Reaching Beyond Expectations

 

Last night I had the privilege of hanging with my two climbing partners Adam and Greg at Go Vertical in Philadelphia. It had been at least 7 months since I had climbed last and even longer since I had had a regular climbing routine in the gym. Walking into Go Vert, I set my expectations fairly low, thinking I’d start at 5.6s and maybe I’d be able to complete 5.7s by the end of the night. I was trying to avoid disappointment by my inability to achieve the 5.9/5.10s I was once tackling before I decided to step away from the climbing scene. Nonetheless, I was excited to get back on the wall and see how far I could push myself.

Shooting up my first 5.6 route of the night, I was impressed that I could remember certain techniques and control my body positioning. I was also surprised at what great shape I was in despite my long hiatus. After belaying Greg on his 5.7 arete warm up route, he asked if I wanted to give it a go. I exclaimed, “why the fuck not”, my new life motto, and gave it a try.

The first few holds were jugs, making it fairly easy to climb, although a quarter of the way up the holds became smaller and foot holds were non-existent. Previously, this scenario would have flustered the hell out of me. My breath would shallow, my mind would lose focus, my fingers and forearms in pain, the overwhelming amount of stimuli would be enough to make me give up. But this time was different. I steadied my breath, focused on the problem, shook out my arms one at a time while resting steadily, trusting my feet. With a deep inhale I positioned my left arm on the arete, anchored it by shifting my weight to the right, stuck my feet on the wall and victoriously reached up for the next hand hold. I was determined to climb the route cleanly, without falling, just to prove to myself that I could. Getting past that one tricky spot, I climbed the rest of the route with ease, tapped out on top and was lowered to the ground with a smile on my face. I was in disbelief that I successfully completed the 5.7 cleanly, exceeding my previous expectations. With that climb under my belt, I was aching to see what level I could max out on.

Following Adam and Greg’s climb, I challenged myself to a 5.8- route with an overhang. In my climbing experience, overhangs have always been my nemesis. Just the anticipation of tackling an overhang has filled me with anxiety, usually stifling any chance at true success. But as I did with the 5.7, I thought, why the fuck not, and gave it a try.

As I had anticipated, just at the point of the overhang, my progress stalled and my shallow breathing kicked in. My mind went blank while my arms and fingers ached, and I let go, swinging out from the wall. Adam who was belaying me asked if I wanted to stay for another attempt. I replied, “fuck yea!”

Kicking off the wall and swinging myself back towards the route I grabbed a jug and pulled myself back onto the holds. I tried to recall how I had scaled overhangs in past climbs. Get your feet high, I told myself. Feet high, hips into the wall, and swing like a pendulum to get to the next hand hold.

After two failed attempts, and some recovery time to regain energy, I  planted my feet high, swung my body up and grabbed the hold letting out a loud grunt, with cheers from Adam and Greg below. I completed the rest of the route, not cleanly, but that didn’t matter. I hadn’t given up, which was a success in itself. Before my hiatus, I would have abandoned the route on my second failed attempt. Tonight though, I had a fire burning inside, determined to push my limits and exceed my own expectations. Defeat was not an option.

The rest of the night I stuck to 5.7s and completed one more 5.8 before doing a quick 5.5 to top out, leaving all of my energy on the wall. When the night was over I had nothing but a large grin plastered on my face. I felt exhausted yet empowered, reveling in my personal success.

Coming back from my gap in training, I mentally prepared myself to expect failure. Realistically, There was no way I was going to be able to get back to the 5.9s/5.10s I was working on before my time off, and I knew I had to set realistic goals for myself in the gym. I also relied on self-compassion, allowing myself to be disappointed that I’m not at my best, but I was enough at the moment. This mindset helped me to remain positive when I experienced a set back or challenge, and allowed me to enjoy my time with my friends.  I truly enjoyed my time hanging with Greg and Adam, living in the moment, shooting the shit about life, cheering each other’s successes and supporting one another through our personal struggles on the wall.

Returning to the gym and being not far off of my personal best has renewed my resolve to get back into the climbing routine. It’s my hope that I can cultivate this wild flame of willpower to overcome and surpass all of my own expectations, reaching above what I think I am capable of achieving in the climbing gym and beyond. I implore you to also think beyond your own comfort zone and ability. When you reach beyond the limits  you set for yourself, the possibilities far exceed anything you may be able to ascertain.

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AHA!

Have you ever had an Aha moment? A moment where time stands still, when an idea, a thought, a feeling hits you square in the gut or forehead. It’s enough to make you pay attention and listen. Little did I know it at the time, but this Aha moment was enough to change my life’s path at that exact moment, forever.

It was my first day at my first teaching job at an urban charter school in Philadelphia. The staff had gathered in the auditorium of Arcadia University to listen to a motivational speaker, Marlon Smith, to inspire us as we kicked off our weeklong professional development training. I arrived early to settle into the auditorium in order to calm my nerves, as I eagerly anticipated the day’s events. As the staff arrived I carefully watched as returning staff greeted each other with hugs and handshakes, sharing jokes and stories about their summers. I looked around, hoping to see a colleague I knew who had recommended me for this job. I sat for a minute or two, by myself just observing and taking in the atmosphere,  when I saw my friend. He greeted his fellow 4th grade teachers as I came up to introduce myself.

