This week, after a not-so-minor breakdown at the gym and the inevitable self-analyzing that followed, I had a bit of an epiphany.
I was climbing with my lovely fiancè. Seth has climbed a bit, but he mostly races bicycles for his physical activity of choice. We have decided to climb Devil’s Tower together before the wedding, so he’s been joining me a lot more lately. It’s great. I love being able to spend that time with him and share something that I love doing.
It turns out that he’s really good at it.I shouldn’t be surprised. Seth is a natural athlete; I’ve never seen him not excel at a physical sport. But, between the two of us, climbing’s always been my ‘thing.’ I discovered it on my own, and although I’ve only been climbing for 2.5 years, it’s held a powerful presence in my life. I’m the climber, he’s the cyclist. So when he was climbing the same routes that I was, and sometimes more difficult grades, within the span of a few months, it was hard to swallow. I found myself being pouty and grumpy about it. Really pouty, and really grumpy. If it were a cartoon, I’d be standing in the corner with my arms crossed in front of me, saying “harumph.”
Obviously, this is not the most mature reaction I could be having. This man whom I adore and with whom I love spending my time, is spending his time with me doing something that I love. Yay! He’s finding success and having fun. Hooray! He’s going to be just fine on the tower. Awesome! There’s no competition here, we’re just having fun and cheering each other on.
So what, exactly, is my problem? It’s definitely a mindset thing. I thought about it for a while, sat with it, and then it hit me.
Climbing is something that I love to do. It’s not who I am.
This was a major “A-ha!” moment for me. What differentiates the two is the language, and the mindset that results. There’s a huge difference between declaring: “I am a climber” vs. “I love to climb.” Here’s why:
I am a climber. When I think myself in this way, it takes the many facets of who I am and squeezes them into a single, tiny little box.There are a lot of things that I enjoy doing that don’t have to do with climbing at all, but declaring myself as “a climber” ties my identity to my climbing, at least in my head. There’s a lot of expectation and pressure rolled into that statement as well. If I declare that I am a climber, then I put pressure on myself to perform at a level at which I could be legitimately considered… a climber. A bad day at the gym therefore has a huge ripple-effect into the rest of my life. What’s the fun in that?
I love to climb. Just typing that feels so much freer. There’s no subtext there of how well I climb, just that I love it! Suddenly, the door is open for me to have other things I like to do in my life. I’m not defined by a single thing. Speaking those words says that climbing plays a big part in my life, but that it’s one facet of my life. And the implication is that there are many other facets as well. Suddenly, the pressure is taken off, and climbing is not something I have to do because it defines me… it’s something I do because I love to do it.
What a difference.
I ran into this same phenomenon a few years ago. I spent more than a decade of my life training as a classical musician. It was a big part of my life for a long time. When my interests and life goals began to shift, the process was painful, difficult, and drawn out, because my identity was wrapped up in being a bassoonist. Instead of saying “I’m studying to play professionally,” or “I love playing the bassoon,” I declared “I am a bassoonist.” The end. That small shift in language created a mindset for me that dwarfed all of the other facets of who I was. The shift away from that era of my life would have been much easier if I had allowed myself the flexibility of being multi-faceted.
So then, who am I? How do I describe myself?
I don’t know what the right answer is here, but it seems that personal qualities such as kindness, generosity, creativity, etc. describe a person in a very fundamental way, and the things that they enjoy doing are more of a reflection of who they are.
So, next time I climb with my sweetie, or climb at all… I will remind myself that climbing does not define me. It’s something I love to do, it’s fun, it’s exciting. Climbing teaches me, and helps me to grow as a person. I am so fortunate to have found it and to be able to have it in my life, and to have people to share it with.