(STILL) FINDING THE BALANCE / by Angela Payne

Sometime back in the Spring, I wrote a blog about my pursuit of that ever-illusive thing called balance.  In case you suffer from 24-second attention span syndrome like I do and don’t feel like reading all of those words, I’ll provide a two-sentence summary of the original blog post for you: doing all of the things in the right proportions in life is an ongoing struggle for me, and the past year has been no exception to that theme.  Getting a full-time job, trying to continue to push myself in climbing, and dealing with a mild identity crisis have been just a few of the things that have kept me on my toes this past year.

When I say “on my toes,” it makes it sound like I navigated the hectic blur that was the last 12 months with some amount of grace.  But in all honesty, I have to admit that I’ve never felt like more of a bumbling beginner than I have during this chapter of my life.  Sure, I’ve learned a lot of new things over the course of my 31 years, but for the most part my life has been consumed by climbing – something I have been pretty good at for as long as I can remember.  Spending the majority of one’s time practicing an activity with confidence and aptitude is a safe and comfortable space to live in.  Being a beginner is not.  It’s scary and hard and frustrating and brutally humbling.  But climbing is all of those things too – scary, hard, frustrating, humbling, you might be thinking.  True.  The difference, however, is the 20-year confidence cushion that I have built up in climbing; a nice, cushy crash pad of prior successes to soften the blows of failure.  Facing failure as a beginner has been admittedly less pleasant.  Yes, there is a certain amount of excitement that comes with the commitment factor of attempting a challenge with little (or no) protection; there is also a certain amount of pain.

Don’t get me wrong, I knew that shifting from full-time climbing to full-time work would be a change of pace and a serious challenge.  I was craving that, along with the structure and mandatory focus required to navigate a more restrictive schedule. When I re-read that blog from April, it sounds like I was really getting the hang of the juggling act.  And in so many ways, I have improved.  As is always true in life though, looking back even four months provides a new perspective, and it is fun and mildly enlightening to revisit and review some of my April statements:  

1.  “But who needs sleep, anyway, when there are early mornings to be filled and late sunsets to take advantage of?”  I must have written that moments after my first (or more likely, second) cup of coffee took hold.  Because as it turns out, sometimes early mornings are better filled with an extra few hours of shut-eye, for sanity’s sake.  I need sleep.  This is one of the most valuable lessons I have learned over the past year.  At the same time that I began working full time, I turned to running as a new form of stress relief.  Because when life is getting significantly busier, why not add 25 miles of running to each week?  There wasn’t much logic in the decision, and a deep exhaustion began to take hold.  Sleep was sacrificed too often and I soon realized that my stress relief activity was counterproductive.  More is not always better.       

2.  “And maybe along the way, I will find the courage to spend a bit more time pursuing photography…an idea that I find to be very intimidating.”  Again, that beginner theme re-emerges, this time in photography.  I have messed with “iPhoneography” for years now, but the real camera and the idea of navigating it have loomed as scary tasks.  After starting my job and gaining some beginner’s humility, I realized that the only way to get better at doing something new is to do something new.  I haven’t made any monumental strides in my photography, but I have taken the important first step of admitting that my knowledge is scarce and I want more of it. 

3.  “I’m also embarking on a journey that involves no mileage at all as I rediscover, yet again, who I am as a climber and why I love it so damn much.”  The role that climbing has played in my life has morphed over the years.  It began as a hobby when I was a kid, and became somewhat of a job in my adult years.  At times it has been hard to tell what percentages of the experience fall into each of those two categories.  Adding a more traditional office job to my life has in many ways made climbing feel more enjoyable again.  When I do get to climb, the time feels a bit more sacred, and I have an urge to make the most of it.  It still feels good to be good at something, and stepping back into a space where I feel confident never hurts after a challenging day full of newness.  Perhaps most importantly, climbing has continued to provide an invaluable connection with the outdoors in stressful times.  Going into the mountains is often a lot of work, but it inevitably leads to renewed sanity and clarity.  I still have climbing to thank for encouraging me to make that first step towards the mountains when time allows.    

4.  “When I have more than just climbing to focus on, my entire climbing experience always improves. I try harder, appreciate the movement more, have a ravenous appetite for outdoor days, and feel that psych bubbling up on the days I don’t climb.”  This was true when I was in school and working part time, it was true back in April, and it is still just as true today.  As anticipated, I have had to structure my free time much more carefully this year than in previous years.  When I do get to climb, I feel more motivation to make the most of it.  Staying in shape has not been easy without all the free time in the world to climb, but with some planning, some extra effort, and a lot of luck, I have somehow made it work relatively well this year.  Sure, I have had plenty of moments of doubting myself, questioning if I still have the same level of try-hard and skill that I once did.  But then there are moments like last weekend when I find myself on top of a boulder that was hard for me and required some real effort, and realize that I can still accomplish my climbing goals in the midst of a crazy busy year.  At a time when life feels consumed by post-it note to-do’s and unfinished tasks, it feels nice to finish up some personal projects.      

I guess if you’ve made it this far, through my stream-of-consciousness blabber, you have a better attention span than I do.  But for those first-and-last paragraph skimmers in the bunch, here’s this blog’s two-sentence summary:  I haven’t found that illusive perfect balance yet.  But what I have found is the lesson that I learn time and time again –  the joy and the struggle and the learning is in the searching, not the finding.