STAFF OPINION: Start becoming a beginner again and take up new hobbies

How rock climbing taught me an important life lesson

By Kimberly Cortez | September 20, 2022 3:45pm

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Cortez.

I start to feel my muscles tense up as I look up straight ahead and I see the end of my path. There it was: a medium sized black hold with grooves lining the outside of it. A mix of adrenaline and fear of falling are fueling my racing thoughts. 

I try to decipher my next move.

I can feel the sweat on my hands start to collect on the hold I am currently gripping on with nothing but the friction of my skin. I feel myself slipping.

This is the tenth time I’ve attempted to complete this route. At this point, it’s a pure mental obstacle to make the last move to get to the final hold. I feel my mind start to take over: ‘You can’t fail now, imagine all the people looking at you right now, this is embarrassing for you.’

In one swift attempt to reach for the final hold, I use my supporting right leg to give me momentum to propel forward, but it’s too late. My thoughts have gotten the best of me and I fall on the mat – another failure. 

For the sake of not leaving you on a cliffhanger (climbing pun not intended), I did eventually complete this climb shortly after I tried it again. However, I learned an important lesson that day as a novice bouldering goer: I needed to embrace failure in order to succeed.

Growing up I was granted the title “overachiever” from a very early age. I was in the top 5% of my student body in high school, I interned for a well-known congresswoman, I was an editor at my high school newspaper and I was captain of my club soccer team. In all sense of the term, I was “achieving.”

But what I was really doing was pushing myself to the point of exhaustion out of fear of failing and not being as good as others, two perspectives on life that had caused me to not try out new things.

It wasn’t until one summer night at SLUG garden when I was talking to my friend Andrew Maher, who is an incredible and amazing climber, that I really got the confidence to try and break out of this mindset that had been holding me back.

I remember I told them that I was intimidated to start climbing, that the thought of taking a beginner’s class and failing in front of so many people was incredibly daunting. I was fully expecting them, like many other people in my life, to agree and laugh it off, but their response surprised me. 

“Failing is the best part,” Maher said. 

I am not sure if it was the way they said it or if I was truly taking in what they said, but it shocked me. Here Maher was – an experienced and talented climber – so unabashedly accepting their failure. 

Shortly after that conversation, I got the courage to take up a beginning bouldering class. While it was awkward learning the basics in a gym filled with people climbing extremely challenging routes, I had so much fun learning a new skill and felt proud of myself after the class for pushing my limits. 

It launched me into trying a bunch of new hobbies, some of which I was good at and some of which I was bad at.

I was so used to feeling an intense amount of pressure to perform well on things that it was refreshing to try so many things out – no strings attached. I started to meet people by taking up new hobbies and I found so much enjoyment in the hobbies I did like, climbing being one of them. I started to feel a new kind of happiness in my life that I think I lost from the fear I was holding within me. 

It is so easy to stay in routine in college. We have set schedules, clubs, work, internships and so much homework. With the added pressures of social media and the demands of life, it is easy to stick with what's comfortable and what we know we are good at. How many of us aren’t trying new things in our life because we are afraid of failing? How many of us have become beginners again? 

Climbing has allowed me to branch out of my comfort zone and to pick up hobbies I’ve always wanted to try. But it has also taught me that embracing failure is an important part of life that I need to accept.

I am not going to succeed all the time. The reality is I will probably fail more than I will succeed in life. However, getting to the success I want to get to is only possible if I am able to fail and learn from my past experiences. 

Kimberly Cortez is the Community Engagement Editor at The Beacon. She can be reached at

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