When Your Dream Looks Impossible

Photo by Vladimir Kudinov from Pexels

Photo by Vladimir Kudinov from Pexels

A couple months ago, I attended a showing of the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

The show was a series of short films featuring extreme outdoor adventures. Viewers were dazzled by feats of strength and daring, including a trio who kite skied 1,000 kilometers across the Greenland ice cap, a mountain biker who ripped down trails and rocketed over rocky mountain ridges, and an Alaskan woman who climbed Denali (formerly called Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America).

One of my favorite films followed a young woman named Maureen who, in order to prove herself as a "real climber," was determined to scale a difficult rock face.

The Denver Post describes her chosen rock face, which is called Days of Future Past, as “dead vertical with an overhang at the top.” Not exactly a walk in the park.

The climb was made more difficult by the fact that Maureen was born with only half her left arm, a limitation she has found creative ways to work around. Maureen had a relatively easy time climbing the base of the rock, but about midway through the climb there was a section that proved particularly tricky. Each time she made it to a specific crevice, she lost her hold and fell.

But Maureen didn’t give up.

Over a span of five months, she came back to the rock again and again.

Finally, after over 50 attempts, she made it to the top.

I love Maureen’s tenacity. She refused to let failure be her final story. Though over the course of those five months it may have appeared that she was failing on a daily basis, she didn’t allow the little failures become a capital F Failure.

But as inspiring as her ascent of Days of Future Past is, what I find even more interesting is what Maureen did before her epic climb.

In the climbing world, rock faces are graded based on difficulty. The higher the number, the more difficult the climb. The Days of Future Past is a 5.12 rock face—considered “hard to difficult." (If I was the one classifying these rocks, it would be rated as “moderately insane.”)

Before we see Maureen overcome this extremely challenging face, we see her climbing a different rock. This one, called Reefer Madness, has a less difficult classification of 5.11.

She chose the face, she said, because she wanted to try something that would be hard for her. And, at first, it was really hard. For several days, she thought, "This is impossible. I can't do it." 

But she kept trying. Eventually, something fell into place, and the impossible became possible. She conquered the rock in about five days. 

It wasn’t long after this that she began her quest to ascend Days of Future Past, the 5.12 rock face.

If you read my post last week, you’ll remember I mused on how courage and confidence build on each other, how each act of courage creates confidence to go farther, generating the momentum for even more courageous action, and leading to ever higher levels of confidence and accomplishment.

I think Maureen’s story is a great example of this dynamic.

In the film she talks about how there was a time she would have been satisfied with remaining a 5.8 difficulty level climber forever. But, she says, accomplishing Reefer Madness (the 5.11 rock) opened up new possibilities.  

Her smaller 5.11 victory is what gave her the confidence to courageously move on to bigger, harder, and more rewarding climbs.

I think her experience on the seemingly impossible 5.11 rock is why she was able to persevere for so long on the 5.12.

Over 50 times she confronted a portion of the climb that she, particularly without a full left arm, appeared unable to overcome. But her recent experience made all the difference. She proved to herself that seeming impossible is not the same as being impossible. That failure is not the same as Failure.

In a nutshell, here’s what I gleaned from Maureen: it’s good to challenge and stretch ourselves beyond what we think we can do. We do well to persevere even when our dream or goal seems out of reach. Let each failure strengthen our resolve not to give in to Failure. Let each victory launch us to even greater heights.

Has there been a time you persevered despite failure? When you finally succeeded, what bigger opportunities unfolded before you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!


"I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:14

"Though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again." Proverbs 24:16


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