It was a rough morning climbing.
I woke up really excited to climb and we hiked down to a well know crag in Meir Valley at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky to set up shop for the morning.
It was beautiful. You had to walk through an archway of a huge boulder which took us to our private oasis of climbing perched high on top of a hillside.
I started with a couple of easier climbs which turned out to be a blast. Both of them followed a great line to the top and were perfect warm-ups.
I then decided to attempt a couple of the tougher climbs.
The first one I tried was well within my range but I hit a sticking point which really frustrated me. I started blaming the rock (Crazy, I know). I then started blaming the people who put the bolts in that I needed to attach my rope to.
After much blaming, I finally had to come to the conclusion I just didn’t have it. I finally begrudgingly finished the route after a lot of struggle but I had some assistance so it didn’t feel like much of a victory.
I then decided to redeem myself on a slightly harder route on the same wall. I made it to the first bolt but could not figure out how to get to the second bolt so I had to bail and get lowered down without completing the route. It was the first route I have tried in the last couple of months that I couldn’t finish and gave up on.
That is either a testament to my willpower and tenacity in choosing to not give up or the fact that I am just not challenging myself enough. I’ll leave the judgment up to you.
Anyway, I was looking forward to getting out of that area and meeting friends of ours at a very sought after area of Meir Valley called Bruise Brothers.
It is a beautiful wall with some amazing lines.
I started on some easier routes and then decided to step up to some harder stuff. After the struggles I had on the previous wall earlier in the day I was resolved to just stick to the easier stuff but I saw a route I just couldn’t say no to.
It started out with some technical moves and then moved to an overhang with some big moves and had a great finish. I got up with no problem and started to build my confidence again.
The next one I wanted to do looked amazing but was at the peak of my ability. I’ll be honest I was scared to get on the wall. It was a huge climb with only a little crack to use about 40 feet off the ground.
Fortunately, another couple of climbers decided to do it before us. It was probably a bit of a false sense of confidence because he was a much better climber than I was and made it look way too easier.
Either way, I decided to give it a go.
Surprisingly, I made it without too much effort.
I was re-energized and wanted to test my limits for the last climb.
We shifted over to a really interesting climb.
The first part starts off as a fairly easy climb straight up the wall. At least it should have been easy but ended up feeling much harder than it should have been.
The next part is a giant overhanging roof about 30 feet off the ground that you have to climb horizontal to the ground below you and then over the top for the finish.
I resolved that I was going to have to take a couple of falls but there was no way I was going to give up on this.
What’s funny is a friend of mine completed the route just before me and still had his friend’s gear up there. His friend shouted at him to take his gear back down and put the rope directly through the anchors just in case I didn’t finish it.
Reflexively I shouted, “Leave it up there. I’m finishing it and I’ll bring it back down.” It was my little version of the “burning the boats” story where retreat and failure were not an option. I was going to finish this no matter what.
As I reached the top of the first part of the climb, I leaned back and peered over my head.
Doubts started to set in. It looked a lot harder up close than it did from the ground.
But there was no giving up. Remember, I told him to leave his gear at the top. I had to finish this climb now.
I decided to take it one bolt at a time; total presence.
There were 3 bolts and a finishing anchor.
I grabbed onto the first part of the roof, leaned back, and brought my feet a bit higher. A quick draw was within reach so I reached down, grabbed the rope, and clipped it in the carabiner.
One down, three to go.
I reached up to the next part of the roof, heel hooked the other part of the roof, and saw the next quick draw was within reach. I slowed my breath, relaxed my body, reached down, grabbed the rope, and slowly and methodically placed it in the next carabiner.
Two down and two to go.
The next one was a huge reach. I searched for a moment, found a decent hold, grabbed it, got my legs up and clipped in. I looked up and found the anchor just a short easy climb away.
I was so focused and so present that I was surprised the finish was right in front of me.
A wave of emotion and a tremendous sense of accomplishment came over me as I clipped into the final anchor.
It is easy to live life in the middle where there is no true sense of accomplishment but also no real risk of failure. It is easy to play it safe.
But sometimes, just sometimes, it is worth it to burn the boats and destroy the bridges so failure is not an option and there is a point of no return.
