I Learned Over Time To Break Big Objectives Into Small Pieces
Updated: Apr 16
It's like the old joke, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time of course. The life experience that made all this clear was climbing, both rock climbing and mountaineering. But rock climbing itself was clearer. You have an objective, reaching the summit. and you have equipment, a rope for example. But the standard length of a climbing rope is 165 feet. So, what do you do if the summit is 200, 500, 1,000 feet?
The attached story, from the Guardian, is about a father, an experienced climbing guide, and daughter who recently set a rock-climbing record. They climbed El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park, which is a sheer, 3,000-foot vertical monolith. Many climbers ascend the rock. I've been up it myself. But the reason this father and daughter team is so unique, is that she was just ten years old when she did it. In recounting the climb, the little girl said the hardest thing was in the beginning. She was worried about what she would do if she failed. I smiled reading the story because it brought back memories of a similar experience.
In the summer of 1996, I was living in Los Angeles. My daughter, who had just turned 13, had come to visit me. I was struggling to find things I might do with her to cure her boredom. I struck on an idea. I had a passionate love of the wild outdoors, and had backpacked, hiked, canoed, and climbed for years, and in many different places around the world. By the time they were seven or eight years old, my children had been introduced to these things, including rock climbing. I would take them with me to Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois, to places like Garden of the Gods, and I would set up short climbs, 30 to 50 feet high, tie harnesses around their waists, and up they would go. Amazingly, like kids on snow skis, they had little fear, and scampered easily to the top of the climbs with ease.
That summer, I was determined to take a weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park, a wild place in the desert east of LA, with over 5,000 climbing routes up various rock formations. I had been there before, and had determined our objective, a route called "A Walk On The Wild Side", a 600-foot beeline up the right side of Saddle Rock, the largest stone in the monument. The climb involved less than a half dozen "pitches", or sections. I led each one, and then belayed my daughter up to join me, one pitch at a time. Before we knew it, we were standing on an airy summit, overlooking the park on a beautiful, blue-sky day.
Life is like a rock climb. Hopefully you create objectives, and then a plan. Most of the meaningful objectives in life take time. You have to move toward them in pitches. Sometimes, unfortunately you slip backward. But when you do, you get back up and go at it again. Over time, and with consistent effort, we can reach most of our life objectives. You just have to get over the fear of failing.