Ever realize you’ve bought into a belief without intending to, maybe even one you actually thought you disagreed with? This happened to me in a surprising way when it comes to the notion of “doing more.”
What I always assumed was that when it came to mountains, I just did whatever I wanted, and sometimes that happened to be a lot. I was interested in new experiences, being creative, pushing myself, but not really chasing goals or checking boxes. I intentionally distanced myself from the peakbagging mentality and removed pressure from myself to perform.
In some ways I did this well. I definitely prioritized relationships and learning more than success and retained much of my identity in a culture that I find at times toxic, superficial, and self-important (at worst! Of course the climbing community brings out the best in people in other ways at the same time). But having a lot more free time, constantly hearing people compliment me on my energy or consistent effort, and the addictive nature of exercise left me chasing more trips all the same. I heard other people express jealousy at their friends’ volume of climbing all the time (or of mine!) and many compliments focused on this attribute. Even as I thought this baffling and generally said so, somewhere along the line, I started feeling obligated to keep doing certain things just because it felt like part of my identity. Meanwhile, people were jealous of the running and hiking that was starting to feel like a chore to me.
As evidenced by this wholesome old thread and many others like it about burnout and conversations with nearly every person in my life, sometimes you have to distance yourself from things you love. More importantly, why would doing more climbing be a goal anyway? I asked myself this question and had literally no answer. I like running around the city too. I’m not training for anything. I don’t have anything to prove to myself or anyone else; I’m fairly confident I can get around to the things that interest me in my lifetime. Getting to the top of mountains is pretty much useless to everyone! No one cares!
As much as my particular struggle is probably a direct result of the existential hard mode that is being briefly unemployed, the peril of Doing More For No Reason seems to be a disease that infects many people I interact with. Of course, doing a lot is a natural consequence of wanting to do a lot of different things, but it in itself is a poor motivator. As part of a slow effort to repair my relationship with mountains, I went on a little-trafficked but simple off-trail hike to Zi-iob and Breccia peaks, because that’s the kind of thing that makes me happy. Here are some things I thought about on that trip that I value rather than simply blindly doing more.
1. Doing more interesting things.
Immediately I feel the need to clarify that I mean interesting to you, not sexy or technical or anything else. This summer, I’d resolved to do fewer things but do them more intentionally. For me this meant logistical challenges I might have previously been too lazy to tackle, and learning to pace myself trail running. Even if they weren’t always successful, endeavors like trying kayak approaches, solo hikes with navigational challenges, or trying more muti-day trips helped me work on my confidence regarding routefinding and logistial complexity.
For me, it was empowering to try things that might otherwise deter me. Even if they weren’t obviously more difficult, I think what was important was that they had a lower chance of success. It can be hard to overcome the unconscious effect of a world that rewards successful summit selfies, but finding routes that were less popular or glamorous resulted in some of my more rewarding adventures, including climbing a random 5.6 tower in the Enchantments no one cares about, or climbing Cannon Peak straight up a burned hill when there is another route on trail. Even trips like this one to an eroded volcano in easy terrain, where nothing was particularly difficult, were more engaging because they came from my own interest and not just doing the next obvious thing. No one would congratulate me on these things and I wasn’t particularly proud of them, but I didn’t know what I would find, and that was what made them fun. Even this minor type of challenge kept me present and learning for the whole experience.
2. Learning new skills/failing.
I think it can be easy for me, as an impatient person, to forget that some learning takes delayed gratification. Failure is one of the best ways to learn. I did a lot of getting lost by myself this summer, and I think I often forget that having a healthy relationship with failure is critical to being happy. After all, most of the trip is not the summit even when it is successful.
And I’m sure you can learn from successful trips, but being afraid of failure can severely slow your learning. For me learning has come from successfully taking on more trip planning responsibilities at the risk of messing up, but less so at embracing failure at the crag. And as a result, I am still not a good rock climber! Failure is fun, and funny, and necessary.
Another legitimate goal is to learn skills that are annoying to learn in action, like practicing rescue more… Or again, cragging. These boring-seeming activities actually serve to enrich your relationship with your hobbies, and they give you a break.
