WoW 088: On exposure and commitment, Recovery, part 5 [Words of Wisdom]

This is Part 5 in a series on Recovery.
On Recovery, Part 1

On dualities, sacrifice, and treasure. Part 2

On devotion via acceptance, Part 3

On the vision of your life, Part 4

In different seasons of my life, I've been obsessed with rock climbing. From regular sessions climbing in the gym to thousand-foot walls in Yosemite, I've loved it all. Something about being in the mountains, climbing for hours, and committing to big, bold, terrifying routes enraptured me.

On one adventure, I took two friends climbing in Red Rocks, Nevada. I had never been to this area, and my friends had little experience climbing outdoors. They were both younger and physically stronger climbers than I was. Indoors at least. But climbing outdoors is another story.

When climbing outdoors:

You have to find and determine your route. There are no signs, tape, or colored holds like in an indoor gym.

You have to read the rock and learn the type of rock you're climbing. You have to be mindful of rock breaking off. Otherwise, you could die.

You have to place your own gear in the rock with enough skill that it will actually hold you if you fall. Otherwise, you could die.

You must adapt to the conditions, as you are subject to the weather. It could rain, causing small waterfalls to flood and freeze you; the wind could be howling, the numbing cold could make it tough to move, or the blazing sun could make you sweat to the point that it makes your handholds slippery.

Because if you could die.

You have to use good skill and technique because it always takes longer to do multi-pitch trad climbing outdoors than to do single sport climbing indoors. But if you don't climb quickly enough, you can get overly tired, or have to climb through the night with low visibility, making route finding much more difficult. And if you get lost in the dark, stranded on a cliff somewhere in the cold, yes, it increases your chances of dying.

And sometimes, like that day in Red Rocks, the safest thing you can do is to fully commit.

We found ourselves a few hundred feet off the ground, starting to feel the exposure as we had nothing but air beneath our feet, and we were ready to climb the next pitch. The only problem was the rock was blank above us.

There were no cracks to place protection in as we climbed. Only thin holds that required precarious balance and the slightest wrong shift in balance could lead to a fall.

For about 60 feet, the rock was blank and featureless, towering over us, impassive to our existence.

That means that if I slipped and fell 50 feet up it would result in a 100-foot fall before the rope caught me. Just take that in for a moment.

But the rope wouldn't stop me first because any fall would result in me plummeting down to hit a ledge below where we were perched...which, you might guess, meant that I could die.

I didn't really love our chances at that point. And there was no way I was sending one of my friends up first.

I was the most experienced one, so even though I wasn't the fittest climber, it was time to put my experience to use.

It was time to commit.

In climbing, there is the concept of "exposure." Exposure is the situation and the feeling you get when you feel the height of the climb. The higher the exposure, the more your hands sweat. The higher the exposure, the more vertical the wall, and the more space beneath your feet. The higher the exposure, the worse the impact of a fall.

Exposure = feeling the risk.

It's not just that there is risk, but that you feel that risk!

What are your options when you're facing exposure?

1. Avoid commitment. Do what you can to run from taking ownership. Find the easiest route. Don't take risks. The problem is that, as they say, what got you here won't get you where you want to go.

2. Commit, but minimally. Hold back. Keep your options open. Don't give it everything you've got. This is a sophisticated form of denial.

3. Go all-in. Recovery, like anything valuable, requires commitment. Not the I'll-just-dip-my-toe-in-kind-of-risk, but the all-in, I'm committing to a climb that includes gut-wrenching exposure. Commitment requires the risk of stepping out over the abyss and heading into the unknown.

True commitment requires sacrifice, and it always feels like a risk. The higher the purpose, the more the risk.

So, when you're facing a meaningful decision or considering a big commitment, feeling the risk of that commitment comes with the territory. There is no other way.

Like in marriage or rock climbing, recovery isn't successful if you are 'somewhat committed' but still open to other options if your mood changes.

Recovery is best when it's a 'front-end loaded process.' Meaning when you jump in and commit to doing whatever it takes. When you follow the advice and wisdom of those who are further ahead, and do what they say.

I managed to pull through that climb without falling, or dying, only because I fully committed. I chose to be completely in the moment and take courageous action.

Like many before me and many since, I have managed to experience a radical transformation in my recovery only because I fully committed. It wasn't linear, and it wasn't immediate. At first, I struggled to surrender. But eventually I learned that freedom only comes when you are fully committed.

If we aren't pushing into unknown territories, facing our fears and doubts, and forging forward when it feels like failure is the almost certain outcome, I'm not sure we are going anywhere worth going. You know you're on the right path when you are moving into an unknown territory where there isn't a well-worn route ahead of you that you can see. The struggle is part of the journey, and you must commit.

If you want a significant change in any area of your life, you need a big commitment. Despite any resistance, despite your best thinking, despite your avoidance, despite your sheer terror...Eventually, you need to stop thinking and commit.

What will it be? ​


What do you need to say no to so you can say yes to your most important commitment?

Are you ready enough to face your fear?

What can you do today?

What is the most meaningful action you can commit to?


"Identity fuels action, and action creates habits, and habits are part of a practice, and a practice is the single best way to get to where you seek to go. Before you are a "bestselling author," you're an author, and authors write. Before you are an "acclaimed entrepreneur," you're simply someone who is building something. "I am _ but they just don't realize it yet" is totally different from "I'm not _ because they didn't tell me I was." The only choice we have is to begin. And the only place to begin is where we are. Simply begin. But begin. Imogen Roy helps us understand that effective goals aren't based on the end result: they are commitments to the process. That commitment is completely under your control, even if the end result can't be. But the only way to have a commitment is to begin."

Seth Godin, The Practice

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now."

W. H. Murray, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition


Start your climb. Face the exposure. Commit.

Live wisely,


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