If you were to meet me today, a 28 year old professional engineer and dedicated rock climber, and then meet the 17 year old me, the awkward and unmotivated teenager, you may not believe they are the same person.
Flashback 11 years, 17 year old self. I was an unathletic, awkward teenager getting ready to graduate from high school. 17 year old self had spent the majority of her life feeling like she didn’t quite fit in; moving around quite a bit as a child and always being “the new girl” at school definitely played a role in this feeling. I was also afraid. I was in that weird place in life where you have to make a bunch of decisions that will affect your future, but you don’t know exactly what you want that future to look like. When people asked me what I wanted to do with my life, I was more likely to say something ridiculous like “be a pirate” or “start a school where every subject is taught using Harry Potter as a theme”, rather than saying something that people could actually hold me accountable for.
This turned out to be quite a pivotal year for me, not just for the obvious reasons, but also because this is the year that I met a person who had that one quality that I felt I lacked the most: motivation. This person (who is now my husband) exuded with passion for the things he really cared about, which at the time was mainly climbing and math. We bonded over our mutual love for math, and I admired how hard he worked at climbing. This was the first year that I was introduced to climbing, and I actually kind of hated it! I was not used to pushing myself and it was really hard! I was actually not used to pushing myself in any area of my life. I was able to get decent grades in school while putting forth a minimal amount of effort, so I never saw the need to really try any harder.
At the end of my senior year of high school, I had applied to just one college, and got accepted, but decided last minute that I didn’t want to go. I decided to instead just go to a community college where I lived to try and figure out what I wanted. I was waiting to be inspired. Then one day, I decided to take a leap. I had been talking to my boyfriend on the phone (the person mentioned above, who was away at an engineering college in South Dakota at this time), and he was listing off the degrees they offered at his school (he was actually just bragging because the major he was in at the time was at the top of the list for how much money they made after college), he mentioned environmental engineering (which I didn’t know was a thing) and I had him read me the description from the course catalog. The description listed lots of math and chemistry courses, which were two things that I really loved, so I decided on the spot that that is what I wanted to do with my life (I understand how lucky I am that this actually worked out for me!). Two months later, I was in South Dakota going to school for environmental engineering. This is where I first learned to try hard. It was here that I first found out that if I actually pushed myself, I could do really well at things (I know, it’s not a revolutionary concept, but somehow this was new to me).
Flash forward a few more years. I’m 23, just finished up with grad school, and (after 6 years of dating) married the love of my life. After 6 years of being with a climber, but still disliking it myself, I finally decided to give climbing an actual try (I will admit that this decision was partly prompted by the opening of Seattle Bouldering Project, which was a much better gym than I had been to before). Pretty quickly after this, I was hooked. Granted, I was not very good (projecting v2/v3 in the gym, definitely couldn’t do a pull up), but I could finally see why my husband loved this sport so much, and all I wanted was to get better.
Since then, I have applied the dedication and work ethic that I used in college and in my job to climbing, and have seen tremendous gains in strength! It’s amazing how that works haha. Not only has climbing reinforced the lesson that trying hard actually works, but it has also given me a community of amazing people who share a similar interest, and a reason to travel to far off places and explore the outdoors.
It’s just funny because if you asked people about my 17 year old self, hard worker would probably be one of the last adjectives used to describe me… Whereas if you asked my friends today, I bet you a majority of them would mention how hard I try at things! I guess people can change.