Finding the Balance: Life outside the gym
Up until now my blog has served to guide people through my climbing experiences; people know me as an athlete and that is all. However, for this post I want to write more about myself and how I strive to find balance in my life. For me, climbing is the most important aspect of my existence, but equally, it is for this reason that there have been times when I have felt on the verge of break down because all my self-value relied on climbing and my performance in the sport. I cared little about anything else-my social life, my studies, my other hobbies, even my family. In saying this I may sound like some cold-hearted climbing machine and in many ways that’s how I saw myself, but it is my belief that this mind-set is not uncommon among individuals who dedicate the majority of their life to achieving and mastering a single activity.
I am by no means a changed person from the Jo who isolated herself from the rest of her life in the pursuit of being the best. I still struggle to find a balance where I devote enough to climbing that I can fulfil my goals but enjoy the process and don’t neglect the other aspects of my life which are so important for my mental wellbeing. However, I have made significant progress in finding this balance and I would like to share ways in which I have done this. As it has turned out, sharing some of my devotion to climbing among other parts of my life has actually helped me become a more successful (and happier) athlete as I no longer feel the need to place as much pressure on myself to succeed all the time. If I don’t perform as well as I wanted, I can learn from the experience rather than allowing it to destroy me.
Having this year off (I’ve now finished school but won’t be starting university until next September) has enabled me to take time to invest in other hobbies. My plan for next year is to study German and Japanese at the University of Leeds as I have always loved learning languages. I decided at the beginning of this academic year to try teaching myself a language so since then I have been studying Spanish for around half an hour each day. It’s not very much time so I can stick to it, but the regularity gives me a sense of satisfaction when I can see my progress. For anyone looking for a pass-time to add to a fairly monotonous schedule, I would definitely recommend learning a language! For athletes in particular, having a daily activity which uses a different part of the brain keeps you feeling engaged and motivated in whatever you’re doing.
For A Level, I studied art for the simple reason that it was so different from my other studies. While the subject is by no means easy, and a lot of work is required (as with all A Levels) to achieve good grades, I found the work completely different and in this ways it provided a kind of rest from my other studies and training. During the course of this year I have attempted to feed my interest in art, attending local Life Drawing classes and frequently visiting exhibitions around London. I think it’s really important to get out of the house and do things which aren’t related to training. Sitting at home on rest days may rest your body, but your mind, not being stimulated in any way, remains focused on sport so when you do train, you aren’t as psychologically ‘fresh’.I realise this post is very different from anything else I have written but I hope it highlights to people that the most important thing you can do for your climbing is ensure that your life is balanced. If you’re not enjoying the process there’s really no point in training because winning trophies and titles only brings very superficial happiness; you will always be looking for the next step to achieve.