That is really when we are tested. That is where the sweetest juice of life can be found.
– Matt Westheimer
Currently, I am sitting outside in the bone-chilling cold. Well, it’s 11C (51F), but as a Floridian who has lived in Singapore for the past 6 years, I can barely feel my fingers as I type on my keyboard.
We are in Kentucky right now at the Red River Gorge for 5 days of rock climbing.
It has been such a change of scenery after being in NYC and Milwaukee for the past week and a half.
NYC was amazing to get to catch up with some incredible people I get to call friends and colleagues. We got to explore the city, eat great food, and share in an endless supply of laughs.
Then we moved on to Milwaukee which was really special because I got to see my step-sister get married. She is one of the most amazing people I have ever met and there was nothing that made me happier than to see her truly happy.
Truth be told, it was the first wedding I have ever cried at and I have been to dozens and dozens of weddings. Actually, there are two things that bring tears to my eyes: my step-sister getting married and the ending of an Undercover Boss episode. I know, I know. Don’t judge me.
In Milwaukee, we stayed at a very interesting Airbnb. It was a giant house that was built in 1895, and originally was a neighborhood for the rich and famous. The entire third floor was used as a ballroom for entertaining.
Unfortunately, the neighborhood changed over the years and most of the houses are really run down but there is still a lot of charm in the house we stayed in. Our hosts were wonderful. They picked us up from the airport and even drove us around a few times throughout our stay.
Not much has been done to the house in the last 100 years. The floors look original and creak every step you take. The foundation is slanted so the doors shut on their own. There are multiple pianos, Christmas decorations up in April, and the house appears to be a shrine to countless visits to garage sales.
It definitely built more character than staying at a generic chain hotel.
Now, staying in the Red River Gorge is a major change of scenery yet we continue to meet wonderful people.
Yesterday, we were purchasing some more rock climbing gear and found a couple of guys at the shop whose car broke down. They drove all the way down from Canada and they had no way of getting to the climbing areas. We offered for them to spend the day climbing with us and we had a fantastic time. We will be exploring more of what the Gorge has to offer today with them.
I was really skeptical about climbing in the USA because the climbing we did in SE Asia was so spectacular, but it has only been 2 days and I am blown away. The quality and quantity of the climbing here is incredible.
As this journey continues, I find more and more that fulfillment in life comes from connecting with and contributing to people.
Sure, doing things for yourself is fun for the moment, but lasting fulfillment comes from contributing to other people’s lives. It comes from connecting with other people. It comes from learning from other people’s lives and backgrounds that are different from your own. It comes from looking for ways to make someone else’s life better.
We don’t grow when we stay in our own little bubble.
We grow when we step outside of our comfort zone and connect with old friends as well as make new ones.
Give that old friend a call. Join the club or organization you have been putting off. Volunteer at a homeless shelter and look for ways to add value to the people around you.
I promise you. If you find enough ways to add value to other people’s lives, other people will find ways to add value to your life.
– Matt Westheimer
It seems like every time I sit down to write I am doing so from an entirely different vantage point.
Last time was from the living room of a 34th floor apartment in Hanoi.
The time before that I was overlooking Cat Ba Bay from the dining room of our hotel.
This time it is on the rooftop terrace of our Airbnb with beautiful views of Saigon.
When we departed on this adventure, I really had no idea what was in store for me. I had never done anything quite like this before, and historically I have preferred much more stability in my life.
This time was going to be different. Unlike the rest of my life, I had done very little planning for this trip. Truth be told, we are supposed to fly out of Saigon tomorrow and up until just a few minutes ago, we hadn’t even booked a plane ticket. It was really stressful for me in the beginning to have such an uncertain future but I am learning to let go more and more and enjoy the adventure of it all.
Many wonderful things have been able to occur due to this spontaneity such as rock climbing in Vietnam. It was never even on our radar before this trip started, and it only happened because we let go of the need to plan and decided to be open to what came up along the way.
It is the same reason we are here in Saigon right now. We never had any intention to visit Saigon. I had been here before and there were 50 other places on our list that we wanted to see, but along the way an opportunity came up to spend time with an amazing individual so we took it. We said yes immediately, booked our tickets, and we were off.
Living this way is tough sometimes though.
