Monday, 24 August 2015

Thoughts on knowing oneself

I have a theory. Humans have become locked into a way of living, such that they no longer know who they really are.

In today’s 21st century, humans are obsessed with objects and things – that fancy car, that new gizmo with all the bells and whistles. It’s all about the high-paying power job and keeping up with the Joneses. And certainly there is nothing immediately wrong with that. But the problem starts to evolve when you consider that there exists some inbuilt need in all of us to tick-off certain checkboxes. You know the ones I’m talking about – marriage, house, children, high-paying job, move to a bigger house in the country, promotion and so on. And for some reason, we can’t but help compare ourselves to our peers. Perhaps it’s the mass media and rise of the celebrity or maybe it’s just the fact the society tends to favour those with a healthy wad of cash and those who conform.

The problem is before you know it you’re ticking off checkboxes just because you think you have to, ending up in a job that doesn’t get you jumping out of bed in the morning, and stuck in a lukewarm relationship (which has to be better than the alternative of being single, right?). But do we at any point in this tick-box endeavour really ask who we are and what we want in life?

My theory is that it is all too easy for people to reach “middle life” then suddenly have an identity crisis because they have been too focused on box ticking and not on what makes them tick. We see this all the time: mid-life crises, mature people going back to school, changing career paths. I believe we may inadvertently have struck upon a hidden malady within our society.

It scares me, this thought of not knowing who I am. I remember a teacher who once told me that she was well into her mid 50s (and with a broken marriage behind her) before she realised she needed to figure out what she wanted in life and who she was as a person. Her point was in regards to what courses I wanted to study at university but all I could think was: “F*** that, I’m not going to wait until my mid-50s before I figure out who I am.” Yet five years after that I found myself crying on my bedroom floor because I couldn’t answer a damn self-help questionnaire on what my values in life were. I was 24 and didn’t have the foggiest. But it’s easy to get stuck in a nice comfortable rut…

I fear that too many people in this day and age will be struck with an identity crisis. Look at all the television programmes on people who have upped sticks and moved to the middle of nowhere, suddenly self-sufficient without the need for a mobile phone. And by god they seem happy. These are the people that got out, who now challenge themselves every day. I believe there is power in the saying: “Do one thing each day that scares you.” Because it is only by doing this, I think, that you can really tap into your inner pulse. I want to champion this notion that we need to get outside our comfort zone.

A lot of travel blogs provide tips and advice on travelling, and they are ultimately about journeys. But I want my blog to be different. While mine is still very much a journey – attempting to climb 40 volcanoes by 40 (though I am still working on the first volcano at the moment) – its roots are grounded in the personal, psychological and spiritual journey that will develop as a result. It is a process of learning – not just my adventure of self-discovery but sharing the learnings of other people that I meet along the way. I think if we all stepped outside our comfort zone we would learn something valuable about ourselves and we would all, ultimately, be happier. Surely that’s worth shouting about.

What have you learnt about yourself and life? Please share your comments below.       

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Destination: Rock climbing at Harrison’s Rocks

Harrison's Rocks
I’m strapped into a harness clinging onto the side of a rock face like a barnacle stuck to the hull of a boat. One piece of rope, my trusty belayer and my adrenaline-fuelled muscles are all that are keeping me from falling to certain death. (Ok maybe just a broken leg or two – I’m only a couple of metres off the ground after all, but I might as well be hanging off the top of the Eiffel Tower).

With quivering muscles, my body contorted in ways a Russian gymnast would be proud of and my feet precariously close to slipping, I attempt to reach for a higher hand grip, avoiding the sight beneath me. I make it, just, and with superhuman effort I unglamorously launch myself onto the ledge and heave myself up. Still vainly clinging to the rock, I suck breath into my lungs, internally rejoicing at practically completing a grade 2b climb.

A 2b climb is about as easy as it gets in the world of outdoor rock climbing. It’s probably not even worthy of boasting about. But, hey, when you’re new to the sport every baby step counts.

