Science & Climbing

Today marks one week of working in a Neurosurgery & Behavior lab and often feeling pulled between completely opposing emotions: anxiety and calm; dread and excitement; doubtful and confident… It truly reminds me of the same whirlpool of emotions I experience through projecting a hard climb.

In the beginning, as you narrow down the list of potential projects, there is a feeling of giddiness as you imagine what past limitations you might be capable of breaking, or what new level you might be capable of achieving. The thought is all consuming. Being able to eventually try the climb is even more tantalizing; moves might feel easier than years past, or the entire climb might feel absolutely within reach.

Similarly in science, undertaking a new project or experiment is at first met with unbounded joy. There is no greater feeling than peering into a microscope looking at the world in a completely new way. Expecting to see one thing and finding another brings nothing but curiosity and excitement. Early experimentation allows for no goal other than to observe and take note of the incredibly complex systems operating around you. The experience is absolutely captivating.

But there is a harder side to both. Science and climbing require heart-breaking amounts of costly mistakes, repetition and failure. We train for our outside climbs. We study for our painstaking scientific procedures, and when things don’t end up the way we’d planned for it can feel demoralizing. When I fall at the last move of my climb, or screw up the 87th step in a 90 step procedure, I take it very, very personally. The ironic thing is that these mistakes, failures and moment of self doubt are so necessary for growing and improving for the future. To take them personally is to deny yourself the necessary growth to be the best you could be in either endeavor.

Both require an attitude that suggest you are up for any challenge and are happy regardless of the outcome; that there’s no where else you’d rather be than struggling with something beautiful and demanding. An idea, a climb, a procedure, a training exercise…I often take both for granted, but I hope this serves as a reminder for myself and for others to cultivate a real sense of gratitude for the chance to fail and flail with something you love so dearly.

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Pimpsqueak V8/9
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