In over your head

September, 2013 ∙ 3 minute read

Thoughts about the deep end.

I originally wrote this back in 2011 when I was just starting to climb regularly. The post is dated, but still relevant and I’m still not sure why I never published it. Actually, I do know. I took a job at GitHub right about this time and found myself wonderfully in over my head in the best possible way.

This is not a new or revolutionary thought by any means, but recently I’ve come to understand how essential it is to put yourself in situations where you are in over your head. I’m not just talking about stepping out of your comfort zone as a one time event, but more of a consistent move into a situation where you are forced to keep your head above water. For me this was most clearly revealed in my climbing, and as soon as I realized how effective this strategy is I started looking for other places to do the same thing.

I’ve been climbing for 11 years and while I always felt like I had a bit of a knack for the movement, strength and mentality required to be a good climber I never was able to move beyond merely being proficient. It wasn’t until just a couple of years ago that this changed. I took the plunge and joined my favorite local rock gym, but most importantly I started climbing regularly with people that were way better than me. It’s always fun to watch people who are much better than you at something, but it can be very humbling to try and keep up with people that are on another level than you. In many ways it is demoralizing - you may have your small victory here and there, but you tend to be on the bottom on the heap. Where other climbers would work hard and eventually achieve success on a particular route I may end up never making it up before the problems are reset. The crazy thing is, that if you can handle this feeling of constantly being behind you will eventually rise to the occasion. Some of this is probably just due to what Gladwell coined as the 10,000 hr rule. and I agree that in order to be an expert, persistence is a very key quality. But I think that your immediate peers play a significant role in the trajectory you take to becoming an expert in something. More than anything, they set the top of the bar for what is possible. I guess there is one exception I might make here, and that is that there are always certain people who have the rare ability to push the boundary beyond what has been done before –but that is a topic for another day.

The result of all this was that I’m now climbing at a level I would never have dreamed of being at 3 years ago.

Tim's Avatar Hi, I'm Timothy Clem.
I'm a product engineer, programmer, and hacker at GitHub in San Francisco.