We never really know where we are going to be. We literally live out of a suitcase and it seems like every time we turn around, it is time to pack up and move on.
The things we took for granted like the ability to go to the grocery store, buy some fresh fruit and vegetables, and cook our own food has been more of a luxury than a regular occurrence, but it has opened the door for some pretty interesting experiences.
One of these occurred just last week in Cat Ba.
There are no supermarkets that we could find in Cat Ba, good Western food was almost non-existent, and we had nothing but a mini fridge in our room so we had to resort to eating every meal at restaurants and food stalls.
We asked around where the best Pho Ba was located which is a stock based clear soup with beef, rice noodles, scallions, and sometimes fresh ginger. It is always served with fresh lime and really spicy red chilis on the side. Eat the chilis with caution. They are hot!
If you want to know where the best pho is, just look for the places with the giant vats of broth simmering for hours or sometimes days with beef bones. They are the tastiest and most authentic. Some other places just use instant broth and just taste like one of those cheap cup of noodles you buy at a convenience store.
Anyway, we had been eating at this place probably a half dozen times. This time was the first time I needed to use the bathroom.
After we order the food, I walk to the bathroom and open the door. There next to the toilet I find a giant plastic container of beef bones sitting in putrid water.
I was immediately grossed out thinking that I had been eating here for the last few days, and I am just about to eat a soup made from old beef bones that had been soaked right next to the toilet.
I realized I had been traveling in Asia for a while when my next immediate thought was, “These bones will be boiled in hot water and probably kill all of the bacteria so I am sure I will be fine.”
Next thing I knew I was sitting back in my seat enjoying a delicious bowl of Pho Ba.
If you want to grow you have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone.
I know you have probably heard me say this before, but are you doing it? If not, then it is worth repeating.
Book a ticket or drive a few hundred or even a few thousand miles to meet someone that you have always wanted to see. You can’t connect with someone the same way over the phone that you can sitting face to face with them.
Yes, it costs more money. Yes, it takes more time. Yes, it requires booking a hotel and dealing with some of the misfortunes of travel.
But also, it is an emphatic yes that it is worth it.
You will never regret investing in yourself and your relationships.
– Matt Westheimer
We are hanging 120 feet off the ground from an overhanging roof on the side of a mountain protected only by a harness that we clipped into 2 titanium bolts drilled into the roof.
Our legs are dangling underneath us are starting to lose feeling and go numb from the pressure of the harness’s leg straps. As we reach up to change our gear and prepare to repel ourselves down the side of the cliff, the harness digs in deeper into our inner thigh and cuts off more and more feeling. We have no choice. We have to keep going.
Many times throughout our week of rock climbing I found myself vacillating between moments of intense elation and extreme frustration.
Almost Giving Up
After “onsighting” (a term used for going up a route the first time without falling or stopping) a couple of challenging routes, I found myself in a euphoric state of accomplishment. This was coupled with a future route that should have been a cake walk in which I found myself almost giving up on due to the frustration of not being able to get past a certain point.
Truth be told I actually did give up on it. I got lowered back down, but in a moment of persistence and courageousness, I decided to not give up and gave it another go.
This time I made it.
I was really close to giving up, but I am glad I didn’t.
Great Metaphor For Life
I love rock climbing as a metaphor for life.
Things are going to be really hard at times. Things in life are going to be really uncomfortable and sometimes very painful. It’s important to keep going.
Sometimes you are going to want to give up – especially when no one is looking. It is in these moments of deciding whether to give up or not that your character is truly tested.
Don’t give up. Keep moving forward.
A great way to practice this is to put yourselves in situations where giving up is not an option.
I do that by putting myself in a position where I am hanging from a mountain 120 feet off the ground. Your way might be a bit different.
Either way, find your 120-foot cliff.
As I plunge deeper and deeper into the water, the pressure builds up, the water gets colder and darker, and my lunges begin to scream for a breath of air.
I am freediving in the Gulf of Thailand on the island of Koh Tao which is a little island off the eastern coast of mainland Thailand.
I have always wanted to take a course in freediving.
As a kid, I grew up snorkeling almost every weekend along the coral reefs of South Florida but I wanted to be professionally trained.
