In life, it feels like there’s a looming pressure to succeed in pretty much every aspect. We make goals then we make plans to achieve those goals. We achieve the goals that we made then make new goals and new plans. It’s a vicious repeating cycle that I feel like most of us get stuck in at some point. A cycle that can suck the joy out of things we love if you let it. Why would something you’re passionate about, like climbing, feel any different in a cycle like this. There is a lot of pressure on climbing grades that some of us may or may not feel. Even if you are not immersed in climbing, it’s obvious to see the pressure and its effects on people. This pressure can also make you feel like you don’t belong. If you’re not crushing at a certain level, it sometimes feels like other climbers won’t embrace you at the climbing gym or the crag.
Back when I was completely new to climbing (honestly not that long ago), it seemed totally reasonable to obsess over grades and use only them to measure success and growth. I remember discovering bouldering first and getting very frustrated with a roof V2 versus a slab V2. I was very disappointed in myself and my improvement through the climbing grades. I thought because I was crushing it on most of the V2 routes and starting to make progress on some V3 routes that I was kicking ass until that roof route, I began to question how I was progressing. Soon after, the setters put a new set of boulders up with a new roof route, and I didn’t send that one either! I finished every single V3, and I didn’t even feel happy about it. It was soul-crushing to fail on something I thought I was supposed to be able to do. I kept thinking I have goals, and if I can’t climb this easier route, how could I say I was improving.
It took a friend telling me that my vibe and energy was really off for me to realize I needed to stop and think, why do I care so much about the grades? Who said when I signed up and decided to start climbing to send grades in a particular order? No one! The only thing I could come up with at the time was that it just felt as though I was expected to because that’s what I saw everyone else doing. There isn’t a guidebook to the climbing gym. If you’re not introduced to a climbing gym by a friend, it’s not easy to know where to start aside from knowing what the lowest and highest grades are. I can understand why people try climbing and don’t go back. If it weren’t for some people at my local gym being friendly and supportive, who knows if I would have stuck with climbing to this point. They helped push me to try routes they were projecting. For me, it was just for fun, and it didn’t matter that I hadn’t sent that grade or even the three below it. My confidence started building, and the pressure started fading away.
I decided unless I was trying to achieve Olympic status, it’s not ever going to be helpful to color inside the lines on this one. I told myself going forward that I would start climbing everything that looked fun to me and not worry about the grades. The change in my mentality was like someone flipped a light switch inside. I found that specific climbing styles suited me more, and I could climb harder grades and enjoy myself regardless of sending. It’s a fact that every one of us will find different climbs within each grade range, more or less difficult based on what fits us and our climbing style. Grades matter, but they should never matter to the point where you can’t enjoy climbing just as much as you did when you first discovered it for yourself. If you’re not actively competing or plan to, then maybe ask yourself why grades matter so much to you. You can still progress and climb harder grades without obsessing over them. We should be celebrating each other at all levels. Grades are a measurement for the sport, not of ourselves.