Focus on Your Ability

[[On Sacrifice and Motivation]]

A Wednesday night in February–

“What time did you get here today?”
The question came with a laugh; my friend already knew that my answer would be something absurd. It was 8:30 pm and the happy hour crew had just showed up for a bit of climbing before the drinks started flowing at 10.
“4:30,” I replied anyway. I wouldn’t be joining in their session. The remainder of my evening at the gym would be spent in the weight room. How badly I’d wanted to climb with everyone else, but the only way to be done with my workout by Happy Hour was to get started many hours before my friends, and slog through it alone.


Another Wednesday evening, this time in July–

“How was the rest of the event?” I asked a different friend.
“Good, how was climbing?”
He knew exactly why I had left the brewery the night before without saying goodbye. The moment the clock struck 9:30 I had silently disappeared so I could be in bed by 10pm. How badly I had wanted another drink though. How badly I had wanted to stay and socialize. Alas, the rules of my ‘Dawn Patrol’ morning training schedule meant bedtime was not flexible.


A Tuesday morning in August, long before sunrise–

“We are psychotic,” my partner said to me as we stepped out of his car at 5:30 am in the Little Si parking lot. It wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed my mind. We had been doing this for weeks after all. He stopped for the bathroom and I hiked on alone, the first person to clear last night’s cobwebs from the trail. What was that light gleaming just ahead in the total darkness– could it be the eyes of a mountain lion? The caffeine I shouldn’t be ingesting caused my heart to keep racing long after I assured myself it was just my headlamp reflecting off a trail sign. How badly I wished to still be in bed that day, safe from all this anxiety, but this was the only time I could get outside during the work week.


“Third Thirsty Thursday,” a mid September evening–

Free raffle, free shoe demo, free films, free food, and of course free beer. As someone who considers herself frugal to a fault, even one of those freebies is a solid selling point. Thus I found myself at the gym for movie night, hanging around waiting for the show to start. The only problem was that I had given up drinking temporarily to try and send my project that weekend. They tapped the keg and I unconsciously sidled closer, watching red solo cups full of FREE beer being given to everyone but me. The line for drinks finally cleared and the table was left unguarded. Instead of moving towards it (and how badly had I wanted to), I walked in the other direction, not stopping until I was turning the key in the ignition of my car to head home. The free movie hadn’t even started playing, but I knew I wouldn’t have been able to resist the temptation had I stayed. Why was I putting myself through this? It wasn’t the first time I’d questioned my own self-induced suffering. Was all this sacrifice really worth it?


Any given day–

There are times where these sacrifices come without a second thought. I can, I should, and I will skip that handful of french fries off of the plate someone got to share. “Suffer the pain of discipline, or suffer the pain of regret,” or so I’ve heard it said. There are also times where I can’t help but ask myself, what’s the point?

I find myself wondering sometimes why I bother pushing myself so hard that I miss out on all the luxuries of an easy life: food, alcohol, sleep, free time, an unimpeded social life, etc. Why must the cost of my goals be so high, and do they matter enough to make it worth the price?

I find that for me personally, the better I get, the harder I have to work to keep improving. Each new project demands more and more from me, and learning what it takes to keep moving forward is a constant physical and emotional battle. Even just this week I found myself falling off my latest project in tears and screaming “What more could it possibly take!?” at the route, as if World Wall could answer any of my many existential questions. I was heartbroken by how much I had sacrificed for this one and still come up short. I also knew that my ability to care was getting stretched to its limits, and it was questionable if the suffering was even fun anymore.

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Catching one last burn before the sun hits the wall

My battle with that particular route aside, I find that in general there has never been a point where I was completely satisfied with my climbing. Perhaps that is what drives both the need and ability to sacrifice. I’ve always been in this game to see how far I could go, and how fast I could get there. What it would actually take to get there might come later. I’ve never lowered from a set of chains without thinking of what the next even harder project might be.

Most of the time I’m good at making sacrifices for climbing, because even if it doesn’t yield the desired result, the choice to push myself is a reward in and of itself. Even if it feels like I’m barely moving forward at all, when motivation is at rock bottom and all I want is to go home and do anything other than train, I’m still going faster than if I’d stood still. I call this state of mind ‘focusing on my ability.’ It comes from the lyrics to my favorite song, and it’s always been my motivational failsafe. What it boils down to is that when everything sucks and I have no answers, all I have to do is shut everything else out and simply focus on my ability. My ability to climb, my ability to train, my ability to improve myself in even the smallest ways. I make sacrifices for climbing because of that desire to keep trying to be the best possible version of myself. The version that didn’t fall at the crux, or that didn’t turn down an objective because the approach was too long, or that didn’t miss the podium by just one boulder problem. It’s an endless pursuit, but that makes it no less meaningful.

Sometimes the ability is simply to make whatever sacrifices I can. I’m a better person, or at least a better climber when I have the focus to do these things. To get up early. To eat healthy. To take a burn on the project when the conditions are bad or skin hurts. To take a rest day. To wear the more aggressive shoes. To not be stopped by fear. To not give up. Sometimes just to start in the first place when it would be so much easier not to.

-Brittany

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