Focus On Your Strengths

Focus on your strengths when you are having a hard time. Kitty Calhoun crying into her blood-stained hands

Focus on your strengths when you are having a hard time. ©Krysiek Rychlik

“Focus on your strengths.” I write these words with a heavy heart.

There have been several deaths in our community this year due to avalanche fatalities – most recently with the passing of my friend’s son, Jess Roskelley, along with his climbing partners, David Lama and Hansjörg Auer.

The shock of this monumental loss weighs heavily on me. And, I find myself so tired of our tendency to judge and to pick each other apart.

It makes me wonder, can we change our paradigm to focus on our strengths instead of our weaknesses?

The following story is an example of what I mean:

It was around 5 am on an early June morning.

I was near the end of one of the last pitches of the Salathe on El Capitan. There was just enough pre-dawn light to see without a headlamp; my partner was belaying me from her sleeping bag.

Even if her eyes were open, she couldn’t see me, much less hear me. I was out of sight, near the end of the rope when the aid placements ran out. My only choice was to bust a series of free moves onto a run-out slab.

I started trembling. But, what could I do?  Falling would be a big whip. How?  Focus. Focus. Right!

“I have God and sticky rubber,” I said, suddenly knowing with conviction that they’d get me up.

Not only on El Cap, but on many other climbs and instances in my life, I’ve found it helpful to focus on my strengths when I am having a hard time.  It’s my strengths, not my weaknesses that get me through.

However, recently, I’ve noticed that when I am teaching climbing skills or trying to improve my own skills, I tend to focus on weaknesses. I am very critical.

I wonder why, when I’m learning or teaching, my go-to is to be critical?

We improve the quickest when we work on our greatest weakness!

But is that true?

Is it true that we improve the quickest by focusing on our weakness?

Sure, we need to be aware of short-comings, but I wonder what would happen if our go-to attitude was one of recognizing strengths, appreciation, and support rather than “constructive feedback.”

I used to read the AAC Accidents of North American Mountaineering, believing that I could learn to avoid mistakes.

The problem is that hindsight is 20/20 but foresight is blurry.

The problem is also that when it comes to loss and broken hearts we can’t explain accidents. There is more at play, something much bigger than we can understand intellectually.

At any rate, I feel like we should be quicker to encourage than to criticize. Those who helped me see my strengths over the years were the most impactful to my life and my climbing.

With gratitude.