What Bouldering Taught Me About Life

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I substituted my normal gym routine for about 3.5 months with bouldering. If you’ve never heard of bouldering, it’s basically what you think of when you think about rock climbing, except without ropes, which makes for a freer experience. Essentially, you can continue to try routes that look exciting, without asking a partner to belay you, or without worrying about failing if you want to keep trying the beginning part of the route ten times over.

The skillsets required to climb well are so versatile. You need flexibility, core, back, chest and leg strength (pistol squats, anyone?). Thing is, you never know what type of strength you will need before you face a problem.

It’s also easy to tell when someone is a seasoned climber. They will move slowly, deliberately, and with an air of grace. It’s really beautiful to watch a pro climber scale a wall almost effortlessly.

And now, onto the life lessons that bouldering has bestowed upon me:

You need to work up to at least base proficiency before you can truly enjoy the process.

It’s unfair to say that you hate rock climbing or don’t like it if you’ve only had one session and the reason you can’t continue for more than an hour is that your hands are burning. If your hands are burning because they’re not sufficiently callused, you’ll never know what you would be truly capable of if your hands weren’t the limiting factor.

The same goes with people who give up almost immediately with new skills they are trying to develop. Unless you can sufficiently navigate your way around the skill, then you don’t truly know the joys of performing that skill.

For instance, if you haven’t yet grasped the fundamentals of writing, it’s difficult to get into a flow and craft your words in an artsy manner while feeling good about the process. It usually comes as a disjointed attempt and the writer gets frustrated and stops, proclaiming that “writing is boring, and too hard.”

Good climbing is more about technique than it is about pure strength.

While someone who is physically strong can move themself up a wall, so can someone who has a solid technique even without bulging muscles.

That is to say, in order to climb well, you don’t already have to have some natural aptitude for it. You can simply train up with the techniques and then eventually become proficient, if not really great, at climbing. Heel hooks, staying close to the wall, and leveraging your body are all things that you can do to offset your inability to simply do a muscle up and top out on the route.

I’ve seen burly men struggle whereas a small girl might climb quickly to the top using proper technique, not pure strength. Lesson learned: it pays to learn the tricks of the trade—this will make it that much easier for you to progress in the sport, or in anything else that’s worthy of pursuit.

Sometimes you need to push through the fear to get to the top.

There were so many times in the few short months that I climbed where I truly questioned my own strength to pull through and “top out” (climb up and over the top) on a problem (route).

Whenever I finished a difficult route because someone below was rooting me on, or because I had the intrinsic motivation to prevail on a route, I felt so ridiculously satisfied. That feeling that you can indeed conquer the world. Or, at least, hoist your own body up some rocks.

Bouldering can be really frightening. I climbed indoors, but falling can still have real consequences. There were times where I almost didn’t finish routes because I was scared. It’s important to know your body’s limits, but there is just no way you can climb without some guts. Pushing yourself just outside of where you feel comfortable is where the most growth can happen.

I then started to notice this lesson transferring itself into my regular life. The whole idea of pushing yourself through exhaustion or taking a risk when it may or may not pay off has been invaluable in my work and life. I believe in the idea of mental discipline quickly transferring to other areas of your life—this is why meditation is an oft-cited way of finding your inner discipline.

Mentorship: Other people can give you the exact advice you need to finish a route.

I love climbing because it’s okay to openly watch someone and take tips from their climbing technique. It’s a sport where it is encouraged to learn from others and compete for personal bests, not with the goal of outperforming someone else. When you ask for “beta” (advice on how to finish a problem), people will willingly offer it to you and let you know how they finished a route (or in many cases, they will even go so far as to show you).

The lesson here? Just ask for help when needed. And, seek those who are wiser than thou.

Tell yourself it’s okay if you fail, you’re just going to try one more time.

The absolute best lesson I’ve learned is that tricking myself into just starting a route typically yields in me actually completing it. I found that once I got going on a route—even if it looked ridiculous and scary—I would be determined to continue to the top as long as I was still feeling good. By simply giving myself permission to stop anytime I want, I ended up achieving way more.

In summary, I really loved my bouldering experience. It taught me so much about how I view the world, and ways I can get myself to do something difficult. Have you had any new experiences that were especially eye opening lately?