There is something so primal and pure about freediving. It is just you and the water. It brings you back to the old days when you had to hunt for food with nothing but your body and a spear.
I love the purity of it. I love how it involves a strong mental and physical aspect. I love that it forces you to be present and live in the “now.”
Every random thought, unintentional body movement or contraction, mental stress, anxious moment, or inefficient movement, uses oxygen and deprives your brain and body of this essential nutrient.
There is very little room for error. There is a real chance of losing motor control or even blacking out in the water. If you follow your training, it can be very safe, but you don’t want to deviate from the plan.
My Personality is BAD For Optimal Freediving Performance
As a Type A person, my engine is usually running on all cylinders. My mind is always racing. My body is always running. I have a tenancy to live in the future. I tend to sway in the direction of anxiety and the most common word people have used to describe me is intense.
These are not great qualities for an effective freediver.
In freediving you must live in the moment. You must breath to a point of deep relaxation before you dive down and maintain that relaxation throughout the dive. You must not stress or think too much because brain metabolism requires the use of oxygen, and when you are diving down into the depths of the ocean on a single breath, every bit of oxygen counts.
It was such a challenging and rewarding experience to be able to devote 6 consecutive days to pursuing my level 1 and 2 freediving certification. It forced me to confront my fears of deep diving and fighting the strong urge to breath. It forced me to push pass my limits of what I though was possible. It forced me to relax and live in the moment.
The Big Realization
There was one pivotal moment I remember vividly while I was in the water.
I was really getting stressed out and anxious about diving deeper. I was putting a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to perform. I could feel my heart racing and my head pounding.
Out of nowhere I heard my mind say silently to myself: “Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. This is supposed to be fun. Enjoy the process.”
At the thought of these words, a smile appeared on my face and I decided to just have fun and enjoy the process.
I realized it’s important to challenge ourselves and do things on a regular basis that scare us. It is the only way we grow. But it is equally important to stop putting so much pressure on ourselves and just enjoy the process.
It is interesting what happened when I relaxed and decided to have fun.
My performance increased. I ended up finishing the course with an 87.5 feet (27m) free dive and a 3:15 breath hold.
This never would have happened if I let my stress, anxiety, and fear get the better of me.
So what is the final lesson from this experience?
Challenge myself. Do something every day that scares me. Stop putting so much pressure on myself and always remember to have fun.
Many times we can find everyday heroes all around us.
I witnessed a hero in action the other day.
We just arrived in Railay, Thailand a few days ago for a week of rock climbing.
The setting is extraordinary. Giant limestone walls overlooking the ocean are views that you’d think you can only find in the movies. It is the type of beauty that only mother nature could create.
The variety of climbing here is incredibly vast. They have everything from beginner routes to expert level. There are short climbs of 6-8 meters all the way to 100m+ multi-pitch routes.
One of our favorite areas to climb is a place called the Diamond Wall. It is a site perched on top of a hill with amazing views and great routes. There is also a hand ground organic coffee place on site which is an added bonus for coffee lovers like us!
It was our second day climbing at the wall when I witnessed something scary and inspiring at the same.
When you climb the walls in Railay, it is not compulsory to hire a guide. It is open and free to the public. As long as you know what you are doing and have your own gear, you are free to climb on your own. Most people, including us, hire a guide to make sure we are safe and help us navigate the walls better.
On this one particular morning, there was a duo there who were on their own.
From the moment I saw the climber on the wall, I knew they were people I needed to stay far away from.
The way climbing works is you have a climber who is attached to a rope, you have another person called the belayer who is attached to the other end of the rope. As the climber ascends the wall, he clips his rope to the wall to protect himself if he falls. If he falls, the belayer is there to hold the rope and keep him safe. At least, that is the idea granted that both parties know what they are doing.
This party did not.
You could tell from the beginning the climber did not know what he was doing. After he got about half way up the wall, it was very apparent that he was in serious danger. I only realized that because I heard one of the local guides frantically trying to tell the belayer he needs to take better care of his climber.
At this point, everyone around was concerned. The climber was stuck on the wall in a dangerous position. The belayer either didn’t seem to care or was ignorant to the fact that something was wrong, and he would not listen to the guide who was trying to help. Not only would he not listen, but he was being rude and condescending to the guide.
