Earlier this summer, my family joined the local rock climbing gym. Two of my kids were especially interested, and it’s one of those rare remaining places where a “family membership” costs the same whether there are two or ten in your family, so we all go, sometimes.
I am terrible at rock climbing. And I’m not even climbing real rocks, but plastic boulders attached to the wall in a way that is supposed to be relatively easy to climb, easy for beginners.
It is not easy for me.
But my kids love it, and if they’re going to go, somebody has to take them. And when I do, I get my (super uncomfortable) climbing shoes and give it a try. I started climbing because it would be good for me: I spend hours each day working at the computer or microphone, and it’s not great for my body. If an exact opposite for hunching over a computer exists, it just might be stretching out like a spider against a bouldering wall and attempting to move.
I kept climbing because I found it strangely satisfying, even though I’m terrible. It’s fun to try something new. It’s good for my body, and I enjoy the mental challenge of puzzling out the routes to the top of the wall.
But the most surprising thing? I actually love being terrible.
Unlike everything else I do all day, nobody in that climbing gym expects me to be competent—let alone good. I have only the smallest idea what I’m doing, and that’s fine. I have total freedom to screw up, to fall down, to spend my hour at the gym scaling the kids’ runs (if I can, because honestly, my 8-year-old is so much better than I am). I have total freedom to be the worst in the room at this one thing, and it’s fine.
It’s been good for my soul and weirdly gratifying to begin at the beginning, at the very start of the the learning curve, where my progress—for once—is obvious.
Every time I go, I am obviously better, stronger, smarter about making my holds. For once, I can see the results of my practice, not cumulative over months and years, but from one hour spent climbing to the next.
And even though I’m better than I was when I started, I’m still terrible, and I think I like it that way. I’ve been philosophizing about how perhaps everyone needs something in their life they can be just plain awful at. One area where everyone else does it better, where they have complete permission to stink, where they can experience the enjoyment of the start of the learning curve.
(I compared notes on this epiphany with a friend, who had recently found her own venue of terribleness, and was loving it. Is this a realization all women come to as they approach forty? We don’t know, but we’re loving it.)
Do you have something in your life you are absolutely terrible at? Do you like it that way? I would love to hear about the venue of YOUR terribleness, how you found it, and how it’s working out for you in comments.