How to Get Exercise When You Don’t Have a Gym Membership

We needed a way to replace our gym membership since it expired at the beginning of the summer. Wanting to try a more frugal route that had a lot of variation, we opted to work out in the park. Therefore, solution = ghetto workouts in the park.

Now, I don’t recommend this for people who live in a climate like Seattle, where the weather is dreary and rainy for about nine months out of the year, or for anyone who is a beginner. This is especially true because it is difficult to stay motivated when no one else is working out at the park except for children.

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Me doing pull-ups on Venice Beach. One of the highlights of the year!

We are pretty lucky to live right by a large park with benches, a bigfield, pull-up bar, and lots of sports going on like tennis, soccer, baseball, frisbee, etc.

My personal favorite workout routine went like this:

Take a deck of cards with you to the park. Assign one workout to each suit. We chose cardio for hearts (laps around the wading pool), diamonds for push-ups, squats or box jumps for clubs, and pull-ups were spades. Shuffle the deck. Now, flip a card over. The suit will dictate which workout you do, and the number on the card is how many reps you will complete. We got through about a third of the deck in an hour or so.

This was a huge success in our workouts. I often don’t know which workout I want to do next whenever I’m working out on my own, so it was very helpful to have the deck of cards boss me around and tell me what to do. Highly recommended.

The other nice thing about working out in the park during the summer months is that our routine was changed up often and we were able to try out new things and enjoy the nice weather. Sometimes there were parades, or weddings, or we saw cute puppies playing in the field. Every day was a new adventure.

Spying on RVs in the City

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I spied on this RV so hard…it looked so…livable.

We went on a bike ride down to the beach with the intention of spotting RVs stealthily parked on the beachfront.

I never used to notice the RVs–just casually taking them in as part of the scenery. I mean, there are quite a few RVs just hanging around Seattle, parked in the various neighborhoods that I’ve lived in for the past twenty years or so. Now that I think about it, how many of these RVs are actually the full time home of the people who own them? It’s amazing to consider!

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Why wouldn’t you want this view from your house?!

At this point, I’m confident that the people living in them full time are more than I imagined, and the benefits of doing so include getting a beachfront property (which many people would pay millions for) for almost nothing. Parking there for under 72hrs is usually free and legal, or even longer, as long as “concerned citizens” don’t complain.

Why should any of this matter? Well, I’m secretly planning to purchase an RV and roadtrip across the U.S. one day, and I thought that doing research now would help me become fully prepared. I’ve been mentally preparing for a couple of months now, putting myself in the position of someone who lives in a small space, but treats the outdoors as an extension of their livable space.

Trying New Things and Taking Dad Racing

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Here’s my dad all suited up for driving!

This weekend we took our Dad race car driving (well actually, my sister purchased this surprise for him and I just tagged along). The experience was cool and it reminded me that we should constantly be trying new things, even if they scare us, because those new things will stretch our comfort zones and make us stronger.

Maybe we’ll find out we like the new experience, and maybe we won’t. But you never truly know until you try.

Another added benefit of doing things outside of the norm is that you’ll feel like you’re living a longer and more memorable life. Think about it: when you spend almost every day partaking in the same routine, the days blend together and you start questioning where the weeks and months and even years are going. However, when you try new things on a regular basis, you break up the monotony and have plenty of novel memories from which to draw upon.

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Our dad, as he was taking his “ride-along” before his chance to drive the car.

(Extremely) Early Retirement

You can find my new obsession in the title of this post. I stumbled upon the concept about two months ago via a blog called Mr. Money Mustache. I found this idea (retiring really early through very achievable means) because I was searching for a better way to live life.

Society dictates that normal American life means that you go to school for a fair number of years, kindergarten through college, then graduate and pop back into yet another system of corporate work for 40 or so years, and at the end of all of that you’re finally able to “retire” and finally do whatever the heck you want.

I originally had a small taste of a different way to live out life. A few years back, Tim Ferris’ concept of mini-retirements surfaced. Tim questions the model of retiring later in life when you’re least able to enjoy your time off, and poses the question—“What happens when you take lots of small retirements throughout your life?”

