shampoo on their collar.

But back to climbing. Let me take you through my lessons learned from the sport.

There’s no substitute to just doing it

Almost everybody’s excuse for not getting into rock climbing is their lack of upper-body strength. They seem almost proud of not being able to do pull-ups, before proceeding to shrug off the sport. Then there are those who make it past the first line of defence, and prep for their first climbing trip by pulling weights, upping their cardio, and doing sets on the hand grippers.

All of the above might provide spillover benefits, but the simple truth remains that to get better at something, you have to do exactly that. There’s no exercise better than just climbing.

The writer’s equivalent would be Googling terms like ‘best plot methods’ or ‘outline or not’ before getting started on writing, when just putting pen to paper would be serving the greater purpose.

So whatever it is you want to get better at, just do it, no matter how bad you think you are at it. You’ll learn from the job, so to speak, and you’ll find out what you need to work on pretty quick.

Progress isn’t linear

This is especially true when it comes to physical activities. Take riding a bike (if you don’t, how else are you going to look cool during the apocalypse?). Chances are, you just kept trying until you could hold your balance. There was no specific feedback loop. There were no workings to analyse, nor theories to memorise. You weren’t sure what you learned exactly from each ride, but one day, you were just able to do it.

That’s how climbing is like to me. Some days, I’m killing the harder routes, and on other days, I get tired just from warming up. It’s only when I look back that I realise how far I’ve come, and that’s the product of my climbing sessions, good or bad.

There’s this saying in marketing that goes along the lines of: “You never know which ads brought in the customers.” Similarly, you’ll never know which actions will take you where you want to go. You just have to keep putting one foot forward, and hope it was the best foot.

There’s more than one way to do things

There are tall climbers, and there are short ones (me!). There are climbers packed with muscle, and ones as sinewy as copper cables. There are the proverbial centaurs and the gym gazelles. Everybody has their own way of expressing their physicality, and there’s no perfect way to complete a route.

I’ve made the mistake of emulating taller climbers, and while it did get me to the top, I was expending more energy that I needed to. One day, a shorter climber came along and took smaller steps, effectively turning the route into a vertical Cha Cha. I applied his moves and found that it made things much easier. Having longer legs, the tall guy would have a harder time doing the latter.

Of course, I’m not asking you reinvent the wheel when it comes to basics, but just because there’s a certain way of doing things doesn’t mean  you can’t keep your mind open to alternatives.

Just because you can scramble eggs doesn’t mean you’re a chef

For simplicity’s sake, let’s label the climbing grades as 5s, 6s, and 7s. There’s no greater joy than completing a level 6 route when you’re routinely climbing 5s. The catch is, finishing a 6 doesn’t automatically mean that you’re a level 6 climber. It just means that you can complete one level 6 route.

It’s like how learning to throw a punch doesn’t make you a boxer, though it does lend you a hand (haha get it) in the grander scale of the sweet science. Similarly, eating a salad doesn’t make you a vegetarian, and going for an aerobics class doesn’t make you Jane Fonda. What they do, however, is getting you closer to your main goals, however small those individual steps may be.

The only person worth comparing yourself to is yourself

I had the privilege of watching the professional climbers on my first day at the gym. If I were to compare myself to them, I’d have walked out that very day. You have people hanging off holds the size of a clam, doing pull-ups 75 feet up because the route didn’t exhaust them enough. How are you supposed to follow an act like that?

It’s good to have mentors or someone to aspire to, but comparing yourself with someone who’s put in substantial hours is a sure path to frustration. Who knows, if you constantly better yourself, you might one day realise that you’ve become someone people look up to.

It’s easier to find like-minded friends than to coax friends into thinking alike

I’ve tried ‘converting’ a few friends of mine to the way of the slab. Unsurprisingly, no one’s ever stuck around. I’ve even went so far as to shoehorn climbing into everyday activities, such as:

“Hey, watcha doing later?”

“Um, lunch I guess.”

“I was going to have lunch too! At Camp 5. Wanna climb?”


I’ve learned that introducing them to the sport is as far as it goes. Finding people that shared my enthusiasm however, became less painful when I began to source from the source (wordplay win).

Now, most of my climbing contacts force me to climb instead, and I find myself needing to come up with excuses, such as not having enough upper-body strength. When it comes to meeting like-minded people, it pays to reach out instead of trying to get something started within your current social circle. In the two hours that I spent at Cilisos‘ meet and greet, I’ve rubbed shoulders with more literary enthusiasts than I’ve had in my three decades of living.

And there you have it. I have no proper ending for this article, so I guess I’ll just leave you… hanging. Seriously though, I really don’t have a closing of any sort. I promise to come up with new stuff more frequently. Perhaps I’ll name the next one: Things I’ve learned from procrastinating.

One thought on “NON FICTION: Life lessons I learned from climbing

  1. Pingback: What Seven Years Of Jiu-Jitsu Have Taught Me About Life | Your Friendly Malaysian Writer

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