I’ve recently been very fascinated by the story surrounding the free solo ascent of El Capitan by Alex Honnold. The story is now a documentary (which I still have to watch), and you can also find interesting details in this very genuine TedTalk and in this interview.
Part of the fascination, for me at least, is because I am completely afraid of heigths. And part is because it is a great example of how to live ordinarily an extraordinary life (or challenge, or meeting, or presentation, or … fill in the blanks for what seems insormountable to you).
- Pick your field – Climbing is not very popular, free soloing (or any of the other tens of niches in climbing) even less. Alex Honnold did not choose climbing to be popular, yet while nowadays we tend to reach for the masses (internet giving us the illusion that everybody is around the corner), his story and that of the other climbers he mentions tell us that to be satisfied with what you do, it is not necessary to be a mass celebrity.
- Prepare – It was a long preparation, it took years for him to convinve himself he was ready for the task. The discipline he put into this is outstanding, there was no improvisation, no unexpected turns. In his TedTalk, he tells of his other out of the ordinary free solo ascent (Half Dome) and how it felt unsatisfying as he did not know how to prepare for such a challenge, and then decided to take a different route from the planned one right while he was climbing to the top. The preparation this second time was so meticolous that at some point he and a friend went down El Capitan to remove some stones from a crack to prevent them from falling during the climb and potentially hitting and harming somebody below. He thought of everything, so much so that when it was the right time, he just had to do it.
- Focus – He spent the week before the ascent in almost complete isolation. He disconnected from the World, as he wanted to be 100% focused on the task ahead. No distraction, if that’s the most important thing that is going to happen to you in a career (even though you’ll have more in the future, and you probably won’t risk to die if you make a mistake).
We can all learn by watching great successes, even those so clearly beyond our reach. Just make sure you pay attention to what comes before, not after. Again, journey not destination.