I grew up never had a hero, or any idol for that matter. I am never really into any celebrities, sports stars or any business tycoons. I have huge respect for all these people, don’t get me wrong, but they are certainly not what I would consider as a hero.
Until recently I came across Alex Honnold.
Certainly, what he has accomplished is truly amazing and deserves all the credits that he is getting. But to me, it goes way beyond the climbing itself.
A lot of the business tycoons like Steve Jobs, Jack Ma, Elon Musk are certainly great individuals but to point the entire success of a business empire to a single person is plain naive. What Alex has accomplished is purely himself. Apart from a pair of climbing shoes, a bit of chalk, it’s just himself and a giant piece of rock. The true spirit of free solo. It’s so pure. And unlike business success (and many other things in life) which can never be replicated (timing alone is always different), he can concur El Capitan again and again, perhaps at a better pace.
Body and soul
Yes, he has amazing fitness and climbing skills but his mental state is simply on another universe. To say he is not afraid of death is just a lazy way of describing how he trains his brain to handle the situations and conditions that it needs to handle. Most of all, people completely ignore the amount of time and effort he puts in planning each route, which he can literally remember move by move.
As he said, falling down from 100 feet is exactly the same as 3000 feet, i.e. certain death. Yet climbing a 3000 feet mountain completely changes people’s perspective on its accomplishment, and the risks involved. Risk do not change once it gets to a certain level. And this is such a refreshing perspective.
Many people say he is humble, and I agree he is, but I don’t think he is humble by acting nice. People often confuse humbleness with niceness. Being nice is cheap, it’s often an act of cowardice. Humbleness starts with truly understanding and appreciating one’s own greatness and then proceed to treat everyone the same as if the greatness is not there. It’s the ultimate proof of confidence. Therefore it doesn’t matter to him if there are sceptics out there. At the same time, he does not feel invincible and he admits his vulnerabilities. Now that’s real confidence.
I really love his logic when he answers the same old questions from the media over and over again. For example, he often gets asked how he goes about his number 1 and 2 in the middle of his climb. His first reaction is always direct and smart. “If you have to go, you have to go.” Yes, never make things too complicated. But what he followed was even more amazing. He mentioned he needs to be careful not causing any inconvenience for other climbers along the route. Yes, it’s never just about oneself. Also when he gets the “afraid of death” question, he simply says that he is as afraid as any regular person, he just does not think he would die during his climb. His mindset is so strong that he never get anchored by other people’s questions or logic. How can he do that? I don’t know. But perhaps total self-belief and complete awareness of the surrounding would be a good start.
Amazing person, amazing accomplishment and so much wisdom to learn from. Whether he would ever fall is totally irrelevant. He is at peace with himself, his achievements and his surroundings. We should all do that, at least more than how we are doing now.
For this, he is forever my hero and someone I look up to.