About Being Better at Bouldering

Originally published in March 2012

The first time I went bouldering was over four years ago for a friend’s bachelor party.  The next time I went bouldering was almost four years later.  What took me so long to go back?  I couldn’t say.  But I will say that between me and the climbing gym, there was love at first sight.  Bouldering has become one of the most regularly practiced enjoyed activities in recent memory and I’ve come to regard my weekly climbs as highlights of my week.

As a tangent, if you live locally to me, you should come with me some Wednesday.  You’ll like it.  I promise. IMG_0021

I love the sport.  I love the atmosphere.  I love the music.  I love seeing people’s  tattoes.  Most of all, I love the community, camaraderie and time I get to spend with friends.

This brings me to my exercise in peaceful living for the week.

Normally, I climb with a friend who is an athlete of athletes and generally good at everything.  He is much better at climbing than I am, in that he can climb things I can barely hang on to.  Last time I climbed, I went with friends who are more at my level.  We were challenged by about the same level of climbing problems.  There were a few moments where I found that I could scale a wall that the other guy could not, and this made me feel good.

Upon reflection, though, I have to ask myself why it feels good to be able to do something that others cannot do.

I enjoy being better at stuff than other people.  Why do I enjoy this?

Do I need to be better at something than my peers in order to enjoy it?

Is achieving superiority the extent of my goals and the depth of my experience?

What happens if I can never become “better”?  What happens if I cannot maintain that betterness?

Meanwhile I still have many things to learn from my climbing friends.  They approach problems differently than me and I need that perspective.

Oh dear, I think I’ve stumbled into the briar patch that is perfectionism, yet again.

Funny thing is that I don’t like competitive sports.  I don’t like the pressure of having to win or the threat of losing.

Inevitably, though, there comes a point where I have to stop.  Give up.  Stop trying.  Realize that my fingers and forearms have given out and I have no more climb left.  And  that’s ok.  I’m learning to let that be ok.

I think I just like being the best at something because I perceive that my relational security is more secure if my talents are undisputed and irreplaceable.  In a bouldering context, if I’m the best, I can show people how to climb and people like to watch me and I don’t get left behind.  In other contexts, like work and church and family and friends, there’s more at stake.  I perceive that if I have nothing to offer my groups, no skill, no contributions or resources unique to me, my place in the group becomes jeopardized.

I tell myself this belief is irrational and I really think it is.  But it’s hard for me to believe this.

I tell myself that I’ll enjoy an activity more if I can achieve a particular and arbitrary level of competence.  This is the case with bouldering, piano, writing, painting, literary criticism…  But I have to remind myself that it’s ok to do these activities just for me.  I’m not in performance or teaching or competing roles in any of these activities.  I can slow down, work at my level and derive the greatest amount of satisfaction from them that I can, regardless of how others are experiencing the same activities.

I don’t have to be like anyone else.  I don’t have to be as good or better than anyone else as a climber, pianist, writer, painter, literary critic.

I tell myself this is true, but it’s hard for me to believe it.

If I could believe it, I think I could be much more at peace with myself.  I could be much more at peace with who God made me.  I could be much more at peace with others because I won’t always be trying to out-do them!  I can marvel in the beauty that is to be found in watching someone do well what they were gifted to do.  I can be with my friends and simply enjoy their presence.

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