Free Solo is a documentary film of Alex Honnold’s solo, free (no support ropes) climb of Yosemite’s 3000 foot El Capitan Wall. What he did was impossible. And in the fabric of his story are the elements of what it takes for any human being to accomplish what is impossible in their chosen field or area of concern. If we shake off the natural complacency that gradually overtakes us in life, and tell the truth, there are impossible things we dream of making happen that would light us up: A extraordinary goal. An inspiring achievement. A dream. A vision. An authentic passion. And in the course of living with all its “slings and arrows,” most of us at some point give up such a pursuit and resign ourselves to go about the business of normal living. Alex did not. He had El Capitan. What did it take to climb the Wall? To accomplish the impossible? Some of what it took:
Honesty—he was in the practice of rigorously telling the truth in his life. When on a vertical wall two thousand feet above the ground, hanging onto a tiny ridge or dent in the granite, he had to see and say what was real. No illusions, no guesses, no hopes, no speculations. This included beginning the ascent one day and knowing himself well enough to tell the truth: “Today is not the day to climb.”
Integrity—he had to do impeccable preparation. Integrity is defined as “no component parts missing”. Nothing overlooked or left out or not considered. His execution of the climb had to be equally impeccable. Every step, every reach, every grasp had to be considered. Part of his readiness was to have integrity with his own physical state: to be in perfect condition, which included have an injured foot-ankle restored.
Single focus—a passionate commitment to the feat at hand. All self-concerns, all ego, was dismissed the moment it showed itself. There was nothing but The Wall. He was fully present at each moment.
Unstoppable and “un-reasonable”—he dismissed any thoughts of “it can’t be done” or “this problem makes it undoable” or “this is insurmountable” or “this is bigger than I can ever be” or “it’s never been done” or “I’m not the one to do this.” He put aside all reasons for why not. Instead, he thought only of “what’s needed now?” and “what’s possible in this situation?” and “what’s next?” No self-concern for comfort or convenience. No formula, no habitual patterns of thinking, planning, and acting. Dealing with this moment. Doing whatever is called for, whatever is wanted, whatever is needed. No thinking. Total presence.
Mostly in life we look for the confidence of certainty. He had only the confidence of honesty, integrity, focus, being present and perfect readiness.
These elements made an ordinary person extraordinary.
What about you? What is your El Capitan?