Balancing Career and Sport

I remember coming across Audrey Sniezek's blog a couple of years ago after an interview on DeadPointMag piqued my interest - someone with a full-time intensive IT job at at Microsoft but also doing her sport to a very high standard, she's a 5.14 (high grade 8 in Euro grades) climber.

I’ve had quite a few people say they think it’s amazing that I work full time and was able to climb this route. I really do appreciate that and yes, I do work a lot but honestly that’s not the part I am most proud of.

This video is excellent timing with the recent ascent of an old classic by the US climber, Mike Doyle, of the route Necessary Evil. By all accounts, Mike seems to also have a very hectic work/life schedule so it's always brilliant hearing stories of such incidents. 



The Conundrum

The frequent challenge most people who get passionately into climbing is the balance of work, career, life, etc. - it's one of those sports that just sucks you in and makes you want to do it all the time! For many, the sole focus becomes to climb more at the detriment to everything else. 

the look of nervousness one morning at work back in September 2006 on a day after squeezing in a training session before coming to work.....

the look of nervousness one morning at work back in September 2006 on a day after squeezing in a training session before coming to work.....

One important aspect I've been pretty poor about acknowledging on this site over the years (although perhaps indirectly shown through the frequent updates) is that even in the periods when I decided to go explore/travel/learn/develop/climb (in no particular order) was an emphasis on other things in life. I may have traveled for about over 4 full years of my 20's (cumulatively when adding up all the various week-long, fortnightly, month-long and 2 year-long trips) but at all times I kept various aspects of other my personal development going on. This blog has always been supplemented by one covering technology and education, both of which have been written pretty continuously since mid-2007. In short, while I may have looked like I was just traveling and climbing, I was also self-learning and educating myself on topics that I also worked in - and still am, with technology work and coaching being my primary 'careers' at present.


Life as the Professional Climber and the odds of becoming one

Interestingly, things have changed recently for Audrey Sniezek after she departed Microsoft and appears to be making a go of it in climbing full-time at present. One thing I won't doubt is that while she may be 'climbing full-time', I suspect she's the sort of person who also aspires to other projects in life. There's been a flurry of conversations around this recently. An Andy Kirkpatrick blog post (who as an aside took social media to it's logical extreme by live-posting from the side of the Eiger recently - a slightly more challenging logistical challenge I'm sure than the most recent other high-profile incident of this, The Dawn Wall!) was followed up with another interesting perspective from James McHaffie. It shows the idea, and dream, that exists for many to become the 'professional climber'. Let's be very clear - the description of what is currently described as a professional climber is not the same term: I'm just after finishing Steve McClure's incredible autobiography [Amazon Link] and as he describes working multiple hard days of route setting and coaching, this is most definitely not a professional sports person. Someone who only does their sport, is a professional in my eyes. Am I wrong on this?

There's also some big challenges to this sort of 'professional climber' existing though:

  • climbing is a tiny, tiny, tiny(!) sport so there isn't much money in it
  • realistically, 'professional' climber means doing competitions which was not on the radar for many. As I wrote before about pro climber Dave Graham,  he is an "anomaly, the only person in the entire country, basically in the entire World, that never placed well in a competition and is making a career out of climbing". Realistically this is now changing, and surfing is probably the best example to refer to - a 'pro surfer' is largely someone who competes. Again, there is exceptions to this rule, but the only rule these individuals exist is because of surfing competitions going mainstream and bringing in enough revenue to support the industry.


A slightly different point is the odds of making it as a pro. This research paper highlights the odds of it for some mainstream sports in the USA, in short the odds of professional is 0.03%. Of course, professional is slightly different for those sports in that it is about being the best in the world in your sport, not just about how good you are at media, etc. (although that's a large component too - you only have to look at 'Notorious' Conor McGregor in Ultimate Fighting to see the benefits of that. Another aside to that and showing the difference in financials: in the most recent episode he stays in a hotel that is being paid for the federation for 11 nights that costs $7,500 per night - most pro climbers probably only make that in a year if they're lucky.


In short, for almost all of us, I guess it's all about balancing work and life. I'm kicking the bucket at sometime in the late 21st century (interesting aside: if you're Japanese and born this year, congratulations on being the first people to still be alive when it becomes the 22nd century), I'll hopefully look back at a range of activities and personal achievements and gifts to others.

The bottom line is that we need to try and balance doing cool stuff with being a good person, as in my travels I’ve met many people who although up there with astronauts on the cool list, were still assholes once they touched down on solid ground. Each of us need to stride towards some kind of personal greatness, to try and breath life into the that sleeping myth, while holding onto to our humility and humanity, to take what it takes, but also give.
Neal McQuaid