What do you have in common with the world’s most elite athletes? More than you might think.
Recently I read the story of Emily Harrington. In 2020, Emily became the first woman ever to free climb the Golden Gate route of El Capitan in under 24 hours. It's a mind-boggling accomplishment that only a few elite climbers have ever achieved.
El Capitan is a 3,000-foot vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park. Imagine climbing straight up the side of a structure 2.5 times as tall as the Empire State Building, and you'll have an idea of the magnitude of this accomplishment.
The Golden Gate route of El Capitan, the same one made famous by Alex Honnold in the documentary Free Solo, is a series of 41 pitches. In free climbing, a pitch is the length of a climb protected by one rope length. The lead climber has a partner that anchors themselves to a spot at each pitch. A rope connects the two climbers. If the lead climber slips, this system protects a climber from falling too far. (This is different from the solo climbing that Alex did, in which there is no partner or protection.) The lead climber clears one pitch, then another, then another until they reach the top.
Emily Harrington already knew the 41 pitches of the route. She had completed the climb a few years earlier in six days, but she wanted to challenge herself to complete it in one day. A year earlier, she had attempted the ascent but fell and had to abandon her climb.
At 1:30 a.m. on November 4th, 2020, she began her fourth attempt to climb El Capitan in under 24 hours. Here are some challenges that Emily shared about the climb on Instagram.
At pitch 13, she fell and suffered a deep gash on her forehead. Bloodied and feeling defeated, she kept thinking, "Why am I still holding on?"
The next pitch was the same spot she fell the year before. Mentally and physically, she had to push past her previous limits.
Five pitches from the top, she cried as she realized it could really happen this time.
Finally, at 10:30 p.m. that night, she pulled herself up over the final lip and reached the top.
Most of us will never climb 122 stories straight up a granite wall with only a rope to keep us from falling to our death. (I mean, never say never, God can call us anywhere, but I feel pretty confident calling this one.) The size of the goal may be different, but all of us need to overcome our own internal limits and perceptions to achieve our goals.
I'm afraid to put myself out there. What if I fail?
I'm scared to leave my job and plant a church. What if no one comes?
I'm afraid to grow my business. How will I manage the additional responsibility?
Overcoming is not something we do once and we're done. All of us, you and me, have to push through limits at every new level (or "pitch") to achieve our goals and reach our full potential. Imagine your goal as a 3,000-foot granite wall broken down into a series of sections. At each section, you face a new challenge. I see this often as a Productivity Coach. Each week with clients I ask about the challenge that they’re facing and help them work through it.
Some common challenges I see people face are:
A fear to overcome
An idea to organize into a plan
A previous failure to reframe
A self-perception to rethink
A new skill set to learn
An area of faith to develop
A new perspective to consider
All of these challenges are also opportunities.
So how do we learn to push through these limits at each level? As I read Emily's story, I was fascinated by the mantra she repeated to herself as she ascended the mountain.
"Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast."
We don't live in a culture that celebrates slow. Companies don't run ads that say, "We have the slowest-acting formula on the market today!" or "You'll start to see results in about three years!" No one would buy those products. But when we step out in faith to the things God calls us to, we aren't buying a quick-fix product. We're surrendering our will to His purpose and His timing. We sow seeds consistently, faithfully, and with intention. These small actions build momentum like compound interest because it is here, "on the wall," where God develops us.
This is where strength forms
This is where faith is developed
This is where experience is gained
This is where confidence grows
This is where we learn resilience
That is where we experience the faithfulness of God, again and again, meeting us in our fear, doubt, and discouragement. Where He holds us up, gives us strength, shows us grace, guides our steps. Never letting us fall too far.
One pitch at a time. Then another. Then another.
Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.
If you feel fear, doubt, or discouragement in your goals this week, here are a few questions to prayerfully consider.
What goal is my own personal El Capitan right now?
Where have I become discouraged because things weren't happening fast enough?
Where have I questioned my ability to achieve this goal?
Where is God calling me to slow down, trust Him, and allow Him to set the pace?
What do I need to overcome? How do I need God’s help right now?
Wherever you are on the wall, I'm cheering you on.
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