Wearing my new Sherpa baselayer from Snow + Rock
We are at Harrison’s Rocks, a cluster of cretaceous-era sandstone crags in East Sussex nestled in woodland. Like sentries that face the setting sun, this pockmarked rock face, resembling a row of pancake stacks, is a popular spot for rock climbers. There are about 380 short climbs here that range in difficulty. I watch enviously as a toned Spanish girl in Lycra effortlessly hangs several metres off the ground of a grade 5 or 6 climb, and then, with the ease of a ballet dancer, fluidly glides further up the rock face.

I stretch my weary muscles, feeling my toes throb, constricted by the almost vacuum-packed climbing shoes – an essential for climbing but neither fashionable nor comfortable. We pack up our bags and metres of rope and move on (or rather hobble) to the next easy climb; another 2b. While my partner sets up the ropes, a tourist steam train choo-choos past at the bottom of the field, bellowing great puffs of white smoke like an old man smoking a pipe. I channel my inner spiderman and attack the wall with gusto.

Before long the sun starts to sink lower in the sky. I’ve clocked up three climbs. I pop on my new Sherpa baselayer (thanks Snow + Rock for the voucher I won!) to ward off the chills. We have time to squeeze in one more climb then it’s off to the pub for steak and ale pie and a generous helping of hot chips.

How to do it:

Activity: Top rope rock climbing and bouldering. No lead climbing allowed because of the friable sandstone. You will need your own kit. Also a lovely area for country walks.
Difficulty: A range of grades, for beginners all the way through to the more advanced.
Getting there: Driving is generally best, with parking and campsite at the rocks, which are located about 1.5km south of Groombridge. Drive past the old station on the left. Take the right fork; 200m further turn right again down a narrow lane signposted “Birchden Wood and Harrisons Rocks   
Thanks to Granulated (Andy) for the expert photo taking

Friday, 7 August 2015

Thoughts on success and failure

Being new to rock climbing is never going to be easy. But to fail what should have been a relatively easy grade 4 climb – that I’d already climbed, I might add – is beyond annoying.

In response, I did what a lot of people would do – I sulked, stomped about, pulled faces, made excuses. And of course, when I tried again I still struggled to get off the ground (literally). What does this say? That I’m useless at rock climbing? That I bit off more than I could chew? That sulking doesn’t work as a motivator, nor endow one with magic powers?

The fact is this is a perfect example of mind over matter, and fits nicely with the mantra: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Yet, at the time I was ready to throw in the towel. Why? Because I appear to be wired with a fixed mindset.

This ain’t no highfalutin psychobabble – I read it on LinkedIn: an interesting piece by author and LinkedIn influencer Jeff Haden, titled The one attitude every successful person has. It asks: “Does skill – and eventual achievement – result from an innate ability or from hard work, effort, and a burning desire to improve?” 

According to the article, research and psychologists suggest there are essentially two types of people: those with a fixed mindset (who believe you need pre-established talent, confidence and skills to accomplish something and that this is set at birth – these people believe intelligence and talent is enough for success and give up on things if they don’t succeed the first time or avoid situations where they might fail) and those with a growth mindset (who believe talent etc can be developed, where failure is not a reflection of their ability but a learning and experimenting process).      

On reading this, I realised I unwittingly fall into the fixed mindset, which, on further reading, is “insidiously sabotaging” how I see myself. Good Lord – sweat starts to bead on my brow – I am doomed to a future of disappointment.

But all is not lost, according to the article. I can develop a growth mindset. I can make slow progress with small goals and small wins, gaining confidence with each win and learning from those I don’t. This is in fact the essence of self development and personal growth. And with this in mind, it’s easy to see how I might now approach that grade 4 climb; how I can learn from my failed attempt to be better the next time.

But this concept also got me thinking. How many people also have a fixed mindset, struggling with their sense of success and failure? And how many of these people actually realise its root cause? The disappointment and depression of thinking you’re not good enough based on one failed attempt or one rejection can be life changing – it puts dreams and happiness in jeopardy. Surely if more people realised what their mindset was and adopted one of growth the world would be a happier place.

The power of realising this highlights that actually anything is possible – or rather, that nothing is impossible. The only limitation is in your mind.