3. Building relationships.
One of the best parts about the trip to Zi-iob was that Wade was with me, and that he enjoys the same type of trip. We joked around and pretended to be yellow jackets, we napped on the peaks, and we ate a lot of blueberries. Sometimes of course, Wade and I do challenging things that require efficiency and focus, but I had to remind myself that most of the time it’s better to focus on the company first.
Many people reiterate to me that their favorite part of climbing is the friends they make, and I think I have also met more high-quality people outdoors than I have in any other context. Why then does everyone, myself included, worry so much about slowing someone else down, even on trips with little time pressure? For many this realization probably goes both ways: it’s important to spend time with people you like, and it’s important to remember they want to spend time with you. Imagining other people forget this too, I started trying to focus more on reminding people I enjoyed being with them as well.
I also struggled with how much time I had to myself. In the past, hiking or running for a long time has been a way to have constructive alone time. But when I had so much time alone anyway, it became the opposite of appealing, especially when I thought of driving to faraway things by myself. I had to realize not always wanting the same thing is normal. My relationship with myself requires different things at different times, and that isn’t always being out for many hours having some kind of dramatic experience. It’s one of many obvious-in-retrospect lessons I have learned about self care throughout my life, I guess.
4. Creating sustainable habits.
One of the reasons early on I was able to relieve myself of the pressure to do a bunch of solo trips by myself was that it felt like a waste of gas and time. In an effort to be better to the environment, a type of slowing down made sense.
Driving less wasn’t always doing less, but it was a way of staying patient. Instead of having to do super exciting things all of the time, I ran more on local trails and learned them better. In addition to being environmentally sustainable, this gives me habits and knowledge that make it easier to get out more in the future. A good relationship with your local resources is invaluable! I had some time to explore what made me happy, which hopefully will serve me well in grad school. I also worked on finding climbing partners with compatible schedules who I got along with, which in addition to fulfilling the above goal of hanging out with awesome people, allowed me to put work into a sort of lasting resource: community.
It stuck with me when a visiting friend, who makes a life of thru-hiking, said she was leaving time for some trips to be slow because she was “in it for the long haul.” An undercurrent of this whole essay is that doing too much of the same thing is often psychologically unsustainable, and it is true that learning your own psychology will help you be happier and avoid burnout in the long term. Physically as well, it is important to take the long view of improvement and activity to avoid injury and a treadmill of sleep deprivation and poor recovery.
5. Enjoying what you are doing!
As played-out as it is, the notion of being fully present while doing things has served me well. As I was trying to figure out how to enjoy doing things, I found it helpful to re-cast my goals as having a good attitude or doing my best. Even if it sounds hokey, a good attitude is often the secret to both having a better time and literally being better at things. So instead of making the game be about the goals, the game became noticing the process, all of the sights and sounds and smells.
A way I cultivated this again was to play more outdoors, by trying things that were newer or more open-ended, things where I didn’t feel like I had to pay attention to the clock. Or just by throwing pine needles at Wade. Both trying new activities and going on laid-back hikes, eating blueberries and laying in the grass, helped keep my interest.
I’m sure this in-the-moment mindset is my natural one. It’s the reason I love hiking and tend to pick on the concept of a “slog” or a “tedious approach.” Without this attitude, I wouldn’t have the natural strengths I do have. Even still, I had to reconnect with it after I got a little off track. Maybe that’s the most universal lesson about doing anything you love for a long time, that variety and introspection are necessary to maintain even what might be your primary motivators or strongest-held beliefs.
(6. Working toward clear, achievable goals.)
Lest this sound like an argument specifically against being goal-oriented, I have included this source of meaning that doesn’t serve me well but seems to serve others. I know many people who make goal-making and achieving joyful and fulfilling. When done right, it looks (from the outside at least) less like a frenetic scramble to do everything and more like a beautiful, focused patience. Setting good goals seems to give some of my friends great understanding of their minds and bodies, as long as they are in control of their goals and not vice versa.
Overall, most of what I learned this summer was to be adaptable, especially in my perception of myself. Going full speed ahead blindly will probably always have a place in my life as well, but everyone goes through dozens of personalities in their lifetime and a rigid sense of identity can make anyone miserable! Who knows, maybe some day I’ll even become the kind of person who keeps a training log!