Douglas Ernst rock climb

Today I ran across an old picture of me ascending a rock climbing wall while at the Cumberland County fair in Maine. For some odd reason it dawned on me that rock climbing is a great metaphor for life. Before this picture was taken I had been working a booth for The Heritage Foundation, talking to the good people of Maine about the organization and its principles. A National Guardsman dared me to take the climb and, not one to back down from a challenge, I accepted.

Given that, I will now explain rock climbing as a metaphor for life, as well as how one’s worldview changes how they approach the wall.

In life, we all have an end point we’re shooting for. We all want to get to the top of some mountain. Some people want to prosper monetarily; others seek spiritual wealth. Some people seek knowledge; others wish to experience their fill of earthly pleasures. We all value different things, and as such our lives will all take vastly different twists and turns before we call it a day.

In between our starting point and the final destination there is an infinite number of paths laid out before us. We have a general idea of how we want to go about attacking the mountain, but there’s a big difference between gauging obstacles from afar and then experiencing them up close and personal.

Just like with rock climbing, sometimes the path that you thought would get you to the top in theory doesn’t work out in practice. You have to recalibrate your route. You might have to backtrack or go far out of your way to traverse a difficult section. In a worst-case scenario you might even fall off the wall, but thanks to a harness you don’t kill yourself and, if you so choose, you can start all over again — armed with the knowledge only failure can teach.

The conservative knows that every person who attempts the rock-climbing wall of life will have different strengths and weaknesses. Some people want to shoot for the top, and some don’t. Some people have amazing upper body strength, and others have an iron grip. Some people are light and some people are heavy. Some people are tall and some people are short. Given all these variables, the conservative generally doesn’t worry too much about what the guy next to him is doing and begins climbing away. He focuses on his technique. He monitors his strength. He takes time to stop and pause and re-evaluate his strategy when necessary. He isn’t afraid of falling. The conservative does all this, and in the long run he is generally rewarded for it.

The liberal, by contrast, does not fare too well. He complains about the size of the footholds. He looks at their placement on the wall and wonders who put them there and if there was some sort of nefarious plot connected to the decision process. He complains that he doesn’t have chalk, but the guy next to him does. He wants better shoes. It’s unfair that he has to climb in rainy weather, when the guy before him had nice weather. The winds are shifting one way or the other. He wants a different belay man. The list is endless. And at the end of the day the liberal sits at the bottom of wall, having wasted valuable time that would have been better spent just climbing the damn wall.

Sometimes, the liberal will look up and see his conservative counterpart smiling at the top of the mountain and will yell nasty things in his direction. The conservative will be accused of being a heartless bastard for basking in the sun’s rays and enjoying the view while the liberal down below must sit in the shadows — again, even if it was the liberal who chose to spend the limited time and resources afforded to him unwisely.

If you have a rock climbing wall around your neck of the woods, I suggest giving it a try. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, both mentally and physically.

See you at the top,

Doug

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

4 comments

  1. the bolts used to anchor the holds on the climbing wall were once manufactured in Ohio, but it was cheaper for the company to move production to China in order to avoid the burdensome cost of insuring their labor force and paying a fair wage.

    1. I’m glad that people will be able to read my post and then come across your comment(s).

      Indeed, the U.S. could very well be the world’s foothold-bolt Mecca, but should it? The U.S. has the wealth and technology to make Detroit the number 1 banana exporter in the world if it wanted to allocate resources to do so, but should it? And yes, for you, those are rhetorical questions. Should you attempt to answer them anyway, I do not mind. Your comments are illuminating for the readers that show up here, and only buttress the case I’ve made above. I hope you complain about chalk production next.

  2. This is a fantastic metaphor for life. I love how you talk about the different paths that lead to the top… I know I’ve changed directions in my life several times but in the end, I hope to end up at the top of the mountain/rock climbing wall. Great insight and observations.

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