Breaking through the wall

There are some things we do, as humans, that seem on the outset to be impossible.

This weekend, I climbed the Grouse Grind.

Actually, I can be a bit arrogant about some things, so it didn’t seem impossible at the outset. I thought, I can do this, no problem. I exercise occasionally. How hard can it be? I’m sure I actually thought “how hard can it be?” which should have immediately tipped off the writer in me.

But it wasn’t until about ten minutes in that I decided the whole ordeal was impossible. The Grouse Grind is 3 km of stairs rising 2800 vertical feet, with an average incline of 30 degrees. That’s a lot of very steep stairs. After ten minutes, my legs burned, I was feeling light-headed, and I hadn’t yet reached the 1/4 mark.

It took a few rest stops, but I eventually made it to the halfway mark (about 34 minutes in). At which point it occurred to me that I had to do all of that all over again.

But then, shortly after, it stopped being a problem. It stopped being about how much my legs hurt, how much my head was swimming, how much I wished I had brought an extra water bottle — and just became about putting my foot on the next step. And the next step. And the next step. I reached the 3/4 mark, and then I was at the top (after a total of 1 hour 7 minutes).

Athletes talk about hitting the wall, and it’s true. At some point, you hit a wall and feel like you can’t go any further. But you do, because you have to, and then — well, you’re past the wall. You break through. And suddenly, it’s not so hard anymore.

And this phenomenon isn’t limited to feats of physical ability. As humans, we do a lot of things that seem impossible on the outset. Some of them, we have no good reason to do, other than perhaps to prove to ourselves that we can. Or it’s that human inclination of “Because it was there.”

Some of them we have to do. And not because we’re forced into doing something, but because a situation appears around us very suddenly and all we can do is move forward and get through it. All manner of hardship happens like this — the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, any time life takes a sudden turn for the worse.

At first, it seems like there’s no way you will ever make it. The grief is too much, the pain too hard. Days go by of you living your life not because you choose to move forward, but because life moves forward anyway. For a time, things get harder and harder. You find your coping mechanism, but it doesn’t really help.

And then, suddenly, one day, everything is a little bit easier. You’ve broken through the wall.

You didn’t notice it happen. Looking back, there was no defining moment when you can say, “That’s when it started getting better.” It just… was.

Not perfect. There’s still hardship, still pain, whatever it is. But it’s no longer about how you won’t make it.

It’s about taking that next step. And the next step. And the next step.

And eventually, you’ll be at the top.

Life , , , , ,


  1. Great post. Inspiring. I love reading things like this. I feel like the more people that happen to read these kinds of messages, the better the world as a whole will be able to handle difficult situations. No matter how hard something is to deal with, things will get better again, and how much better depends on us.

  2. Laura

    Psycholoigcally speaking, it takes people from 2-3 months to six months to get over whatever tragic happened to them. I read this from an article after the frist tragedy in my life, which was long time ago and figured it’s so true –it took me half a year because I was kinda slow in recovery, or maybe the ordeal was too hard for me…Honestly, you’ve grasped that subtle feeling and the final idea “not because you choose to move forward, but life moves forward anyway” is the essence, for me at least. It’s wisdom! Good luck and keep moving on! Everyone needs this courage.

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