I’ve taken up bouldering in the last year (indoor only for now), and yesterday I went climbing in the morning for a couple of hours.
While there, it occurred to me that one year ago not only was I less capable than I am now – after all, skills improve over time – but I was also far more afraid of falling.
Don’t get me wrong; when I am at the top of the wall and need to do a tricky move to complete the climb, I am still scared, and I sometimes abandon the climb if I don’t feel the attempt is safe. But what I don’t do is worry about falling, and, as a consequence, I don’t worry so much about failing. Rather, I ask myself, is this within my abilities? If yes, then I attempt the move. If no, then I climb back down.
In the former case, when I am going to try for the final or tricky hold, I allow myself to think: I could fall, I should be prepared. This is for the simple reason that if I acknowledge this possibility, I can plan for it, and in the process, I allow myself permission to brace for that outcome so that the landing will be, at the very least, a less bad one. As a result, I not only feel more secure in making an attempt, but more assured that in the case of failure I will have done whatever I can to help myself recover.
This is a pivotal issue for many people, and it was for me too. Namely, they are afraid to fail, so they do not try, or, potentially even worse, they recklessly delude themselves with the nonsensical mantras: “I cannot fail” or “Failure is not an option.”
Climbing, with its inherent risk (and I have seen some bad falls), has taught me, out of necessity, that if you accept the possibility of failure you can turn fear into mindful preparation so that you can make an attempt and just fall if you need to.
In this way, I am teaching myself that “Failure is just an outcome,” and that “Failure is something I can ameliorate.” – I am not its slave, and this gives me the courage to strive.
The first two approaches, of the coward or the blowhard, will either paralyse you or make you take foolish risks. And they will also prevent you from admitting and embracing the truth, that failure is always out there, underneath everything you do.
I now know, from learning to fall, that failure is always a possibility, but that accepting this is the foundation of deliberate progress and measured success – that taking the appropriate attitude to benefiting from the occurrences of failure can allow you to fall, as you sometimes must, as gracefully as you can.