I just finished a book by the same title as this blog post. The book starts out by saying 98% of people focus 98% of their attention on things that don’t matter. At a deepest of levels, I understand this and agree.
However that leaves me to the obvious and rather unsettling question: What does matter?
Inspired by the Dawn Wall
Earlier this week, two climbers completed the first free summit of the Dawn Wall on El Capitan in Yosemite. Their names are Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson. If you have not yet heard, the climb took 19 days, 32 pitches (a pitch is a length of rope) and involved some of, if not THE most difficult climbing known. The climatic moment was when Jorgeson finally completed pitch 15 after 10 days of trying and falling. The degree of difficulty required 7 years of planning, and innovation such as climbing in January and at night with headlamps to maximize the climbers ability to grasp the seemingly non-existent holds.
It is an amazing story; one that seems to have given the world a reason to be inspired and celebrate even for those without any climbing experience. Why? My guess is that Caldwell and Jorgeson are the 2% who do focus their attention on the things that matter, to them. And at the deepest of levels, we all understand this.
If I were to speak to another about it, I would say that I believe what Marianne Williamson is saying – that each of us has within us everything we need to be great at something, our thing, right now. But we shy away and deny ourselves greatness. It is so easy to create distractions, put theoretical obstacles in our way, and dismiss the quiet but excited voices inside us that think big, because we want to be realistic – or insert whatever creative excuse we come up with. The mind is such a trickster, encouraging us to spend our time focusing on unimportant distractions (gossip, drama, politics, bad drivers, money, career progression, worrying, creating the perfect home, diets, the dishes, who takes the trash out, etc.) The mind does this so we can avoid having to decide and then act on what truly matters – for us.
I say, ‘if I were to speak to another’ because quite frankly, although I believe in the greatness of others, I am not quite bold enough, or fear the social stigma, to say outright that I believe in the greatness of myself… and, there in, floats the boat that 98% of us seem to be paddling.
In the moments that I am willing to humor the possibility of my own greatness, and they are rapidly increasing, I would say one of the things that matters most to me is creating through my photography and writing. I feel a calling to combine these two arts in a way that inspires others to see the best of themselves, as well as question their own personal thoughts to do things they might not have believed possible for themselves before. The only way I know to do this is to portray the real, authentic journeys of others or even myself. Not just the Facebook pretty versions with the everyone smiling selfies.
If you are like me, you are good at telling yourself stories that separate you from others. The thoughts separate the achievement or progress of others by says things that make you believe their success was easier for them, or they couldn’t possibly be going through the same challenges as you are, or you could never be like them because of…
After all, how many of us truly believe that we are made of the same amazing stuff as Caldwell and Jorgeson? The more actual stories that can be told about real people, feeling real things, about real situations, and overcoming the messiness, fear, and difficulty of it all despite ourselves, the better. It is a philosophy I have tried to hold true to with this blog, and it is something that your heart-felt comments of similar experiences to mine, have brought this point home to me.
The biggest a-ha moment I had from reading this book was when I realized the key I had been missing. As usual, it was so simple and obvious: Dreams start and end with a willingness to choose what truly matters to you, and then the courage to fully commit to the actions of living it. That’s it. Choose your dream. Commit to it. Own it. Live within it in every moment that you can until you become it.
In my multi-year, mid-life conundrum, with feelings of faffing, flailing, it-is-all-wrong, confusion, frustration and drama, I now realize it was simply from not choosing and not committing to the biggest of things that matter. I was good at dabbling and starting cool-ish bug safe projects. I liked to play from the sidelines where it was easy, but did not require fully getting in the arena, getting dirty, owning it, and living what mattered.
You know that Caldwell and Jorgeson didn’t climb the Dawn Wall by kinda-sorta training and planning. They committed to their dream and spent 7 years getting there – planning each of the moves they would make over the 32 pitches, spending 45 minutes to drill each piece of protection they placed along the 3,000ft route, figuring out how to maximize the friction between the wall and their fingers, and after falling for 10 days straight, having the determination to keep living the path of the dream. And I am left wondering if there were not a certain kind of peace and presence along those 7 years that comes with focusing on the only thing that matters, that in and of itself was worth everything.
I’m grateful for the 2% like Caldwell and Jorgeson who inspire, cause us to reflect, and allow us to better hear that little inside that knows our greatness without question.
To read more about the Freeing of the Dawn Wall, please check out these following National Geographic articles:
- Summiting Yosemite’s Dawn Wall, Climbers Make History
If you are interested in reading The Only Thing that Matters by Neale Donald Walsch, you can find it on Amazon or Audible. I will tell you it is heavily spiritual, and his voice on Audible did grate on my nerves a number of times, but it is something I will listen to again.
For me, this year will be about committing to my photography and writing like never before. I have recently started, somewhat apprehensively, my second attempt at a 365 photo project. I am working on changing that apprehension into more wholehearted commitment. This year’s adventure sports will include an introduction to canyoneering and mountaineering, with a summit attempt on Mt. Rainier in June, as well as more and more kayaking. Somehow through stubbornness and the best teachers and boaters in the southeast, I home to come to peace with and enjoy one of the most challenging, frustrating, humbling, self-illuminating and rewarding sports that exist. If you want to know who you are at your best and your worst, alone and together, kayak.
I would love to hear from those starting personal projects this year. Let me know what you’ve dreamed and dared for yourself, big or small. It doesn’t matter as long as it matters to you.