Transcending Fun, Embracing Failure

Now that we understand the official quantification of fun, the next step is clear: seek out as many Type I experiences as possible, right?

Yay, behold the mad rush to the waterslide, the line out the door at the all-you-can-eat-buffet, and endlessly top-roping routes we know we can do.

“The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun,” the late, great Alex Lowe said. His comment was a deflection of the praise often bestowed upon him as perhaps the world’s finest all-around climber. He was renowned for his technical prowess, his devotion to training and his unrelenting drive. The standard Alex Lowe photo seemed to show him sporting an ear-to-ear grin midway up a terrifying, cutting-edge route. The man operated on his own planet.

Over the years, however, his famed quote has been co-opted into a climbing world cliché that often doubles as an excuse for not trying hard, or for simply giving up. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard Alex’s quote cited after a half-hearted effort—usually disingenuously, with a shrug of the shoulders and an unconvincing smile.

Not that there’s anything wrong with quitting or going easy if that’s what you want to do, but, then, why the self-justification?

Ahhh, damn. Fun, it turns out, isn’t always so simple.

Another quote from another world, that of a massive world-champion bodybuilder named Ronnie Coleman, sounds simple but gets at something deeper: “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-ass weights.”

By way of disclaimer, I realize that some lucky souls find all the happiness they need from Type I fun. After all, the true master can experience transcendence from staring at a sunflower.

Me, I’m not quite there yet. And since you’re reading this, I’m guessing you aren’t, either.

So in the interest of preserving the sanctity of fun, I maintain that there’s nothing wrong with failure. (This sounds self-serving, I know, since it’s my specialty in life.)

For most of us the transient fix of Type I rarely lasts, and so the risk of failure and the toil of effort are inextricably tied to a deeper level of fun. Truth is, we need something more than simple smiles; something committing, whatever your passion—whether it’s pushing yourself in the mountains, lifting heavy-ass weights, or striving to master an art.

Which means we should embrace Type II and Type III “fun.” Even if it’s no fun at the time.

Maybe the true fun master—or the best climber in the world—isn’t on the waterslide or top-roping easy routes all day, but out there trying hard, embracing the proverbial blood, sweat and tears, and all the while with a smile, striving to turn the struggle into a sunflower moment.

Transcending Fun

It seemed like a good idea at the time…struggling with fatigue 3,000 feet up a new route attempt on K7, Pakistan.

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