We all have expectations, both for ourselves and others, and about many different things. I expect that my husband will do the dishes after I cook, though this expectation is not always met. It’s easier to get over unmet expectations when they depend on others, but when it’s ourselves who do not live up to our own expectations, it’s much more difficult to forgive.
For the last few years, I’ve been relentless in the expectations I’ve set for myself. The stronger I got, the harder I was on myself. When I started climbing, any success I had was a surprise and made me feel elated; I was stoked to send V0s outside, and amazed when I was able to complete V2s. Because everything was so hard and I was a novice, I had zero expectations for myself. Though, that doesn’t mean I never got frustrated – I did, and often. But, my mindset was different.
Last year, my girlfriends and I were working Buttermilk Stem, a notoriously difficult V1 in Bishop, CA. I had just sent a really fun V5 the day before, and I went into Buttermilk Stem thinking that I should have been able to send it. I lost more skin and spend more time doing it than I had expected, and it took me more than an hour to finally achieve success. I was so down on myself for not sending it quickly, and it piqued my curiosity. Why do we expect so much from ourselves? And at what point should we be able to do something?
If I climb a V5, does that mean I should be able to climb any V1 in existence? Why should I? We all know that grades are meant to measure a climb’s difficulty, but we also know they are quite subjective; I certainly don’t want to get into a debate about the objectivity of climbing grades, but I think we often internalize our own ability in reference to grades, and when we can’t live up to the expectations we’ve set for ourselves, a kind of dissonance is created. For example, I know that I’m strong enough to climb most V1 boulder problems, however, I found myself being shut down by Buttermilk Stem, and in my head I was screaming at myself, blaming myself for not being able to do what I was supposed to. That kind of dissonance not only frustrated me with the climb, but also made me feel terrible about myself – like I wasn’t doing something “right.”
But the more I thought about it later, the more I realized how incredibly detrimental this mindset is for me. Climbing is the one thing in the world that releases me from everything else, and by applying such rigid expectations on my ability, I was taking away some of the freedom and fun from climbing. While I’m always striving to be the best I can be and to improve, I realize that I am not a machine, and sometimes, I won’t be able to do something – even if it’s “labeled” the same as other things I can do.
Releasing ourselves from expectations isn’t easy, and I’m still struggling to do it consistently, but I’ve already noticed a difference. Brushing it off, realizing it doesn’t matter, and isn’t a deep reflection on us or our ability can help immensely. At the end of the day, we are our harshest critics, and by releasing ourselves from some of the pressure, abandoning the should from the equation, we can combat some of the dissonance. I encourage everyone to let go of your expectations, and remember the reasons you climb.