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?

(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

3 Ways to Gain Confidence at Work (or in Your Craft)

aerial_yogaConfidence is so important in the workplace. Without it, your work will be questioned, and so will your competency.

1. Practice Your Craft

This goes without saying, but we really need to get this out of the way. When I was much younger, I believed that if you were a confident person you’d be instantly taken seriously. Not true. People can see right through a cocky exterior if the message you’re sending doesn’t seem credible. If you’re spewing crap, sooner or later someone will catch on.

So, the solution to that is to constantly be practicing and working on refining your craft, whatever it may be. Lately, I’ve been practicing my writing skills (in the form of communication to partners, and just writing at every chance I can).

In the research I’ve done, writing is actually one of the most valuable skills to have. When you’re not there to speak up for yourself, the messages you send in written form will be there to do the talking for you–you need to make sure you’re capable of professional language and getting your message across clearly and concisely. People don’t have unlimited time to be spending on your words. Quick and to the point is exactly what you should be aiming for.

2. Get Down to the Specifics

Instead of saying something like “I think what we did should have affected us positively…”, say “We implemented the process two weeks ago. I’ve taken a look at the data, and it suggests that we’re trending to be more profitable this month based on a 4% higher conversion rate.” Between the two scenarios of ways you could approach presenting the information, one seems tentative and unsure, and the other proves you did your homework.

This approach will help you by leaps and bounds. You’ll not only state your assumption and recommendation, but also back it up with relevant statistics. Because of this approach, I’ve become a bit of a data junkie–so nerdy, I know.

3. Speak in an Even, Controlled Tone

The cadence by which you speak has a large effect on the way people perceive you. If you sound flighty and nervous, but what you’re saying is solid, people will still undervalue you and not fully trust what you are saying. If you are speaking to a group and can compose yourself enough to speak slowly and evenly, you can absolutely gain the ears of upper management.

To get good at this, people sometimes use public speaking courses/clubs like Toastmasters. I’ve never personally joined a Toastmasters, but have been thinking about it for some time.

Alternatively, you could just do it more. Purposefully place yourself in situations where you’ll have to talk a little bit in front of people. Volunteer a story when you’re hanging out with your social circle. Say something of importance or try to prove a point during a work meeting. All of these are opportunities to learn and grow. Take them now, and they’ll slowly snowball into a habit where you feel comfortable presenting information to people confidently.

Either way, best of luck in your journey to becoming more confident. If you have any other tips to share with me that have helped you become more successfully confident, let me know in the comments below.

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The picture above is of me trying out an aerial yoga class. We did some pretty cool and challenging moves that day!

The Art of Krav Maga: Learn to Save Your Life

I hit the ground. Hard.

Still stunned from the impact, I heard someone say, “Welcome to the real world. Get back up and fight!”

I immediately sprang back up, and with a one-two-punch combo, I continued to hit as hard as I could until the instructor called “Time!”

My head was pounding from the punches and I was breathing heavily, but I was smiling. I was taking the first steps toward protecting myself.

This weekend I attended my first ever krav maga class.

Origins

For those of you who may not already know, Krav Maga is a style of martial art, originating in Israel. It empowers people to perform offensive moves in the face of unexpected attacks. The fighting skills that you learn in class are tactical, and the element of surprise and stress are baked into the sessions so that you can prepare yourself to react effectively under those conditions.

My first experience in such a class was eye-opening. I always think of the possibility of being mugged, attacked, etc., while performing normal tasks, like walking to my bus stop in the evening. The likelihood of an attack is very real, especially for a young, unaccompanied woman.

Like in the event of any natural disaster, preparing after the fact is too late.  Truthfully, to successfully get away from such an attack, you’ll need a combination of: offensive attacks hardwired into your muscle memory, the ability to act under stress, and the confidence to strike back—and hard. Like you mean it.

Three Important Takeaways from Class

  1. Go for the nuts.
    If your attacker is male, hit him in the crotch and do it HARD. This is your best chance of escape.
  2. You can’t count on running away.
    Your first instinct may be to flee—however unless you’re extremely fast or skilled at running, you probably won’t be able to outrun your attacker. This means that you’ll need to do some damage before you can get away.
  3. Practice stress.
    Being exposed to stressful environments and then practicing fighting during those times will give you the best tools to save your life.

Now, I don’t mean to be a downer in any way by writing this post. I think we should all be aware and prepared for real-life situations. And if that means thinking about these scenarios and your possible reactions beforehand, we must do just that.

If you only had one chance to strike your attacker before they rape/shoot/stab/kill you, could you make it count?

Fasting

My 30 Day Personal Development Blog Fast

For the next 30 days, I will not be reading any personal development blogs. Similarly, I will not touch any books that are also of that nature.

The Quest for Creativity

I’m fasting to see if I become more creative when my mind is not muddled with the ideas of others. Instead of putting spins on topics that other people have mentioned in blog posts or books, I wonder what my life would be like if I thought of how to navigate my life on my own.

In the past, I’ve quit creativity-sapping habits like watching TV and talking on the phone. By shedding the time I spent on these things, I freed up significant blocks of time.

There’s no doubt that personal development blogs have so much to offer when it comes to learning from other peoples’ mistakes, or producing a shift in your mindset–letting you know that you don’t have to conform to expectations.

This is the most empowering aspect of having a collective idea-sharing engine like the blogosphere: you can build upon other peoples’ ideas, tear them down, or offer up your own new insights.

For the next 30 days, I’m going to focus on the latter: producing my own new insights within the personal development field.

It’s a bold challenge–I know.

It’s going to be weird–I know.

But that’s why I’ve got to try. Maybe by removing the temptation to feed off of others’ ideas, I can free myself up to produce more quality information that is inherently me.

 

Have you ever tried anything like this? How did the process go for you? Share in the comments–I love hearing from you!