Ups and Downs

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Ups and Downs.

As climbers, we’re pretty familiar with both.

Take, for example, a recent week for me. One day I was on cloud nine because I got an advanced copy of a project I’ve been working on for 4+ years. The next I was down in the dumps because a client I’d been working for abruptly and unexpectedly informed me he would no longer need my services. Ups and downs. Win some, lose some.

I used to think I preferred the roller coaster to the alternative. Now I’m not so sure. The ups are great, but then, are they ever as good/proud as what [Insert Peer’s Name Here] is doing? And the downs, shit. It’s hard to get fired without taking it personally. Am I bad at what I do? Is there something beyond the seemingly captious criticisms that were brought to the table? Are my other clients gonna drop me like a sack of potatoes, too?

What I’ve learned is that the highs and lows are like the surface of a storm-battered ocean. Spending your time there can be chaotic, scary, maybe even dangerous (for your mental health, not to mention your relationships).

But there are deep currents we can tap into beneath the surface. For me, writing is one of them. And no matter how shitty or good at it I am, it will always provide direction in my life. I can take comfort there. No existential crisis when things don’t pan out the way I might have hoped.

Of course, climbing is just the same. Sometimes you’re in great shape and everything clicks. Sometimes your tendons feel weak and the nerve endings have returned to the skin on the back of your hands and the shoe rubber feels off and you’re unsending what you onsighted last year.

If you’re like me, you can really let something like that derail you. Maybe it even puts you in a bad enough mood that you’re snippy with your spouse, or a coworker. Obviously, that’s problematic.

The question is not if you’re any good at climbing or not. The question is whether you expect to quit. And if you don’t—if climbing for you is one of those deep currents—then just let go of the ups and downs. Take comfort in knowing you’re in the right place, doing the right thing, following the right path for you. Regardless of whether you’re sending or punting.

Chalk up. Breathe. And climb on.

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