This week, I’m hosting a bold, hands-on, exploratory experience for young people seeking meaningful work.
It’s been in planning for a few months now, but one question from the early days has stuck with me. As members of the target audience ourselves, my team’s first step was to identify the questions that’ve arisen around our own career searches. The popcorn-style brainstorm started off with suggestions like “What do I want to put on my resume?” but soon progressed to higher-order musings: How can I maintain a standard of living while holding onto my freedom? Someone pointed out that talking about “work-life balance” supposes that the two shouldn’t intersect. What if the boundary weren’t so distinct? In other words, what does a “seamless” life look like?
The last question hung around. What would it look like? I had no idea, but the thought was tantalizing. It colored our successive sessions, and I became increasingly excited that our production would be a catalyst for others to wonder about the same.
By and by, the event took shape. But what started out as a reasonably low level of stress came to a boil when, after several conflicts—budget mishaps, diffused responsibilities, and the like—I couldn’t sleep for two days, worrying that I was the only person I could trust to pick up the pieces. Haggard, I confessed as much to a friend. Her reaction: “Have you ever considered you might be taking up too much… space?”
Oh, dear. I was monopolizing the effort, wasn’t I? I disengaged for a few days to contemplate the lesson I’d learned: how hard it is not to micro-manage on a passion project. This week, no matter how the event turns out, I’ll be grateful to have experienced the ups and the downs of the process.
Some time ago, my sister invited me to join her in a cycling event through the Santa Rosa mountains. I enjoy a bike ride here and there, but I’ve never been motivated to participate in long-distance cycling, nor running—preferring rock climbing as my main form of exercise. Finally I became irritated with her attempts to convince me.
“I don’t have a desire to do the Granfondo,” I said flatly.
“I mean, the climb is spread out over a full day,” she continued. “Plus, you get to feast after and take a hot shower. And it’s just fun to bike with a big group in wine country.”
How do I put this more clearly? “My self-worth is not tied to my ability to bike far, unfortunately.”
She didn’t like that. “Jeez, neither is mine. No need to be a dick.” A pause. “My self-worth isn’t tied to my ability to climb walls or boulders, but I would never say that.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. I meant my statement self-deprecatingly: I’d love it if I could get motivated by endurance activities—biking in wine country does sound fun—but my reward centers don’t seem to work that way. Still, she’d felt boxed in by what I said, and retaliated in kind.
And I was shocked! This was a case of mistaken identity. Climbing holds no special place in my heart, not as anything more than a sometime hobby. In many ways, I’m only in it to gain my climber boyfriend’s respect. I don’t even think of myself as a “climber.” I’m just a person who climbs, and mostly pretty badly at that.
It was perfect that my local climbing gym was hosting a Falling and Commitment clinic. You’d see me get to the top of a route or bouldering problem, but then struggle with letting go of the wall to sit back on the rope, or to drop 10 feet onto a padded mat—my literal words a week prior had been “I wish there were a class that would teach me how to fall properly.” The timing was serendipitous, and the fact that a few friends were deep into reading The Rock Warrior’s Way, written by the director of the institute leading the clinic (Arno Ilgner), sunk the deal.
The clinic did wonders for my confidence. We pushed outside of our comfort zones incrementally, with the result that I flew up routes that were several levels above my previous limit. Most exercises focused on breathing, relaxation, and posture, and the clinic took care to ensure we were initiating our own learning. I benefited especially from the treatment of “falling” as a body language—one just like any foreign language. I was afraid to fall in the same way that I was afraid to use Japanese when I first started studying it; I didn’t know what patterns to use, but neither did I want to charge ahead, for fear of ingraining bad habits. By reviewing specific frameworks for falling and then drilling them again and again, I was able to approach situations requiring “falling-language” with a new level of comfort.Riding the high, I devoured Espresso Lessons, the companion text we were provided with after the clinic. Though it’s more or less a practical distillation of The Rock Warrior’s Way, Ilgner still manages to incorporate his philosophy of mental fitness, and I found myself returning to the following passage on end goals vs. process goals and their effect on motivation:
End goals are such external things as climbing harder grades or redpointing routes. Process goals are the skills you learn in the process of your external achievements, internal things such as the ability to commit more completely or fall more safely. If you’re motivated solely by end goals, then as stress and difficulty increase during a crux, you see less chance of attaining your goal. […] You say, “Why bother? I know I’m too pumped to get to the top.”
If, however, you are motivated by process goals, then as stress increases you see a greater chance of attaining your goal—improved skills. Your motivation increases. As your strength fades, you say, “One more move is valuable, so do it.”
Viewing each move as a learning experience meant I’d get something out of it whether or not I fell. I found it a surprisingly mindful way to approach climbing: “life is a journey,” but applied to sport.
As living beings, we feel truly alive when we grow. Grounding our motivation in growth, in the challenge and stress that will actually cause us to grow, fuels the whole process. The source of our power and the application of it are connected, allowing our power to flow from our ground, through our being, and into our effort, as we apply it on a route. Valuing growth keeps our motivation consistent and connected to its source.
I never expected to be nodding along to a climbing book. I remembered ending my first long-term relationship on the basis that my partner hadn’t grown with me. To think that the same values I championed in my career, relationships, and love also applied to climbing? Utterly mind-blowing.
This was my first taste of the seamless life. It’s not a dualistic system of work/play, but a tapestry of values and forays and commitments. Threads cross and intertwine. I don’t know what it looks like further down, but for the first time I see the pattern, and it is glorious.