Lessons at the End of my Rope

The universe was conspiring to prevent me from climbing tonight—and trying to demoralize me, to boot—but I would not be deterred. After the rather manful weekend of Alt.Net, I needed Ladies Night at the gym, to get some hang time with the girls and scuff a layer of skin off my callouses.

I am reminded of two lessons that will dog me until I learn them.

If I climb only once a week, I will never improve. Whether it's muscles or brain waves, repeated, consistent practice is the only way I'll advance. For strength training, this is intuitive, but it also applies to programming and any other cognitive skill.

A Radio Lab article on sleep explains that, while we sleep, our brains gently wash away the memories of the day, turning down the volume on all of them until only the loudest remain. The next time you practice a skill, you reinforce its memory, amplifying it back up. If you practice a whole lot on one day but then drop it for many days before your next practice session, the practice is all but washed away. If instead you invest a moderate amount of practice every day, you will be able to build on your previous practice.

Which is all a way of saying: I gotta hone my craft every day. And climb three days a week.

The second lesson is about fear. I am so frustrated with the limitations I let fear put on my abilities. To nail the last move on a route, I needed to launch myself, just jump for it, let both hands leave the wall and pop. My legs would not comply; I was holding back.

Why? Well, 30 feet up is part of why, but really. I was safe and capable, and had nothing to fear but a scrape or a wrench or a bruise. Just some "naw, I don't wanna" in the back of my head, until I got angry enough to lunge past it.

Scott Bellware suggested that what differentiates the Alt.Net mindset is a willingness to be comfortable with fear, in the interest of improving. This stuck with me because it let me be proud of my fear; instead of a weakness, it is the indicator that I'm pushing myself and growing.

It wasn't all suffering for my art, by the way. I totally kicked the ass of a project I've been working for weeks, after collaborating on it with two other ladies. (Collaboration? Another lesson here? Sheesh, enough already.) The answer lay in reaching around instead of over, that one inch making all the difference.

My arms are burning, my hands are raw, my cuticles are filthy, and I'm a little bit wiser. It was a good night.