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Reflections on Vulnerability, Perfectionism, and Creating Safe Spaces in the Climbing Community

Reflections on Vulnerability, Perfectionism, and Creating Safe Spaces in the Climbing Community

HoldBreaker Team |

“I’m here to learn.
It’s okay not to know everything.
Failure is part of the process.”


When I’m feeling uncomfortable or frustrated I try to remember to these words. They remind me that I’m not striving for perfection.


Of course, since I’m not perfect, I forget my mantra from time to time and have to relearn this lesson. This is certainly true of my climbing life.


Reflecting on this past year, I can think of countless occasions where this mantra has served me. A written reminder in a personal journal, as a kind of silent acceptance in my mind, murmured under my breath in moments of frustration or even an explicit statement to a confidant who knows the struggle and agrees with these words.


It really started to come into play at the end of last year when two things came together. I read a book about Imposter Syndrome (a psychological pattern where you believe you are a “fraud” and got to where you are by chance, not on your own personal merits), and I set off on my first real climbing trip. Two months in climbing mecca El Potrero Chico, Mexico - a sports climbing destination popular amongst North Americans keen to escape the worst of the winter up North.


 Climbing and vulnerability I


  It took me at least a week to begin to understand and appreciate just how special this community was. My own self-doubt and insecurities got the best of me. I could not shake the feeling that I didn’t belong. That I wasn’t meant to be there. That everyone around me had done loads of climbing outdoors, knew exactly what they were doing, and were there to crush.


Of course, that is far from the reality. I was not the only gym climber transitioning to real rock. I was not the only person learning to lead climb, rappel, and set up anchors. And I certainly wasn’t the only person limited by my fear of falling outdoors.


The more time I spent in the campground, the more I began to realise most climbers deal with the exact same fears. I got to know people better and began to have more open conversations about these limitations.


 Climbing and vulnerability II


  One night, I confided to a young climber from Cali how my trip had really pushed me out of my comfort zone. His response? A personal account of how painfully embarrassed he had felt participating in a beginner’s salsa class at the campground days earlier.


That’s the wonderful thing about El Potrero Chico. Everyone is so open and accepting. Not once was I made to feel small for sharing my discomfort. Support and encouragement abound. Everyone can relate. Everyone has a story to share if you give them a chance.


Since returning to Sydney, I’ve found it hard to explain the profound impact this trip has had not just on my climbing but my overall outlook on life. It’s easy to joke about taking whips and feeling terrified or paint a picture of towering walls, endless routes, breathtaking views and summit picnics. It’s not so easy to talk about the fear of failure and feeling uncomfortable.


In the gym setting, people don’t seem to be having these conversations as regularly. But that doesn’t make them any less important.


 Climbing and vulnerability III


This really hit home when a regular at my gym gave me a ride to the station one night. He was about to embark on a week long trip to Mount Arapiles where he’d be learning to set up bomber anchors on multi pitch trad routes. He told me he was excited but nervous. He didn’t want to mess up and hurt himself or his climbing partner. I listened. No expectations. No judgement. Just support.



Name: Claire Ayling
Location: Sydney, Australia
Instagram: @claireayling


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