“Alan, I want to summit a Colorado 14er next summer. I think you work with people who are going for Everest, so my goal may not be big or hard enough for you. But this will be my Everest, and I know it will be hard for me.” Joe had written on his contact form for Summit Coach.
“You see, I currently weigh about 370 pounds and plan to lose over 100 pounds the next year. My brother died doing the rim to rim in the Grand Canyon ten years ago, and I want to honor him. My sister is sick, and I want to honor her as well. And, I want to climb with my son.”
I always ask people about their ‘Why.” We talk about mile 23 in the marathon when almost everyone hits the wall, their body screaming at them to stop the pain. In climbing, often mile 23 is around 8,000-meters or 26,000-feet. Your lungs cry out for oxygen; muscles cramp from dehydration; your essence demands that you turn back, go lower for more oxygen. Now is the moment you reflect on your ‘why’ and push through the wall drawing from that purpose. Joe’s ‘why’ was 100% clear.
On August 27, 2021, I was honored to stand by Joe’s side along with his wife, children, and their spouses on the summit of Gray’s Peak, 14,278-feet. It was a perfect day. Joe’s mantra was “Do hard things,” and he earned the right to be proud that day, and forever, of his accomplishment.
In the past two years, many people worldwide have been pushed into doing hard things. Often it was not in their plan, but sometimes it was. The pandemic has taken us through a journey that many never wanted. And, unfortunately, some didn’t make it.
Do Hard Things
“Do hard things.” I’ve come to embrace Joe’s words as a concise way of saying to push yourself hard, be uncomfortable, suffer. That is why I climb. With this suffering, I come home a better version of myself that allows me to be a better citizen of the world.
“Dr. Hale, I want to climb again, not to just move from the couch to the chair.” These were my last words as the anesthesiologists turned the gas valve. The Orthopedic Surgeon needed to repair my broken tibia and fibula. In February 2017, a massive wind gust blew me down a rock-covered mountainside, bashing my face against the rocks and breaking my leg in three places.
A few weeks later, I asked, “How can I get back to climbing as soon as possible?” Dr. Hale looked me directly in my eyes, “Alan, you need to push yourself as hard as you can, both mentally and physically. You can’t hurt the leg, but pushing will cause it to heal faster.” In other words, do hard things.
I pushed hard, sometimes beyond what I thought I could. I drew on the vivid memories of my experiences in the mountains, especially on K2, when I felt the life force leave my body three times. But, I knew I could push, that I could do hard things. To return to my pre-incident fitness level was another test.
What causes us to push beyond our perceived limits? How many times this year did you say or hear someone say, “I just can’t take anymore.” I imagine our frontline first responders and health care professionals said or at least thought this often. But they kept going. They did hard things.
Most people who did hard things in 2021 never told their stories. They just did it. Their ‘why’ was unique and personal to them. Some people ended a relationship, some brought new life into the world, committing to decades of unselfish care. Others changed their career path, risking their current momentum for the chance of greater rewards in a different field. And some recommitted to what and who they loved, believing that everything would work out fine. Not all ‘hard things’ have to be climbing Everest; however, it often feels that way.
You see, doing hard things is what we often do to get by, what we need to do to survive, and improve. So the ‘why’ is essential. What makes ‘hard things’ interesting is that one person’s definition of ‘hard’ could be ‘easy’ for another and vice-versa. So you see, our lists are unique and personal, with no explanation needed.
As we enter 2022, I believe most of us have great hopes for a better year, a safer one. Perhaps one with less divisiveness across tightly entrenched groups. But, to accomplish a safe and more inclusive environment, it will take all of us to do hard things, large and small.
Memories are Everything