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Taking A Leap

Image Credit: Flickr/SumAll

I took a leap of faith in late October of this year.

It wasn’t a major leap: this was a try-out weekend -- the weekend where I’d get to decide if I was serious about uprooting my completely stable life in Detroit to become one of millions of millennial transplants in New York City. This was a trial run for what could become the next chapter in my adult life. It was a weekend of firsts that ranged from first dates to my first attempt bouldering at a gym in Brooklyn with a new friend, and that’s where I found myself on a Saturday evening.

Bouldering, a form of rock climbing on an indoor artificial rock wall, is done without the security of any ropes or harnesses. The only thing keeping you from falling to the cushioned mat below is yourself.

I wasn’t excited to try it. The climbing walls reached the ceiling and I was intimidated watching others scale it quickly. I was out of my element. My hands were chalky, the special shoes I had to wear in order to climb pinched my toes, and all I could think about were the times in elementary school when I fell off the monkey bars. The signs on the wall that read “Bouldering is DANGEROUS” didn’t help assuage my fears.

My friend, on the other hand, had been bouldering for some time and found release in it. She took me aside to a beginner route and patiently instructed me on how to safely climb.

“Place your hands here,” she said, putting both hands on the starting point. “And keep your arms straight when you climb.” Bent arms would tire out easily. Hands were for guiding you through the route, up the wall. The actual momentum came from your legs. She demonstrated by climbing a few steps up, stopped, and looked back at me. “Now,” she said, “I’m going to show you how to fall.”

She fell back, immediately curled into a ball as she hit the ground, rolled forward onto her feet, and stood up. She was completely at ease and motioned to the wall for me to start trying.

It was the release on her face as she fell that got me. For a split second, she looked like she was floating midair; her face relaxed, her arms slack from releasing her grip, and her eyes closed. She wasn’t worried about what would happen when she fell. She knew she’d land, redirect the momentum and start over again.

I saw all of this unfold and wanted it for myself, but I am constantly anxious about what will happen if I fall. It had happened before; an embarrassing, traumatizing, rapid fall from a high point in my life to rock bottom that left me battered and resolute to never surrender control again. Climbing out of that situation was the only option and small slip-ups were immediately corrected, because like bouldering, I didn’t have a security system to keep me from falling. I kept a white-knuckle grip on every facet of my life because to lose that grip meant losing everything I’d worked towards.

But at some point, that white-knuckle grip became exhausting. Needing to be in control of all things at all times began to tire me out. Afraid of both moving forward and falling, I stayed static. I called it self-preservation, but I was being a coward by not trusting myself enough to take the necessary next steps to get where I wanted to be.

I thought about all of this as I put both my hands on the starting point in the bouldering gym and realized I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I brought up my left foot, followed with my right, and used my hands to hold me steady. I made it halfway up the wall when my fingers started to cramp. I hadn’t kept my arms straight and was suddenly aware of how far from the ground I was. Panicked, I stopped and considered climbing down to safety. Down on the mat, my friend realized this and began encouraging me to follow through and reach the finish point.

Taking a breath and steadying myself, I lifted with my legs to the next foothold. I stretched and readjusted step by step until the end was within my reach. In one final surge, I clasped both hands at the top of the route for three seconds to signify that I’d officially completed the course and started my climb back down.

At one point during my descent, I was close enough to drop down safely to the mat and my friend encouraged me to do so, but I declined. Although I’m proud of the progress I made at the gym and continued to move toward my end goal, it does feel like I did myself a disservice by letting my anxiety get the better of me and reverting to needing to control the situation.

Life, like bouldering, is a series of trial and error, and making a leap of faith means understanding that you might fall. This time, I didn’t. I pushed forward, but maybe I’ll fall next time. I’ll be going back after my move.


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