What Alex Honnold Can Teach Us About Living
Okay, if you bothered to open this post after seeing the title you probably fall in one of two camps.
The first camp are people who follow the world of outdoor sports and who are possibly climbers or know something about climbing.
The second camp are people who are wondering who the hell Alex Honnold is, what he could teach us about living, and why they should care.
Alex Honnold is one of the best and likely the most famous rock climber in the world. And he’s about to be launched to further stardom when a major feature film premiers next week about his free solo climb up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
If you’ve never been to Yosemite National Park and seen El Capitan up close, you may not realize how big it is. It’s a 3000 foot sheer granite wall.
The first time you see it, if your jaw doesn’t drop, you might not have emotions.
Honnold has become famous for climbing in the style called “free soloing”. This means he often climbs without any protection. No rope, no protective gear. Nothing.
It’s extremely dangerous, to state the obvious.
But no one, absolutely no one, thought free soloing El Cap was possible. Last year, Honnold did it.
The New York Times has called it “one of the greatest athletic feats of any kind, ever”. I tend to agree, mainly because of the mental aspect of what he did.
Even though it was a steady 4 hours of extremely hard and dangerous climbing, physically he wasn’t taxed all that much. The guy is ripped and a physical freak.
But mentally, well that’s a whole ‘nother game. His ability to block out fear and give full concentration to the difficult task at hand is unfathomable, otherworldly.
Sorry Cal, He Followed His Passion
So what can Honnold teach us about life? Well, he became the climber he is today largely because he dedicated his life to it. He lived his passion.
I’m a fan of Cal Newport, and Cal has some great commentary about why following your passion is a bad idea.
His main beef with the concept is this, as he says in the video:
“Follow your passion presupposes that you have a preexsting passion that you can follow”.
Newport isn’t opposed to you following your passion, he’s opposed to the societal pressure to do so, for people who largely may not really have one.
Honnold is clear proof that if you do have a preexisting passion, you should damn well follow it. And good things will happen.
Honnold spent over a decade living in a van. The term “dirtbag” arose out of climbing lingo, and Honnold was a classic dirtbag. Sleep (in a car or van), eat, climb. Repeat. That’s how you get good.
Check out Honnold’s pimped out van. This was his third iteration, after he started making over six figures as a climber from product sponsorships.
Here’s a key quote in that video:
“I don’t think vanlife is particularity appealing, You know it’s not like I love living in a car. But I love living in these places, I love being in Yosemite, I love being basically wherever the weather is good. I love being able to follow good conditions all over, and be relatively comfortable as I do it. And that basically necessitates living in a car. Or in this case a really nice van.”
You could sum that passage up in one word – sacrifice.
For things you really want, for your true passion, you have to sacrifice. He obviously doesn’t think too much of living in a van, but he does it.
I’ve heard other interviews with him where he admitted being self-conscious about it, especially when it came to girls.
But he did it, because that’s what it takes. And before he made over 100 grand a year to climb rocks, his vanlife sure helped when he had little money:
“Living in a car, totally cool, everyone should do it. Very low overhead. It’s funny because when you think how much people spend on rent, and then how much less it is to live in a car, you’re like, it’s not a bad way to live.”
And did you catch the end of that video? Here’s Honnold on stuff:
“It’s cleansing in a way, you realize how much less stuff you need….. It reminds you that you don’t really need that much to be totally content, to live a fulfilling life, and to be happy.”
Honnold is now worth about 2 million dollars. If you told people even just 20 years ago that a rock climber could become a multi-millionaire by doing nothing but climbing – never having another job – they would never have believed you.
Honnold’s perspective on money and finances is revealed in an article he wrote for the website WealthSimple.
About his childhood:
“I never felt like we wanted for anything, but I never really wanted much, either.”
His guiding principal:
“The guiding principle I try to live by is: don’t spend money I don’t have. I’ve never been in debt and I’ve never bought extravagant stuff.”
And oh yeah, he might as well be a FIRE blogger, because he ends the article with this gold nugget:
“I think I define success as just being able to do the things I want to when I want to. Being able to fund the lifestyle. There’s no number that makes that possible. A lot of it has to do with how happy I am with what I’m doing.”
You can read Alex’s article here, it’s a quick read and I highly recommend it.
And be sure to check out Free Solo in theaters, even though you know he doesn’t fall, I promise it will make you sweat. I haven’t seen a movie in a theater for something like 8 years, but I will go see this.
Bravo Alex. But now that you’re successful and have a nice house in the suburbs, I think you should use a rope more often.