I shifted my weight, put all the pressure I could onto the tips of my right fingers and pulled myself up and over the shelf. I set my draw, clipped in my rope, and leaned my weight against the wall for a break. A huge smile spread across my face and I started to laugh in relief. After 20 odd attempts over the course of thirty minutes, I’d finally managed to make it through the crux of the route.
My hands were raw and my shoulders sunburnt, but it felt well worth it. I was given a few seconds to feel proud before my own insecurity overtook the moment. My internal monologue switched from “You exquisite creature! You did the damn thing!” to “You hadn’t accomplished anything remarkable, in fact, you should be embarrassed, if you were a real climber that move wouldn’t have taken so long.”
At the time it seemed like my inner critic was making a valid point. I hadn’t accomplished a uniquely remarkable feat – I hadn’t been projecting this route all season, nor was it highly rated. I had accomplished the unremarkable task of making it through one move on a 5.11 at my local crag one Saturday.
I almost always give into my insecurity and allow myself to bested by imposter syndrome. I compare myself to the athletes who fill my Instagram feed and feel like I’m not allowed to identify as an outdoor athlete as nothing I’ve done compares to those incredible athletes.
I minimize my accomplishments as I keep chasing after an achievement notable enough that I can hold it up as evidence that I belong in the outdoor community. I think to myself “once you send a 5.13, you can consider yourself a real climber then, you’ll feel accomplished once you do that.”
The reality is though I don’t believe there is a singular thing I could accomplish that would seem sufficient to provide me with the validation I want. There will never be one thing that I can point to and say “see I’m good enough, I’m remarkable too,” because there is no outside judge waiting to rule on whether my identity is valid. I have to do that for myself.
My identity should be built on the foundation of my seemingly insignificant day-to-day accomplishments.
The sustained commitment to fail twenty times and still try is an exceptional accomplishment. The deliberate choice of waking up early on a Saturday, driving over an hour and hiking out to the crag is a remarkable accomplishment. The emotional vulnerability of allowing myself a range of feelings to physical achievements (or failures) is an impressive accomplishment. These are not unremarkable victories, they’re the evidence of impressive character.
I may never onsite a 5.13 in a remote mountain range, but I’m committed to my practice and it brings me tremendous pride and joy. Climbing connects me with my body and, for the most part, leaves me feeling deeply empowered. Every conquered crux is worth the 20 attempts with ripped hands, strained muscles, and sunburn.
I may never free myself from imposter syndrome, or stop searching for the next big thing that will make feel validated, but I can take those brief moments of pride and try to hold onto them a little longer each time. Maybe I’ll find a way to hold on long enough that I begin to believe I am remarkable as well.
About the Writer
Jessica is an environmentalist, feminist, sophistifunk, and (self-proclaimed) queen of riding her bike in high heels. She spends most of her time mountain biking, climbing, skiing, and giving her dog, Gordie Howe, belly rubs. She can be found on Instagram, Twitter and elsewhere as fe_ferko.