I am a afraid of heights. Seriously, they literally scare the breath out of me. My hands sweat, my body tingles, and the world starts to spin (aka the last thing you want to happen while you're high above the ground). So of course, I did what any rational human with an irrational fear would do: I started rock climbing.
The first day sucked, in the best way possible. It was incredibly hard, my hands screamed, the rental shoes smelled like rental shoes. I was terrified, and I fell-- a lot. Needless to say, it was love at first sight. I couldn't wait to go back. I had never been more excited to keep trying something I sucked at in my life. At the time, I wasn't sure what hooked me in. I was slightly confused by my newly discovered masochistic tendencies. I started saying things like, "Climbing isn't for the faint of heart," and, my favorite, "You have to love the climb more than you hate the pain." I annoyed everyone around me with my nonstop climbing talk. I obsessed over YouTube climbing tutorials. I was HOOKED. And then it hit me; I couldn't believe I didn't realize it sooner. Climbing is the perfect sport for graphic designers! Not convinced? I'll give you 10 reasons to believe. Let's take this journey together, shall we?
1) Each climbing route is a giant puzzle
Climbing a route is like trying to solve a life sized puzzle using your body. Like every new project, there is never one way to get to the "answer". Every climber you meet has the potential to arrive at a different solution than you. It requires creativity, and when the going gets tough, a willingness to think outside of the box.
2) Being willing to fail and try again is essential
If you want to improve in climbing, you have to be willing to try things you have never done before. It takes an irrational willingness to fail-- and to try again. Climbing tests your ability to be resilient, and that is a part of what makes it wonderful. In design, growth comes from what you learn when you fail. Improvement comes from your willingness to keep trying when you fail.
3) Pain brings growth
On day one, my hands felt like death. As I continued, the texture of the holds irritated me. It grated at my skin like sand paper, ripping away at the surface. My hands cracked, bled, and tore. Without a doubt, staying on the wall became as much of a mental challenge as it was a physical one. Everything about climbing was a humbling experience. Now, at 9 months in, my hands are tough and my ego invisible. I realized the same ego free thick skin I needed to grow as a climber is the same thick skin needed daily to grow as a designer. It's important that designers seek criticism. It's a life that is not for the faint of heart. It can bruise you, crush your spirit, discourage you, and make you want to quit. You have to leave your ego at the door if you intend to grow. I can't stress enough, the importance of learning how to use criticism to your advantage. It's a tough path to take, but like climbing, advancement comes with trying to conquer the most painful problems.
4) Go above and beyond
On the wall, I learned to stop limiting myself. If I'm working on a climb that's outside of anything I've tried before, I simply try it anyway. Maybe I'll get to the top, maybe I won't, but I don't let the rude little voice in my head convince me that I can't. Design is a constantly changing field; styles change, technology evolves, and the needs of clients are ever growing. You have to be willing to step out into the unknown and to go above and beyond anything you thought possible. So learn Web design (it's not that scary), try your hand at 3D modeling, or build an app or two. If it doesn't work out, you can always try again.
5) Be kind
When I'm having a bad day, feeling super weak on the wall, falling on climbs I know I can do, or letting my fear get the better of me, there is always someone at the gym or around the rock to lend a smile, kind words, and some climbing advice. It's amazing how far that simple gesture can go. We live in a world of chaos: racism, kids dying, water systems being poisoned, bombs being dropped. It can be easy to forget to treat people with kindness. In the design world, you never know what a kind gesture may lead to. A new client or client referrals, positive word of mouth, or overflow work being thrown your way are all effects of being kind. So be kind.
6) Teamwork makes the project work
In climbing, I may be on the boulder alone, but I am never without a team. From the person waiting to keep me from falling on my head to the people shouting encouragements my way, they all play a part in my success on a climb. The same can be said of graphic design. When you're freelancing, it can be easy to forget you aren't in this alone. But remember, everyone from the barista at your favorite cafe to your family are giving you components of what you need to be great. They are your team, whether you realize it or not.
7) Walk away
Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, the wall gets the better of me. Not completing a climb a sucks. It requires me to say, "Today is not the day," and walk away. Failure to do so can result in injury or worse. We have all had that client or two that's rude, difficult, and not worth the effort. I'm sure you have also had a project or two that sounds like amazing fun, but is totally outside your skill level. It's important to remember there is no weakness in walking away. Sometimes, failure to do so can result in extreme stress, or even damage to your credibility and career.
8) Don't be afraid to fall
Playing it safe won't get you anywhere on the wall. Climbing is a scary sport. The possibility of falling hangs over my head the minute my hands touch the wall. In fact, some moves are down right terrifying. I've come to understand, if I let the idea of falling overtake me, I will miss out on the amazing feeling of completing really hard climbs. Sometimes you just have to take risks to achieve your goals. This resonates so strongly with me when it comes to design. Playing it safe never leads to amazing designs, the same way giving in to the fear of falling will never get you up the wall.
9) ...but if you can't help it, learn to manage your fear
There is no getting around it. Climbing is 80% mental, and fear is a very real sensation. When I get 20 feet up a wall and freeze and someone breezes passed me to 50 feet, it isn't because they are braver than me-- just better at managing their fear. The fear will always be a struggle, whether you are a beginner or a world champion. The key is to learn how to cope. This thought process is very compatible to every area of life. There will always be times when something scares the hell out of you: a new move, a new job, allowing yourself to be vulnerable to love, or going after that dream client. It's imperative to learn how to manage that fear. Remember, fear is natural; what matters most is what you do with it.
10) Nothing is as hard as it seems as first
So many times I've stood in front of a climb and thought, "Man, that looks difficult... like very difficult... like impossibly difficult even." I study the route and make my plan. I prepare myself mentally and get ready to try hard. I start the climb, and, before I know it, I'm at the top thinking, "Man! That wasn't as bad as I expected!" Through climbing, I've learned that many things aren't as intimidating as they may seem at first, second, and third sight. Never let something that looks scary stop you from at least trying to do your best. You may surprise yourself.
There are so many lessons climbing has taught me. These are just a few. Each session serves as an opportunity to grow. It's tough, for sure, but every challenge climbing presents me with is an opportunity to hone the skills I need to surpass even my own expectations of self. I couldn't ask for more.