GUEST POST: Your Own El Capitan by Billie Jo Konze

Granite crag in the High Sierra, no where near as hard to climb as El Capitan.

I met actor and aspiring life coach Billie Jo Konze on the phone, when I decided to become a voice actor myself and needed the unvarnished truth on next steps. Billie doesn’t hold back, and told me it could be an exhilarating ride, but, like any life goal or trail we attempt to walk, it would require focus, patience and massive reserves of inner-strength. Billie Jo runs my accountability group, and there’s no one I’d want more in my corner than this wise woman!

What a Free Soloing Mountain Climber Can Teach You About Conquering Your Biggest Goals

Just before the beginning of the year, I was on a flight to the Dominican Republic with my boyfriend and his family, as always, trying to pick out a good in-flight film. Instead of joining my boyfriend in a lighthearted superhero flick, I decided instead to watch Free Solo, as I’d missed it in theaters, and knew I’d probably never watch it at home. 

I spent the next hour and forty minutes with my eyes glued to the screen, mouth agape, sweating, swearing, and occasionally emitting slight whimpering noises. 

If I’d known how this year was going to go, maybe I would have chosen the superhero movie, but Free Solo is an apt metaphor for any great undertaking, and I’m glad I came into this year high off the vicarious adrenaline of watching Alex Honnold prepare for and execute his climb

Whether you’ve seen it, haven’t seen it yet, or never plan to see it because your heart just can’t take it, here are a few things I took away from this amazing feat: 

  • Human beings are capable of amazing things. THIS MAN CLIMBED AN ALMOST COMPLETELY VERTICAL STONE FACE TALLER THAN THE WORLD’S TALLEST BUILDING…WITHOUT ROPES …IN LESS THAN 4 HOURS! For a really fun size comparison, image, click here. If someone can do that…and we can do THIS, then we can figure out almost anything. 
  • To do the impossible takes an insane amount of discipline. 

Free soloing is extremely dangerous. That being said, Alex Honnold is probably doing it as safely as a person could possibly do it. He works out. He eats extremely clean and healthy. He practices. Over and over and over. For me, besides the actual feat itself, this was the mind blowing part. The fact that he rehearsed the climb physically, on paper, and in his mind. He climbed El Capitan with ropes and studied the possible routes. He journaled about it. He discussed it with others. He analyzed it down to its smallest part. And when he found parts that gave him difficulty, he analyzed those parts even more, and practiced them with the diligence of a kung fu master. 

In a real sense, I performed the hard work of that free solo during the days leading up to it. Once I was on the climb, it was just a matter of executing.

Alex Honnold, Alone on the Wall

  • Mindset is important. 

Granted, the film gives us insight into why Alex’s brain is different than many people’s brains, and how the minimized adrenaline response might give him an advantage when facing extreme danger, but even he talks about getting psyched out by those around him. How distractions can be detrimental to the goal. When you have a goal that is very important to you (especially if it could be life-threatening), keeping your mindset positive and your focus strong is essential. 

There is no adrenaline rush. If I get an adrenaline rush, it means that something has gone horribly wrong.

Alex Honnold, Alone on the Wall

  • Surround yourself with people who believe in you. 

Alex had a huge team of people supporting him during the process of preparing to climb El Capitan, including the film crew who he’d been working with for over a decade, his girlfriend Sanni McCandless, climber friend Tommy Caldwell, and his mother. They all know how driven he is as a person, how dedicated to his sport, and were all there to help him succeed. 

  • But remember that ultimately, you need to believe in yourself. 

Even though his team believed in him, the film shows how as Alex gets closer to going through with the climb, his friends express doubts about his efforts, and their fears seemingly begin to affect him, as he suffers a few small accidents to which he’s not normally prone.

Even if you’re not climbing a mountain, when you undertake something great, or even something outside your norm, your friends and family might have fears for what the undertaking might mean for your health, finances, emotional wellbeing, or your relationship with them. They might be secretly jealous that you are pursuing big goals while they themselves are stuck or afraid to pursue their true calling, and lash out, unaware of the true reason for their negativity toward your undertaking. Unless you are strong in your convictions and your “why” for the undertaking, you might leave yourself and your goal open to being infected by the fears of others. 

 I’ve done a lot of thinking about fear. For me the crucial question is not how to climb without fear-that’s impossible- but how to deal with it when it creeps into your nerve endings.

Alex Honnold

  • And in the end, your success depends upon the strength of your commitment.

In free soloing, a lack of commitment could either mean never attempting a climb at all, or certain death. As with so many things in life, it’s the moments when you second guess yourself or act without commitment and confidence, that you leave room for mistakes. 

When I protested that it seemed like too serious a situation to rely only on the sun and wind, Piero drew an analogy to climbing. Sometimes you find yourself in positions where falling would mean death. So you don’t fall. It helped me understand. The nomads just don’t make mistakes.

Alex Honnold, Alone on the Wall

Free Solo won Best Documentary Film at the 2019 Academy Awards.

If you want to sit on your couch this weekend and watch something that’s going to make you want to get off your couch and do something you’re afraid to do, Free Solo is currently available to stream for free on Hulu.  

If you just want a taste, click here to watch an ESPN behind the scenes short

Or click here to see Alex Honnold’s Ted Talk about why his first big free solo in Yosemite was a disappointment

Actor and coach, Bille Jo Konze.

Published by alison young

Alison Young is the Blissful Hiker, a voice artist and sometime saunterer. 📣🐥👣🎒

Reader Comments

  1. What an inspiring piece of writing. I particularly like the way she broke it down into sections starting with “mindset” and ending with “commitment. Thank you for posting this. I look forward to more guest posts.

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