Here is the thing. The guide was getting paid to work with another group. He had no allegiance or direct responsibility to put himself in a position to get ridiculed and yelled at.
So why did he do it? Because it was the right thing to do.
Not only that, but he wouldn’t back down.
He took a stand for the climber on the wall no matter what.
He put his feelings and his ego aside because helping another individual was more important than staying comfortable and quiet.
Moments later, he threw on his harness, attached himself to a rope, and literally ran up the wall barefoot to rescue the climber that was in a really tough spot.
This man was certainly a hero.
It was a great reminder that we must stand up for what is right, not just what is easy.
It was a reminder that we must be courageous, even if it means we might be judged or ridiculed.
It was also a great reminder even though we may not think people are looking at us, they are. It is important we always act with integrity and set a good example for other people to follow.
Thank you, Mr. Climbing Instructor for demonstrating such courage out there on the wall.
People were watching, and you inspired all of us.
- Matt Westheimer
The world has been going through so much change over the past 10-20 years. Through globalization, there are very few places that still retain the essence of the “good old” days. Western culture has permeated much of the Eastern world but there are still some places that have retained quite a bit of the Eastern charm.
Yogyakarta was one of those places.
I sensed it the moment we stepped off the plane onto the tarmac and faced a small old building that they call their airport.
Inside the terminal there was the hustle and bustle of locals and very few Westerners. Things were old, worn, and had lots of character. Just the way I like it.
We hired a driver from the airport to drive us to our hotel. Our hotel was spectacular. It was an old Dutch mansion that was built in 1918. It was fully renovated but still held the essence of the old world. We had a gorgeous room overlooking the pool which was an amazing site to see.
The floors and bathroom were marble. The bed sheets were soft and the pillows perfect. It was like being in a palace.
But do you want to know what we appreciated most about the hotel? Not the lavish rooms, picturesque pool, the outstanding service, or the old world charm. Don’t get me wrong. We loved those things.
But the thing we appreciated the most was the shower.
I’m not talking about the beauty of the shower either. I am talking about the water pressure.
Eighty percent of our trip had been showers that were either unusable, freezing cold, or plagued with water dripping out at a pace that resembled a leaky faucet.
It is amazing how you begin to appreciate the little things when you know longer have them.
My life in Singapore was really good. I had a really good shower. The water pressure was excellent and I never had an issue with hot or cold water. Do you know what happens when you have a perfect shower?
You find other things to complain about. We always find things to complain about. That is just who we are as human beings.
We get comfortable with the luxuries in our life that we call “necessities.” But really, if you are part of the 1 percenters of the world, which you are if you are reading this, what we call necessities are really luxuries.
I was complaining to my friend about having to go a week using a bucket of water to bath with. He started laughing and said, “You call that roughing it. I call it how I grew up. That’s how I bathed my whole life growing up.”
It takes effort to look at our life and realize what are luxuries and what are necessities.
It takes an even bigger effort to practice conscious minimalism. Get rid of some of the stuff you don’t need anymore. Take a cold shower. Stay at substandard accommodations for a week or go camping. Minimalize the distractions in your life and learn to appreciate more.
Every time we increase the standard of living in our life, it becomes the new baseline.
The things we once appreciate we no longer do as we up our game. This way of living can be really exciting but you have to look out for the downside, and the downside can be really big.
We lose ourselves. We lose our happiness, joy for life, and our appreciation for the little things.
Life becomes about achieving more and having more and we lose our sense of self in the process.
I am not saying we should ever lose our drive for achievement or that having more is bad. I wholeheartedly believe we should look for the harmony of drive for achievement and appreciation and gratitude for the little things.
But just think about how much better your life would be if you had a deep sense of appreciation for a nice warm shower with good water pressure.
Let me paint the picture for you.
We just arrived at the first destination of our long-awaited trip around the world. We arrived at a place that has been on my bucket list for a really long time – El Nido in Palawan.
It landed on my bucket list a few years ago when I had a conversation with a billionaire who loves to travel. He had been to over 80 countries around the world, and when I asked him what place was his favorite, he said without hesitation, “El Nido.”
That was good enough for me.
