Burnout: What Happens When You Quit?

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Burnout Brittany Goris Illustration

Illustration: Brittany Goris

Your Facebook feed is a constant scroll of climbing accomplishments. Your unemployed buddy ticked his first double-digit boulder problem. Your gym’s youth team dominated a national comp. Your favorite pro reached a personal best. You’re a climber.

Training all winter, I had amassed a big list of boulders to tick by the end of spring. My crew was psyched, and I charged into the season, but day after day I watched my friends crush their projects while something kept stopping me. Maybe I wasn’t strong enough, or I had overestimated my ability, but the failures began to pile up. The more I failed, the more I began to doubt myself. Why had I spent so many hours training when I could have performed just as well if I had spent those same hours on my couch watching Game of Thrones? My competitive streak cuts deep, so I began crossing names off my list of climbing partners. She’s too psyched, he’s too strong, and everyone was way too obsessed with climbing.

Eventually I decided to accept the truth: I just didn’t want to climb. At all.

All I had was frustration and apathy toward something I used to be obsessed with. After one last spiteful session, I hid my crashpad out of sight out of mind, and I stopped going to the gym. I couldn’t face my friends—all they would talk about was climbing. My passion was all I’d ever known; it’s who I was. I had no idea what to do with myself.

Climbing and I needed some time and space if we were going to continue our relationship, so I began dusting off my long-forgotten side hobbies. I had to learn to live without climbing—or maybe I was just running from my problems. Three months passed, and I reluctantly agreed to go sport climbing with some friends. It was time to stop running. My motivation for ropes was lackluster, and this crag was mediocre at best, so I had zero expectations. It was fun, but there was no groundbreaking epiphany. I clipped bolts a few more times that summer, and when fall rolled around, I denied offers to boulder, knowing that stacking pads was a one-way road back to burnout.

The psych came back slowly, and I eased in cautiously, but sport climbing proved to be different enough that it gave me the chance to rewrite my identity as a climber. Plus, the more I sport climbed outside, the better I performed—unlike the bouldering plateau I fought for years. In the year since I put the pad away, I’ve ticked routes that I thought were reserved for climbers far better than me. I’ve traveled to places that had thus far only existed in daydreams. I even found, cleaned, and bolted a first ascent, but all that really matters is the right thing came at just the right time to light the fire once more.