Finding Success in Failure
Lessons from the rock
The game is rigged. The house always wins. Ever y once in a while you get a taste of that sweet payout, but the feeling only lasts until your knot is untied. When you look back at the line of clipped draws and shift your gaze to the left and wonder, “What’s that route? ”
We are addicted to the game and the chase that comes with it. A big part of the game is failure. Whether or not you have come to gr ips with your addiction is another matter. There’s no sugar coating such a negative word. Failure is failure; it means not having success. We like to be successful, it’s in the fabr ic of our beings, so why do we go back for more? Because, what some of us like more than success is chal lenge and lear ning. Without failure, you would never change or improve. Failure is how we learn. It’s how we overcame our fear of fal ling, it’s how we lear n better technique and is how we gain muscle memor y. It is the chal lenge that keeps us coming back for more. These things make us better in our sport and often the failure is the fun par t; pick ing apar t climbs detail by detai l until we get it r ight.
There are dif ferent ways to fail in climbing: a failed attempt at one move, fal ling before or after the cr ux, not making the link you hoped for and, worst of al l, having to walk away.
That’s the hardest failure to cope with for me. When, after a long-ter m investment into a route, I have to walk away. It’s hard not to al low failure to eat you up. Many of us have exper ienced this t ype of fai lure, it’s never easy and it’s ver y hard to see the lesson. The defeated feeling can be hard to shake. Most climbers can come up with endless reasons to justif y the failure such as, the conditions were bad, I was distracted, the other guy didn’t br ush the holds, I slipped and I didn’t tr ust my belayer and my lips were chapped. Obviously, these are al l valid reasons for not sending your route. Regardless of the excuse you pick and convince yourself to believe, it doesn’t make it any easier to walk away from an emotionally charged situation with no closure.
I speak from experience. Last December, Regan Kennedy and I were in Las Vegas. I had been working the stand var iation to Meadowlark Lemon V13. I sent it with only a few days left in our tr ip and thought I’d go for the sit var iation. I star ted working the sit and felt ver y close. It was time to go home, Regan had to go to school. As we pul led into to grab a cof fee for the long jour ney home, Regan said jokingly, “Hey you don’t have school, you could stay.” Boom, my head exploded. To make it even sweeter, Regan had a West-Jet credit. It was a sign, I was for sure going to stay and send. It’s never a simple thing to book online with a credit, so we found ourselves on the phone, in the ghetto of Las Vegas, tr ying to book Regan’s f light. Yes, it was worth hundreds of dollars to send, yes it was worth dr iving the whole 24- hour dr ive home alone to send and yes it was worth doing three tr ips back and for th with crash pads alone to send (without a spotter). I only needed one more day and I was totally going to send. How could I not? Later that night, I put Regan on a plane home. I sat in the van alone al l night thinking to myself how rad it was going to be to send the problem. I had worked so hard on it and had learned al l I could, there was only sending left to do.
Right: Josh Muller working the moves on Clockwork Orange V12, Red Rocks, Nev.