The journey to get there was not an easy one. We had to fly from Manila to Puerto Princessa and then take a 7-hour van ride to El Nido.
Once we arrived, we got settled into our “villa.”
I use that word very loosely. It was more of a cardboard box with a tin roof. No air conditioning, non-working shower, and filthy. But it was right on the beach with spectacular views which made up for all of that.
One of the cool things about the villa was it was part of a local “baranggay,” or community, so we got to interact a lot with the locals.
One such local had a major impact on my life.
We decided we wanted to explore the surrounding islands, pristine beaches, and hidden lagoons so we were directed across the dirt road from our villa to a lady named Ezra. She was a really sweet middle aged lady who ran a small business out of her very modest home. Think a whole family in one room, a tiny kitchen, and doubled as an office.
She owned a small boat and had a guy that operated the boat to bring guests for tours around the islands. We walked over to her house and inquired about the different options for the tours and then told her we would discuss it over dinner. We asked if she had a small scooter for us to rent so we could get around town.
Her reply, “You can take mine. It is free for friends.” Friends, I thought? We just met two minutes ago. I was speechless, which doesn’t happen often and graciously accepted.
I was moved that this woman who barely has enough money to take care of her family was offering and trusting a stranger with her only mode of transportation.
That was lesson number one. Find ways to give with no expectation in return.
The next lesson after dinner I learned from her was even more powerful.
We arrive back at her home to confirm the tour we were going to take with her. She was no longer on the porch so I called for her from outside, and she asked us to come in.
As we entered her home, she apologized for not being able to come out to meet us, but she has difficulty walking due to bone cancer. This lady is raising 3 young kids with stage 4 bone cancer and she was one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met.
The whole experience was wonderful with her and her generosity continued throughout our stay in El Nido.
She was more concerned about everyone else rather than herself. And under the circumstances, she would have been more than justified in focusing on herself.
She never made anything about her. She was present. She was peaceful. She was loving. She was compassionate.
She immediately became a role model for me.
When interacting with her, I realized I need to be kinder. I need to be more present. I need to be more loving.
Because if she can do it, I can do it.
If you just looked at the pictures I have been posting, you would think this around-the-world trip has been all sunshine and rainbows.
This assumption could NOT be further from the truth.
Yes, the trip has been an amazing experience, but for every beautiful photo I post on Facebook, there is an equal and opposite experience that I can’t post or would be inappropriate to post.
I remember reading a great message a while back: “The problem with social media is that it isn’t real. Everyone just posts their highlight reel. We get depressed or feel bad because we compare our blooper reel with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
A powerful message that I need to remind myself of often.
While we have done amazing things like paddle boarding in secret lagoons on pristine islands in Siargao and had a breathtaking scuba diving experience in El Nido, we have also had many challenges that we couldn’t or would be inappropriate to take pictures of.
I couldn’t take a picture of 2 weeks of cold and barely usable showers. For a week, I had to bath using just a “tabo,” which is basically using a small bucket to dump water over yourself because our shower was not working.
I couldn’t take a picture of the heat we had to combat for a whole week because our villa had no air-conditioning and the screens for the windows were so dirty, they would barely let any air through.
I couldn’t take a picture of the fact that I have not had a good night sleep in over 2 weeks due to the heat, pillows that felt like they were stuffed with a handful of cotton balls, scratchy sheets, barking dogs, and loud motorbikes and honking cars, and many times a combination of the above.
I couldn’t take pictures of the re-arranged flights and nasty weather that kept us from surfing which was the main reason we went to Siargao. On the plus side, we did get to do SUP in the Sugba Lagoon which was amazing.
I couldn’t take pictures (or I guess I could but that would be gross) of the dirty clothes I have had to re-wear because I ran out of clothes and couldn’t find any place to wash them.
As we all go through life, we have choices we get to make.
Do we run our own race or do we run some else’s race?
I notice that many times when I am unhappy, frustrated, or depressed, I am comparing myself to someone else; I am focusing on what I don’t have rather than what I do have; I am focusing on what is missing rather than what is present.
Run your own race. Be present. Practice gratitude. Meditate. Continue to refine your core values and live congruently with them more and more each day.
And please stop comparing your blooper reel with everyone else’s highlight reel.