Stop Downgrading Yourself

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I had sent my first sport climb 12b/c in Ten Sleep, Wyoming last …

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I had sent my first sport climb 12b/c in Ten Sleep, Wyoming last summer. Ten Sleep is one of my favorite sport climbing destinations, nestled just beyond a sleepy little cowboy town. My first trip up to the infamous summer time crag was with my friends, Katie Bono, Sav Cummins, and Victoria Brunner. Katie had plans to head to the east coast at the end of summer because she had gotten into med school, so she raged pretty much every hard climb at every wall we visited. It was impressive, not to mention so much fun, to watch a fellow female climber just crushing 11s, 12s, and 13s, left and right.

Truthfully, I hadn’t been climbing very much that summer, or even all spring. I was living in Long Island City last fall and then Chattanooga and had just finished up two of my Gunks and T-wall projects. I was feeling satiated with climbing, which was kind of nice, and had just begun working on a new project (this podcast!) I watched everybody warm up on 11s and 12s and while they were projecting much harder grades, I happily projected the warm-up routes.

Katie is just a powerhouse and, feeling motivated from watching consecutive weekend sends, she, Victoria, and I all set out for the Shinto Wall that afternoon. I was infatuated with the wall from the first climb. Shinto is stacked with amazing quality limestone climbs and we sampled some of the best. I tried my hand at Center El Shinto (12b/c, although Mountain Project calls it an a/b) and fell the first time trying to scrape my way through the techy crux. I felt satisfied with my try, but climbing with Katie is just fuel for your stoke, and when she asked me if I would try it one more time, I said yes and tied in.

The second attempt, I pulled through the crux but surprised myself when I did. Not knowing what to do next because I wasn’t anticipating making the move clean, I took another winger. I’ll come back and get it next time, I thought.

Two weeks later, I drove up again with Evan Raines and on our last day, went back to Sector Shinto. The route begins in a seam and progressively gets harder as you ascend. I’d tried it a few days ago and worked out my beta, but still no send. This time, on my second attempt, I made my way through the slightly leaning technical crux, worked my way left to the traverse, caught my breath and continued out right to clip the bolt. I clipped the anchors not too long after. I was lowered, feeling pleased.

Not too long after, we all looked at the time and realized that Dirty Sally’s closed in forty minutes. Evan and I hastily packed our belongings and ran down the entire descent path.

I yelled back, “Is this what trail running is like?”

“Yes, but usually without a backpack!” Evan called from behind me.

We made it back down to the car and out of the canyon. On the drive back through the canyon, I told Evan that maybe Ten Sleep grades were maybe a little soft. (Ok, maybe I was also comparing it to New River Gorge grades.)

“I just don’t normally send 12 sport climbs,” I defended my statement. “That’s not a thing I do. I don’t warm up on 11s, either.”

Then Evan pointed something out to me: “Maybe it is different rock and a different style than what you normally climb, but you shouldn’t downplay your abilities. You sent that thing–and it was a 12.”

I told him I appreciated this and thought about it some more. It became apparent that a clear pattern exists–maybe not for all women, but definitely for me. I have a history of being too quick to downplay my accomplishments, not just in climbing, but in other areas of my life as well. I will often describe my role as only a footnote, rather than acknowledging my successes.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, she mentions that women are consistently less likely to consider themselves as qualified and have difficulty articulating their accomplishments in front of others. Sandberg says, “Ask a man to explain his success and he will typically credit his own innate qualities and skills. Ask a woman the same question and she will likely attribute her success to external factors, insisting she did well because ‘she worked really hard,’ or ‘got lucky’ or ‘had help from others.’ ”

I suppose that reinforcing self-belief is like exercising a muscle and requires constant work. Even something as simple as disengaging from the occasional negative self-talk is a step in the right direction. We could all work on developing a kinder, gentler inner dialogue with more empathy and love–maybe if we were all better at nurturing ourselves, we could start treating others the same.

Evan and I made it to Dirty Sally’s at 5:50 p.m., just in time to order five ice cream cones. I ruminated as I sat outside on the bench, taking turns licking each one, letting the brain freeze slowly kick in.


Cover photograph courtesy of Savannah Cummins.

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