Climbing has become our new metaphor for everything. Whenever Daniel and I are in the process of analyzing something, we seem to always end up with climbing metaphors.

For example: overcoming emotional reactions associated with fear. Climbing, unlike many traditional sports, poses this challenge at every level, and it’s a weird and fascinating place from which to view one’s own psychology as it twists and turns.

I had climbed in the late nineties, but then didn’t for about fifteen years. So, when Daniel and I took it up again about a year ago, all my emotional responses felt fresh.  When we began climbing together, I had very little fear, trusted the ropes and gear, and found it easy to be rational. Daniel, on the other hand, had a pretty intense fear of heights that he did not fully appreciate prior to climbing.  It took some months of head training before he would enjoy going more than 20 feet off the ground (the invisible built in ‘safety limit’ that your body intuits as potential for serious injury).

How did he eventually get over it?  “Beating down the fear.” Exposure training. Doing the uncomfortable over and over until one day the pleasure outweighs the discomfort.

So while I didn’t come into the sport with a built-in heightened level of fear, things changed for me after I twisted my ankle bouldering four months ago. It was a pretty bad sprain and took a full six weeks to heal, and ignited fears that I never had before- like irrational fears of falling while on top rope. And so, I’ve been observing this process with a little bit of irritation and (hopefully) a little more curiosity.

There’s this book called The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner. The subtitle is “Mental Training for Climbers”- and it’s about just this: fear. If one reads the book as if climbing is just a metaphor, it could really be about anything. Success. Entrepreneurship. Life. Relationships. Anything where limits are being pushed.

We have several friends who are long term climbers, who have, due to prolonged exposure, pushed and beat back that fear barrier so far that it seems like they have had to go looking for it again, by soloing, climbing R + X rated climbs, or climbing in dangerous conditions.

And so I have to wonder: is the fear actually part of the pleasure? If the fear goes away, do you have to go looking for it again to make things exciting?

Then read that last question as if we are talking about anything other than climbing: life, business, intellectual exploration.



Posted by:Brook DeLorme

3 replies on “Metaphorical Boundaries

  1. Brilliant and insightful post Brook! Let’s go fear chasing sometime ok? We’ll make a nice double date out of it and climb some frozen vegetated claustrophobic tarantula-breeding chimney together.

    Also, “pretty bad sprain” is a mild way of putting it!

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