Yesterday, I went bouldering for the first time. Finally, the source of many scrawny-kid jokes in high school turned into an advantage. I’m 5’7″. I weigh 136 lbs. I’m neither tall nor strong — but my power-to-weight ratio is excellent.
I can easily do 50 push-ups or pull myself up some ledge. As it turns out, this kind of balance is exactly what you need when you’re trying to go from one set of tiny knobs to the next on a six-foot slanted wall.
After some basic, first-level trials and picking up the rules, I managed to climb some second- and even third-level problems. That’s nothing compared to expert climbers gliding up the impossibly-flat-surface elements of a level 12 wall, but, for a beginner, it’s not half bad. Still, my arms got tired after about 90 minutes, and it was almost time to go. Almost.
Whether it was the amateur’s foolish ambition or the inspiration gained from past climbs, seeing three boys fearlessly hustle up a level four-wall made it look like the pink-and-blue knobs just laughed in my face. Challenge accepted.
After dissecting the problem from afar and properly positioning myself on the wall, I reached the halfway mark — and found myself at an impasse. The next hold was too far away to reach, but I also couldn’t move closer as there was no better footing. With each passing second weakening my stance, I had to make a decision: Begin my descent or reach for the stars.
With one final “Huah!” I threw my Hail Mary pass — and promptly fell down.
No matter how often you experience it, the shock of your life being completely out of your own hands, if only for a few seconds, never gets old. Luckily, I landed safely. I took some time to recollect, then left with one last “I’ll be back” glance at the wall I’d just fallen from.
I learned a lot that day, but the most memorable lesson is this: Sometimes, the only way to get to the next rung on the ladder is to let go of the last one.
In my first year of freelancing, I got a ghostwriting gig that paid $10,000 over the course of six weeks. I could have doubled down on the approach, and it would have been a quick path to six figures.
There was only one problem: I hated it. It wasn’t the kind of work I wanted to do, they were not the kind of people I wanted to do it with, and I definitely didn’t want someone else slapping their name on my writing. I was angry at myself for taking the job in the first place. Then again, it was nearly half my income that year. I couldn’t decide. “What should I do? ”
Eventually, I did what I did yesterday: Reach high and hope I don’t fall.
I cut down on freelancing altogether. I set up a website and created a content format and schedule I could follow through on each day. I did that for a year, and, lo and behold, the affiliate income from that website near-exactly replaced the $10,000 I had made from ghostwriting the year before.
Sure, I had sacrificed immediate growth, but I had gained a lot more: A way of making money I actually enjoyed and that would scale even further. I reached the next rung on the ladder, but to do so, I had to let go of the last one.
Nathan Barry calls these ladders in particular “The Ladders of Wealth Creation.” In his four-stage system, you slowly go from selling your time to selling products. Each stage works like a ladder and takes time to climb.
In 2013, Nathan earned over $250,000 from selling books and courses. Then, he decided to focus on his startup, ConvertKit. The move came with a massive pay cut. The next time Nathan earned $250,000 was in 2018 — five years later.
I’m sure there were days when Nathan doubted his decision. In the end, however, Nathan didn’t fall. He grabbed the next rung with all the strength he could muster, and, today, ConvertKit makes $18 million in annual revenue.
Your next big goal might not be to earn more money or make enough from a passion you already love. Maybe, you want to find a partner, help your son make the baseball team, or literally reach the next level in bouldering.
Whatever you want to achieve, chances are, you’ll have to let go of something you have in order to get there. Life consists entirely of tradeoffs. Everything happens on a spectrum, and the only way to move the needle closer to one end is to move it away from the other.
This doesn’t mean you can only choose between extremes. Life is not black and white, and you can maintain a lot of accomplishments if you carefully stack them together and only add one or two at a time. Every now and then, however, you’ll find the only path to higher ground forces you to give up your sure footing. Whenever that happens, you have to make a decision.
Sometimes, you’re out of strength, and it’s better to climb down. Get some rest, study the problem, then try again. More often than not, however, you won’t be at the end of your metaphorical rope. You’re strong. You have more potential than you realize. You’ve got a lot further to go.
I know it’s scary to jump. I can’t help you up there. I do, however, trust in you to know when it’s time, and, once you do, you must jump.
Then, the next step is also the last one left, and it’s what we’re put on this earth to do: Reach high and hope you don’t fall.