Where There’s a Wall There’s a Way
It was my first visit to Jordan and it was a crazy adventure. I drove with a few serious rock climbers and we had less than an hour to reach the border. It was like the MacGyver opening scene in which everything fails but in the end all is good. We made it just in time, found a cab to drive us through the dark night to the camp in Wadi Ram and we had a good night sleep.
The next morning I joined two climbers in their general rehearsal, who aimed to reach the top of the “Wisdom Pillar”. It was a multi pitch route — meaning there are a few sections that each is exhausting by itself, and you need to apply many techniques to connect them all together on your way to the top. It was my first multi pitch, and though I was ‘second’ (meaning I didn’t lead any of the sections and wasn’t responsible for opening the routes or for our safety), I still had to climb tough sections and count on my partners who laid the foundations, harnessed me while I was going up and looked out for me.
With all the difficulties accompanying a route quite out of my league — there was extra pressure — not holding them back, especially when time was so crucial and they needed this last try before their real adventure.
At first my right leg went numb. I remember staring at it for a while, asking it to wake up but also thinking it might made the best choice of spacing out during money time. When I managed to get it back to business I was shaken and stressed, at first asking the guy who was belaying me to get me down since I knew I was wasting their precious time. When we all realized this would take even longer — I had zero choice but to climb up. And I did.
I pulled myself together, shut all the doubt I had, all the fears that snailed down my skin and just did it. It was crazy and scary, I remember reaching up with my hand to a boulder I just knew would lead to no solace but then I felt a tiny bump where I could anchor my finger to and managed to shift my weight and lift my body up. I finished the first section shocked that I pulled it off and made it. Hardly had a second to breath and then I looked up at the second section in front of me: a flat vertical wall with nothing to hold on to. That was depressing and alarming. I recalled all the time I wasted in debates during the previous section that I just went for it.
Since it was getting late and natural light is crucial when climbing outdoor, while I was climbing second, the third climber climbed next to me. It was kinda nice to have someone on my side, though now, there was no one bellow to catch me if I fall.
In the middle of the route I found no where to hold my hands, and while I was struggling to make the next step, the bolt in the rock got loose and I flew away from the wall with a shout, falling far down and swinging away, banging my legs back in the wall next to my co-climber. What a ride! This fall made me realize I have to go up fast and that’s what I did in the remaining 1.5 section. We reached the top in time to soak in the last light of the day and realized there are so many more mountains to climb — much higher than the one we just reached.
Fast forward 10+ years and I am in the startup frantic, now in my 2nd startup, and I see a lot of resemblance to that extreme episode in Jordan on that rock.
I haven’t climbed outdoor since then, but with my shift from low tech entrepreneurship to startups I returned to my climbing hobby, this time indoor bouldering, and I find it my athlete-psychologist, the therapeutic place which helps me cope with all the ups and downs of this roller coaster.
I don’t know what keeps you sane in the startup scene, but these are some of the crucial lessons the wall gives me on a weekly basis.
- In climbing, accuracy plays a major part. You gotta know exactly where you’re placing your foot or hand and focus on that grip with all your intention and force. You have to hold on with your fingers as precise as possible and aim as straight as you can. The better you plan your route the more power you save for later challenges.
The same goes with startups — you need to plan your road in the best possible way so that your runway would last enough
- Being a short 152 centimeters climber as I am, forces me to bring in other techniques to compensate for my (lack of) height. I use my elasticity and flexibility and even old dancing moves I kept to overcome steps that were designed for higher people.
Same in my startup: I’m not a technical person but a business entrepreneur, still, I found the best tech-data scientist wizard there is and convinced him to team up. Together we rock!
- Climbing requires a lot of mental work and guided imagery, on the wall and below it.
You can actually tell yourself you’re gonna crack a route and you’re halfway up. It’s mostly in your head. Imagine your route, even if only the last section, feel comfortable knowing you’ve made it and then embark on the first tiny step knowing the view from the top is really worth the climb
- Climbing is made of endless iterations. You start a route and you don’t know how to solve it, so you step down from the wall and start again, and again. Each time you change something — the way your hand holds a grip or the way you cross your legs. You shift weight, you swing dynamically, you go as slow as possible or as fast; whatever maneuver you can come up with in order to crack the wall. These are the pivots in the lives of startups. And hopefully you crack them in time, before you run out of power
- In rock climbing and bouldering, others’ advice can lead to real breakthroughs. Watching someone else climb gives you new perspective on the route and the ability to help them improve. This also helps in understanding your own barriers and how to overcome them. The power of helping others is just like the power of mentoring. Having an experienced mentor on your side can lift your venture up
- You fall a lot in climbing. You can’t really reach the ceiling without ever falling down, that’s part of the risk and part of the sport. Only when I started reaching for tougher challenges I realized I must learn how to fall as part of my climbing up. And this resonated strongly with my day to day work. I had one startup which failed but going through this experience taught me many lessons that helped greatly in my second venture. After all, those who don’t climb never fall
- Trust the wall (and the way) without knowing what’s coming around the curve. You’d never know how comfortable or trustworthy a rock is if you haven’t reached out to it. You might be surprised.
At times you face a ‘bad’ grip, but it’s usually a stepping stone on the way to the next one. Not all grips should feel 100% safe, you don’t need to invest all your power chasing the safest ones. These rough steps are just a temporary place to put your weight on. You need to learn to skip them quickly, use them as part of your route and stay there as short as you can. Though climbing is a social sport, on the wall or rock you face the challenges on your own. This is where you need to trust the road as well as yourself. The same goes with the road you’ve chosen for your startup. Trust it and trust yourself
- Celebrate each tiny step you manage to pull. All these baby steps I took on the wall made me a better climber and improved my results; they may be small but they create the bigger picture. if you won’t appreciate the road you’ve taken you won’t notice a big achievement and in a long journey as a startup you have to appreciate whatever success you encounter. Otherwise, if you’re damn lucky and made it to some kind of a peak — you would only look at higher peaks once you’re at the top and never feel satisfied