Turning mistakes into gold


Words by Angus Taylor

Process. What does the word mean to you?

It seems to be what we, climbers, focus on a lot when the challenge before us means that failing is the vanilla in the Neapolitan ice cream tub—undoubtedly the flavour that’s eaten first. The amount of nuance I’ve heard and read describing what ‘process’ means for different individuals seems as varied as the featured rock we all love to play on.

I’m certainly guilty of waxing on about this in a depth more belonging to a classroom than to crag banter, but I know I’m not alone in this. I think we enjoy wrestling with the articulation of this elusive aspect of climbing because it not only makes up the bulk of our experience, but it’s also a moving target. It’s not exactly tangible; in fact, it’s quite the opposite, which is precisely why it’s like trying to hold water in your hands because by its very nature it is formless. It’s the subjective inner workings of ‘us’. And as if by self-fulfilling prophecy, I’ve just spent a paragraph waxing on about it in way too much obscurity and depth.

That said, the way we deal with process has a profound and real-world effect, a kind of gift climbing has given us all that I think is often overlooked. What I’m referring to is the ability to take failure, challenge, hardship, and countless other synonyms for struggle, as opportunities to learn, to adapt, and to improve. This is so commonplace in climbing that it’s easy to overlook the fact that this handy mental tool isn’t as nearly sharp and prevalent in other parts of society. What I’m driving at is that we climbers don’t leave this tool in our gear bag with our rope and smelly shoes when we come home from the crag; it’s burnt a dedicated neural pathway and is with us through everything outside climbing as well.

The devil is in the detail as they say, and I’ve never known a community of people so stubborn in their efforts to focus on how to take those details and build out of them a ladder to success. New minutia in the beta; aligning the ‘connies’ with the headspace; specificity in the training; giving in to being humbled; challenging old ways of thinking; reminding yourself to breathe in during the crux... the fine detail is always present and we’ve become very used to looking for it, perhaps in some regards even obsessed. It’s this awareness of how all these things interplay that makes the difference between sending and not sending.

The old cliché “can’t see the forest for the trees”, seems to come completely undone by us climbers. We’ve conditioned ourselves to see the trees and the forest all at once, to recognise the value of each detail as contributing to the whole.

Where am I going with all this? I think we can all find an example of how climbing and the ‘process’ has helped us through something in our lives, or even to send our hardest ‘proj’, but if you look hard enough I guarantee you’ll find it playing out behind the scenes in more places than you’d expect.

There’s a lyric in a song I come back to a lot: “turning mistakes into gold”. While I don’t see our climbing experience as one full of mistakes, the lyric resonates with me because I see this community turning a lot of things that others might easily and unknowingly let slip through their fingers—into gold. And ‘process’ is our collective way of prospecting for it.

This issue of CLIMBERS touches on process in many different ways, be it in setting, climbing hard, being creative, storytelling, exploring new ways to connect with the world, and Ainhoa and I had a lot of fun putting it all together. We feel privileged that those featured were willing to share their gold with us, and we hope you enjoy perusing it over a coffee or a beer, or with chalky hands between burns. Thank you for supporting us to create something that has been a truly rewarding process.

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