As I introduced myself, our principal got up to speak and welcome everyone to the start of the school year, and invited everyone to take a seat. Marlon was introduced to the crowd and immediately I was engaged with his enthusiasm and excitement. I eagerly took notes on how to “live a life of purpose” thinking that I could apply his ideas to my life. It couldn’t hurt, I thought. As I took notes, Marlon spoke one phrase that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. I put the pencil down, I looked up and

Don’t live your life out of fear.

WHAM! Those words slapped me across the face. I felt my entire body tingle, as I wrote those words in bold letters across my notebook. It  was as if the universe knew it was exactly what I needed to hear, yet I was uncertain as to why.

As Marlon continued on, the room came back to life, the fleeting Aha moment subsided, yet its impression on me lingered. I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. I decided to revisit it at the end of the day when I returned home.

Those seven words were what inspired me to start living my Year of No Fear. It wasn’t until about five months after hearing those words that I started using the hashtag #yearofnofear and purposefully confronting my fear through my adventures. I took up white water kayaking, started backpacking solo, traveled solo, learned to sail, among other things that once scared me. Now it’s been about three years since hearing, don’t live your life out of fear, and I’ve continued to be inspired to confront my more psychological fears. That Aha moment has had a lasting impression on my life.

Have you ever had an Aha moment? How was it presented to you? Did you listen and make changes?

 

 

And So It Begins

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Once, I was asked to write the most beautiful 4 word story and my response was

“And so it begins…”

To me, those four words symbolize optimism, hope, joy,  a sense of adventure and even a sense of mystery, the very things that are the most beautiful in life. But each new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Therefor let’s go back to the very start of the beginning.

And so it ended.

Today, my life as usual ended. After months of crying, deliberating, weighing my options, talking with my therapist, and listening to my intuition, I’ve decided I’m ready to be on a different path.

Today is the day I resigned from my job. I finally saw the forest through the trees. I had been unhappy for months. I was questioning why each day I made a conscious decision to go to a place I throughly despised. It was like being in an unhealthy relationship with an emotionally abusive boyfriend. Each day I would feel like I was required to do more and more to earn admiration and respect, yet the worse I felt the more I wanted to earn respect. But as I continued to look around at the teachers that I considered to be “respectable”, their faces gave away their feelings of exhaustion and frustration. Was this what I really wanted?

Today is the day, I realized I don’t want to live in Philadelphia any longer. Deep down I knew that I wanted to leave, but what I grappled with was the idea of leaving what I’ve known, what I’ve built, and the people I’ve loved for the past 11 years.

I first remember when I started exploring the city, as a suburban kid, thinking that Philadelphia was huge and magnificent with all of its wonders. I was enticed by its niche neighborhoods, unique local spots, and great opportunities for arts and culture, sometimes in the most unexpected places. The grittiness of the city was apparent in the attitude of its residents,  especially its sports fans and that was something I took pride in. But today, Philadelphia has lost that splendor. I desire a new destination, a place I have been longing to be ever since I was 16.

Today is the day I took control of my life, I chose to be the adventurer and not the victim. For as I long as I can remember, I’ve been making excuses for why I’m not living the life that I truly desire. Today, I’m done making excuses. What I want is to live in a place where I am truly happy, can be my best self, with all of the things I need in order to sustain my happiness. I am ready to make sacrifices, to work hard, in order to achieve my goals. And I’m finally able to say with certainty what my goals are in my next phase in my life.

And so it begins.

A new chapter of my life begins with starting with an adventure of my lifetime. Piggybacking off of my Year of No Fear, I am about to do something that I have dreamt of doing since college, but never had the balls to do. I will be living and working in another country,  Australia, for six to eight months on a work holiday visa.

When my friends and family have asked me about my plan for Australia, I simply state, “My plan is not to have a plan.” I have ruminated about this for the past year, and I have decided that Australia is a chance for me to listen to my inner voice, my intuition and learn to trust and follow it with devotion. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve struggled to find and stand by my convictions. I’ve lacked confidence in my abilities and dreams and have been easily influenced and distracted by others. The past two years of my life, I’ve been on a soul searching mission, desperately trying to find my path and make the right choices to get there. Therefore, by going to Australia without a plan, I can engage in one of my deepest passions in life, traveling. I will be able to travel at my pace, on my time, without any external influences. A flexible itinerary will afford me the opportunity to be present in each moment and decide what is best in that moment. It will allow me to better understand the Soul of the World, be open to signs from the Universe directing me to my righteous path.  I have found, the more open I am to opportunity, the more a plan unfolds before me without stress or effort.

And what happens after Australia? Well, that is also up in the air. I have ideas of moving out west, to Colorado, Arizona or Utah. Will I go back to teaching? I’m not sure. My career path, ultimately, is uncertain. I may also want to start settling down, thinking about a family, a house, building a more permanent life. Or my time in Australia might have the opposite effect and show me a path to build a life of traveling.What ever life has in store, I know that I want to embrace what comes next, the good, the bad, the emotionally crippling or the genuine bliss.

To go back those four beautiful words, invoking passion, inspiration, a sense of adventure, optimism, they maintain ambiguity but identify that something new is about to begin. I hope my trip to Australia does the same.

And so, it begins.