Lessons Learned: Permission to Fail

This past weekend I was hell bent on completing my first ever outdoor lead climb. I was feeling strong, excited, prepared, and all that positive good stuff. But then I got 2 clips up, did some quick math in my head in regards to the distance of the next clip… and I froze. Like full out frozen as a ice. I was useless. All that physical preparation? Gone. Mental preparation? Out the window. Excitement? It had already fallen about 25′ feet and smashed to bits.


Somehow, my belayer (Rob) coached me to a safe point and let me down. I was overcome with this totally unexpected feeling of shame. I should have been able to complete that climb. I should have been able to overcome the fear that suddenly came in with the realization of 25 ft – 16 ft = 9 ft = unpleasant fall too close to the ground. And I should have been able to keep my head together and keep cool when I failed.

But I didn’t. I was anything but calm, cool, and collected. I was embarrassed, angry, and making up excuses about how bad the foot holds were. While the climb was simply a fail, my behavior was a full out epic fail. Blah.

But, as with everything in life – there are silver linings often in the form of lessons from the school of hard knocks. So what did this weekend’s adventure teach me?

The bright side: Got a ton of practice in on lead belaying.

The bright side: Got a ton of practice in on lead belaying.

It’s okay to fail.

In fact it’s okay to epically fail, sit down, and refuse to get back up for awhile. Somewhere along the way in life we’re taught that failure is not an option. I don’t know if to just blame Yoda for saying “Do or do not. There is no try” but you won’t rock everything you put your mind to. You are allowed to simply try. So I failed at my first outdoor lead climb, and I didn’t try again that day. Meh. The rocks aren’t going anywhere and nor am I.

Be over prepared.

With this, I’m talking about your mental and physical game, not the contents of your first aid kit or backpack (those should be over prepared too). If you go into something knowing that it might go 10x harder than expected or trained for, it’s suddenly a heck of a lot less terrifying. Knowing what I know now, I would have practiced a heck of a lot more inside and gotten comfortable taking lead falls. In fact, that’s just what I’m going to do.

Just accept it and move on.

For the rest of the weekend, I was beating myself up over that climb. A mere half hour before I had climbed something 4 grades harder and I’ve even done climbs 6 grades harder. Really?! The most important lesson of the weekend was simply to just get over it, get better (if you intend to try again), and give it a go. Whining, misplaced blame, and feeling lousy doesn’t get anyone up a climb (or anywhere for that matter).

Onwards and upwards.

4 thoughts on “Lessons Learned: Permission to Fail

  1. Hey — just checking out the site — it looks awesome! You’re rockin’ it, girl. As for your freezing, well, we all have moments like those. The important part (as you’ve pretty much noted) is to learn from it and move on. And, yeah: let’s do that lunch thang!


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About Jillian Bejtlich

Hey! I'm Jillian Bejtlich. I’m a lifelong New Englander with a serious love of the outdoors, adventure, and a pretty serious inability to sit still. I’m plagued by the travel bug, and it seems I’ll try any relatively sane and safe thing once. My big goal in life: Get people outside!