Climbing, With Kids

Failure Is Always An Option

October 4, 2016



“Failure is not an option.”

How many times have we heard this quote? The circumstances are endless. The phrase served as my friend’s mantra during her last marathon. (She finished.) I said it at work when we were up against a deadline. (We hit it.) Another friend said it when we realized we had misread a map, making our 8 mile hike a 14 mile trek with a bushwhack. (We had headlamps, thank God.) Apollo 13. (Good job.)

But you know what? Failure is always an option. And in climbing, its not just an option, its a probability. Unless you have dedicated your life to climbing nothing harder than a 5.0, you will fall. You will fail to reach the top many times on a single route until you finally send it. Maybe you’ll be regularly climbing 5.8 but there will still be a 5.5 that still makes you shake like Elvis. (Ask me how I know.)

I don’t like to fail. But after 36 years, I’m used to it. Lily is seven. Lily really does not like to fail. It is, I would say, her least favorite thing, right behind salmon. To be fair, at seven years old, she’s still fairly new at life. She doesn’t remember that it took her 8 months to learn how to crawl, or 2.5 years to learn to use the potty. She doesn’t remember all the bumps and bruises she got when she went from crawling to walking and walking to running. She doesn’t remember how many times she failed before she finally took those first steps. (Luckily, I caught it all on video. Except the potty training.) All she knows is that she’s smart, people like her, and in general life comes super easy for her.

We had a bad day climbing. It wasn’t my first bad day, but it was hers, and man, did it shock the hell out of her. Nothing went her way, and she never seemed to get more than five or six feet off the ground, even on climbs she had mastered a week ago.

At one point she sat on the floor, wrapped her arms around her knees, and said, “I can’t do it. It’s too hard.”

“Do you want to go home?” I asked.

She shook her head. “No, I want to do this. This time I’ll get higher.”

But she didn’t. Not that time, or the next, or the climb after that. After two hours, I forced her to stop. She was miserable and exhausted. She pouted and refused to talk to me while I took off our gear and packed up.

Climbing, like most things worth doing, teaches a person grit. But lectures never taught a person anything, so I kept my mouth shut, handed her some skittles, and gave my girl a hug. “Sorry today sucked. Are you coming with me next week?”

She looked at the Skittles. She looked at me. “Yes,” she said.

And that’s when my new mantra was born.

Failure happens. Bring Skittles.



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  • Reply Allison October 4, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Ha! I loved this, especially the part about how lecturing never taught anyone anything. Totally agree. If someone lectures me, I immediately become a petulant two year old and do the opposite of what they say.

    • Reply Lynn October 4, 2016 at 4:48 pm

      I think we all have an inner brat. I don’t pout, but I’ve been known to slam my hand against a wall that is defeating me. Of course, that just means the wall wins twice, because it doesn’t feel a damn thing.

  • Reply Becky October 4, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    Skittles for the win!

  • Reply Carmen October 4, 2016 at 10:34 pm

    I LOVE that! “Failure happens. Bring Skittles.”

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