Introducing The First Diaries, a weekly column in which one Coloradan documents her misadventures, trials, and triumphs in the outdoors as she tries a new activity or adventure each week. With humor, practical advice, and some serious real talk, our goal is to make the outdoor space a little less intimidating and a little more fun for all of us.
I’ve written quite a bit in this column about the importance of the company you choose for your outdoor endeavors; friends who lift you up and cheer you on.
When I took a stab recently at sport climbing, I shared with you all how scary it was to feel so vulnerable up on the rock face, how I needed to acknowledge my fear, make space for it, and work with it to get to the top of the route. I was able to do that because my friend—kind, patient and capable—was belaying me from below, holding me safely in my harness and allowing me to sit back and calm my nerves before continuing on.
I put my trust in the equipment, and moreover, in my friend, completely. Like a small child trusts his parents, as if my friend has some power greater than I have.
But here’s the thing: once I got past that plateau where my heart pounded like a hummingbird’s at the sight of the ground ten feet beneath me, I realized I actually do really, really like climbing. I’d like to keep at it. So to be a worthy climbing partner to anyone and everyone (it is fundamentally a partner sport, after all), I need to be able to belay, as well. I need to somehow find in myself that death-defying power a belay-er seems to have to keep another human being safe in incredible situations.
So today, I’d like to talk about learning to belay and a thought I’ve come to have around “imposter syndrome.”
Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which a person doubts his or her capabilities. If you accomplish something incredible, for example, you feel you’re simply lucky, inadequate, you don’t deserve the praise or admiration that comes your way. It’s common among executives and folks who have achieved larger than life status in work or life; but it can get the best of all of us in ways that might surprise you.
I’m no psychologist, but I have a theory that the most pernicious form of this infliction is a kind of premonitory imposter syndrome that keeps us from trying new things. For example, I see my brave, sure friend belaying me, and I think to myself, thank goodness for this girl! So glad she’s here for me to put all my trust in, what would I do without her?
I didn’t think, wow, I can’t wait to learn to do that, too! What I really thought was, wow, I am so glad someone more capable than me is here to belay me!
So when I went indoor sport climbing with my roommate recently, and she suggested I clip in and start learning to belay her with the safety holds the gym has, I caught myself actually thinking, oh no, I don’t belay. Someone else belays.
But I recognized what was going on and said yes, then I caught and lowered my roommate as she scaled routes two- and three stories high.
It just took a moment of recognition; of telling myself no, you’re not an imposter. There’s no reason you can’t do this.
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