In rock climbing, as in every other area of human endeavor, you will only reach your maximum potential if you embrace the concept of failure. Sounds paradoxical, I know, but far too many rock climbers remain in their comfort zones, where you never fail… and you never get much better.
The old rock climbing dictum was, “The leader never falls.” And, with terrible rock climbing protection, that dictum made good sense. Even today, in certain situations, it may still make good sense. There are X rated climbs in the US and unprotected climbs everywhere where a fall would prove fatal. No way do you want to fail on these little beauties, that’s for sure!
However, most rock climbing is on a scale of serious from 0 (as safe as it ever gets) to 10 (terminal). If you’re pushing the boundaries of your grade or your climbing experience, then you want to be looking at routes close to 0 on the serious scale. That’s unless you’re deliberately trying to climb more serious routes, in which case, I’d advise you to be careful – very careful indeed.
But let’s imagine that you’ve onsighted 20 F6as (5.10b) successfully – no falls on any of them. Clearly you’ve consolidated at the grade (as long as your experience is current). To state the obvious, in order to climb harder you have to get on harder routes. But it’s your choice: whether to stay in your comfort zone or whether to get out of it. Either way is fine, as along as it’s what you want.
If you stay in your comfort zone then, three months later, you may have climbed another 15 F6as, bringing the grand total to 35. Or you may have done five more – all successfully – and tried 10 routes which were harder. If you did this, your ‘scorecard’ might read: 25 successful F6a. Four successful F6a+ and one failure. Three successful F6bs and two failures. Now you’re building a grade pyramid and using it to push further. Sure there are a few failures but, as long as the routes were relatively safe to fall from, who cares? (Please note: All routes are potentially dangerous. Ensure you have a competent, alert belayer at all times. If you want to wear a helmet, wear one.)
Can you see what’s happening? Instead of avoiding failure like the plague, you’re accepting it as a training tool. As long as your ‘averages’ are going up then, if it’s relatively safe, who cares about the occasional failure?
Top rock climbers are unafraid of (safe) failure. They know that winning 100% of the time means remaining in your comfort zone. The trick is to ‘fail forward’ to success. By the way, this tactic can work well in life too! Just ensure that you fail where the penalties are relatively slight. But fear of failure (rather than failure itself) is the biggest thing stopping most people hitting their full potential. There’s an old climbing movie called, ‘Break on Through’ and that’s what we all need to do. Break on through to the other side – not just in climbing, but in life!