Others, like Steve Pavlina, shared similar sentiments—they worked hard on things they liked doing and were good at (for Pavlina it was programming games), then they fell into a business model and got popular on the internet and made some money that way. It all seemed too easy for them, and not very practical for the average Joe (or Jane!).

Then, when I came across the extremely early retirement community, something life-altering happened. My research and reading told me that anyone—even the most average of people, could retire very early. It does not matter what your gross salary is, as long as your savings rate is high (50%+), and you invest your money well, you can completely retire in less time than most people currently believe is possible.

The appeal for me is the idea of extremely early retirement. Why not just use your younger years to work really hard, save really hard, buy very little, and come out in 5-15 years done with your ‘accumulation phase’ as the early retirement community calls it? Let time do the work for you. Let your money make money. Ugh, it’s so disgustingly simple I’m not sure why I didn’t see the light sooner.

Before I stumbled upon the early retirement community, I had already had previous obsessions with the minimalist movement, tiny houses, ultralight travel, and a whole community of people who were focused on less consumerism and less environmental impact. This has really helped to set me in the right mindset to believe this is possible—I mean, I legitimately like this stuff. And although I’ve suffered from some lifestyle inflation, it’s not too late for me to turn back since I’m young, healthy, and without dependents.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done. I’ve slashed my expenses back to the bare minimum and I calculate everything in terms of how much money I would need saved up in a nest egg in order to have that item or service just by living off the interest of an investment. For example, if I consider purchasing a subscription to a service like Spotify at $10/month, it sounds reasonable initially. I mean, I’m a professional white-collar worker, working in downtown Seattle. Obviously I can afford such a luxury. But, am I really willing to if I consider that it will cost me $3,000 in savings to maintain this habit?

Here’s how I make the calculation—if Spotify costs $10/month, I will multiply that by 12 to get the yearly cost. This is $120. I will multiply the yearly cost by 25 to get $3,000. This is the amount I will need to have saved up in my nest egg to fund a Spotify subscription habit. (I am using a 4% safe withdrawal rate calculation). I’ll then ask myself if it’s worth a decent chunk of my life to work to collect $3,000 just so I can have access to Spotify forever. The answer in this case is no, it’s not a worthwhile trade-off for me. My life energy is way too precious to spend on a random expense like that which is not very valuable to me.

I always thought being able to do whatever you want with your day required huge sacrifices. Either you would have to return to work every so often just so you could have enough money to pay your bills. Otherwise, you would have to create some kind of business that would generate “passive income.” I thought the only way out of the rat race was to be an entrepreneur. So I focused heavily on that for a couple of years. I started up this blog, had dreams of making money from this baby, and crafted all sorts of business concepts. I read loads of books about businesses, entrepreneurship, psychology, and subscribed to all the top email newsletters from advice-giving gurus.

I was so deep into it that I didn’t realize that the most important factor that I could be controlling at the moment wasn’t the money I could be earning from my (non-existent) business, but rather, the money I should be socking away in savings and investments.

Are you currently at an ideal savings rate for your goals? Have you ever run across the concept of extremely early retirement before?

Here are links to other blogs that have also shaped my perspective on this early retirement deal:

  • Jlcollinsnh – awesome concrete investment advice (essentially, stick to Vanguard with their low expense ratios, and invest in mostly a total stock index fund that matches the market, with perhaps some bonds and REITs thrown in there).
  • Mad Fientist – wonderful podcast that features lots of faces from the early retirement community; great retirement calculator tool that he programmed
  • Afford Anything – I love seeing women in the space–I feel like women in the personal development/entrepreneurship/minimalism space are extremely underrepresented; she has great insight on how she is on a path to wealth by investing in multiple instances of real estate
  • Brave New Life – lots of interesting philosophy about what it means to work, live, and retire, and taking back time for yourself; kind of reminds me of the book Brave New World in a way…
  • Lacking Ambition – great posts about living with very very little and learning to love it
  • Early Retirement Extreme – one of the blogs that really popularized the notion; he really takes things to the extreme by living off of a trivial amount of about $7k per year or something awesome like that; on minimizing the need for being “on the grid” and plugged into society