FSM Editorial: In Free Solo, Conquering Fear Is Not the Goal

An abridged version of the recent award winning documentary Free Solo goes something like this: Man climbs giant rock in Yosemite with no safety equipment for first time in history. The longer version involves a man with poor social skills, elite climbing skills, and a small circle of really patient friends. Instead of spoiling the journey for those who have not watched this epic documentary yet, I just want to focus on something simple said by protagonist Alex Honnald when he was discussing the danger of free soloing the famously tall El Capitan:


I physically moved, well flinched actually, upon hearing that quote for the first time (I’ve watched the film many more times since then). So simple yet so profound – one of those obvious tidbits of information I hear once in blue moon that completely changes my way of looking at something.

For so long, I’ve conflated conquering fear with the ultimate outcome of a goal. Consider for example, a swimming goal for a child who is afraid of the water. The goal itself is recording if the child gets in the pool or not, not necessarily if they are afraid. In that sense, conquering the fear of water isn’t the ultimate goal – getting in the pool is! Not being afraid is just a benchmark to hit along the way.

Or think of a person who wants to visit someone in another country but is too afraid of flying. If the goal is to fly to another country, they will have to learn more about flying than just how to manage their fear. Being unafraid won’t guarantee the individual makes it to his or her final destination. Imagine showing up in the wrong country? Then we’ll have new fears to deal with. Another example is a first time entrepreneur who finally overcomes their fear of taking out a large loan. They were just loaned the money, now what? 

Alex Honnald’s goal was never to conquer his fear of dying. His goal was to free solo El Captian. When he was confident enough in his skills and preparation, his fear of making a fatal mistake subsided. But he still had to climb the darn rock!

You face your fear because your goal demands it. So I’m moving forward with this new mentality of looking at conquering fear as more of a benchmark, or a dragon to be slain along the way, than the end result.

To purchase Free Solo on amazing 4K, click here.

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