Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Importance of Looking Weak

* I wrote this ages ago but didn’t post as I thought it sounded a bit preachy. Perhaps climbers aren’t as egocentric as I’m suggesting. As with any snapshot philosophy it ignores and glosses over lots of details and exceptions. But I haven’t blogged for yonks so might as well stick something up*

What I really mean is, the importance of not letting the idea of appearing weak/ineffectual in front of others hold you back.
To my mind this is a big obstacle to improvement faced by some climbers. As climbers, rightly or wrongly, we are prone to defining ourselves and each other by reference to our greatest climbing achievements. These are the things we have put greatest time and effort into, which probably suit our strengths, which happened when we were on top form, when conditions were mint and everything slotted into place. They might be super hard boulder problems or redpoints, bold leads or soloes, winning comps or doing 1-5-9. While these might be our most cherished efforts, these defining moments can become millstones around the neck if we can’t learn to deal with the fact that 99% of the time we will be performing well below the level of these finest hours. The harder these climbs are won, the harder they may be to replicate or improve upon.
If you have a reputation built on a few titanic efforts you will almost always look weaker or a worse climber than you or others might think you should. This might be hard to bear for the fragile ego of the average climber, especially if said climber has kidded himself he’s as good a climber as someone who’s top level is the same but who’s climbing CV is less top-heavy. The greater the disparity between a climber’s average level and their top level the greater the reality shock. Naturally it’s often the climbers who are least able to bear looking weak before their peers who suffer the greatest disparity, because insecurity leads to feverish grade grabbing. By grade grabbing I mean getting the number by the quickest means possible i.e. finding a soft touch that plays to your strengths then training specifically for it and siegeing it until it goes down. Most of us are guilty of grade grabbing now and then. Most climbers if asked would say they climb only for the joy of the climbing and that the grade was much less important, the mass popularity of some low quality soft touches whilst the three star sandbag next door returns to nature would suggest not everyone is as zen as they say/believe.
Pride is a serious obstacle to proper improvement in climbing. It can lead to too much emphasis on trophy bagging at the expense of real improvement which can only be gained by getting volume done within your grade and on a variety of terrain (you only have to look at the true heroes of the sport to see the truth of this). This disparity can then lead a climber to feel embarrassed by his performance out at the crag on stuff well below ‘his grade’. He may then react to this embarrassment by further avoiding easier stuff or stuff that doesn’t play to his strengths. Obviously this creates a feedback effect whereby the climber gets worse at what he is already not so good at and stronger within his self imposed pigeon hole. In the long run there is only so far you can go within a narrow niche and only so much fun to be had therein .
What’s the alternative?
• Understand that people with half a brain i.e. the one’s who’s opinions are worth bothering about, appraise you on your overall ability as much or more than on your trophy ticks.
• Accept this fact and try not to get hung up on other people view of your ability. Realise that the only way to improve how people view your climbing is to get better at it and this you cannot do if you’re too scared of looking weak to get properly stuck in. Consider the long run, some amount of humility now will lead to future glory.
• Accept that whilst climbers can be judgemental the majority are on your side and want you to do well. It’s cringe-worthy to see people kidding themselves, it’s easier to be empathetic to people who are honest with themselves and others.
• Do not be afraid to look weak/inept, it’s self defeating and pointless. If you consistently shy away from attempting stuff in company they will assume the reason behind it is weakness or ineptitude anyway.
• Accept the fact that everyone’s climbing goes through peaks and troughs and nobody worthy of consideration should expect you to be on top form all the time.
• Learn to enjoy being crap on your weaknesses. We all have them and might as well have a laugh flapping about ineffectually on this stuff and hence get better at it.
• Think about the bigger picture. Is jumping from one protracted siege to the next the quickest way to get better? Seigeing has it’s place but is just one aspect of the game.
• If peer recognition really is a major factor in deciding what you choose to climb, consider the fact that climbers may well be as or more impressed with you climbing a notorious sandbag 7c+ as they are with you bagging the same soft 8a/+ as everyone else.

And so endeth my pompous rant. I hope nobody thinks this is directed toward them, it’s not, it’s just an expression of frustration with a common malady within the climbing populace.


dobbin said...

this is a great post. This is totally something I suffer/or have suffered from. Its not so pronounced when I'm with friends, but with new people I'm (not even conciously) trying harder to impress.

Actually, thinking about that statement whilst typing the above i've gotten better since being told more or less the same as you just said by Roy, and doing some actual climbing. I'm less bothered what others think now too. That might also be a product of being older.

This is one of the main reasons I never bother campusing. I am always so bad at it and I hate to look weak. You are a wise man chief turkey gobbler, long may I follow in your wake.

bonjoy said...

I reckon my lack of application to campussing could be for the same reasons too.

Paul Bennett said...

Good post...

It rings very true on a couple of points, one being a fortnight or so ago someone pointedly said that I should be crushing the route I was on after what they'd seen previously.

I'd add to this that I intend to get a lot of mileage under my belt this winter in order to enjoy things a bit more. I look forward to getting spanked (Bad choice of words). If I fail to do this feel free to hassle me.

Fiend said...

Strong words, but wise and accurate ones. It's good of anyone to try to promote a better climbing and social attitude.

It also provides some timely food for thought for those of us currently injured and well below par.