By Jamie Flexman
The first few metres are erratic. The cold, angular edges of the building threaten to tear his hands to shreds, but there is no going back.
Fearful of being interrupted by the authorities, he sprints upwards; aiming to finish his ascent as quickly as possible. This is by no means the most elegant of climbs, but this is survival, not art. The goal is the summit – there are no alternatives.
Over 100 metres later, he looks down… nothing.
No police. No firemen and no obstacles aside from the intense reflection from the mirrored panes basking in the fiery afternoon sunshine.
With adrenaline flowing through his veins and buoyed from the confidence of not having to worry about any misguided rescue attempts, he powers on for another 20 minutes in the pursuit of that final, glorious ledge to signal the end of this bizarre and idiotic activity.
He reaches up and pulls his wiry body into full view of the array of police officers, firemen and security guards waiting patiently at the top.
“Hi guys! Do not worry, I am professional rock climbeur. Zere is no mountain to be climbed in Chicago, so I decide to climb zees high rise! No problem! Everything is okay …”
There is a collective silence. This mutual confusion renders everyone speechless.
The smile on his face says it all.
Dubbed the French Spiderman – Alain Robert is a lunatic who keeps himself busy by climbing the tallest buildings in the world with absolutely NO harnesses, ropes, or safety equipment of any kind!
You name it, he has climbed it. The Sears Tower, The Petronas Towers, The Empire State Building and the 830 metre high Burj Khalifa! Nothing is off limits.
That’s right – he picks out a skyscraper or something equally stupid, and up he goes. Obviously this kind of stunt tends to draw a crowd and within minutes a ton of police arrive as this kind of activity is usually frowned upon by the local constabulary.
He’s been arrested numerous times, but what can they charge him with? Impersonating Peter Parker?
So there’s the how. You probably have a greater interest in the why…
Initially, Alain forged a career as a gifted rock climber but a call from a film director, who wanted to try something a little different, changed his life. The task was to film Alain’s attempts at scaling tall urban structures instead of the usual mountain terrain which had become his trademark (without ropes of course). Initially the plan was to use safety equipment, but they soon realised no authority would be crazy enough to issue them a permit.
Without permission to climb this created a problem. The biggest of which, is without the powers that be giving their approval, they wouldn’t have time to set everything up. So undeterred, Alain chose to climb his maiden tower completely solo – which just happened to be the 180 metre tall Citicorp Citibank Center in Chicago.
Oh I forgot to mention – he is afraid of heights.
Are you willing to die?
This is a serious question.
How much do you want it? How much are you prepared to sacrifice? Are you willing to die for your craft?
Of course, I don’t mean literally…
Death comes with some serious side effects. None of which are particularly helpful to our goals. But if you replace the word ‘die’ with ‘risk everything’ then we’re on to something.
Our Friend Alain is willing to die – for real. His craft relies on life or death decision making. One slip; an unexpected gust of wind or maybe even a lapse in concentration, and he’s a goner. So, why would he put himself in such a ridiculous situation?
Climbing buildings is his passion. It’s what he thinks about more than anything else. He accepts the reality of the life he has chosen. If he makes an error, there is no round two. There are no second chances.
“Honey, I’m home…”
“Hi, did you have a good day at the office?”
“Yes, thanks. I didn’t hit the ground at a speed approaching terminal velocity.”
“Brilliant, I’ll make dinner.”
When failure is not an option
Fortunately, I’m not totally crazy.
My craft doesn’t rely on staying alive as a barometer of success. But on the flipside, this doesn’t mean I’m happy to accept failure.
During the summer of 2000, I made the conscious decision to improve my guitar playing. Frustrated that my fingers couldn’t replicate my favourite riffs and solos, the only way to relieve my self-imposed anxiety was to sort this shit out.
There was no other option. I enjoyed telling everyone how I was a kickass guitarist but the fear of revealing the truth was too much to bear.
I practiced 6 hours a day – every single day. At an age when my friends were either heading off to university or embarking on the first steps towards a fledgling career, I embraced the isolation required to become at one with my craft.
It was lonely. Progress was slow, but this was my new reality.
My fingers weren’t ready for such an onslaught. They cramped, they blistered and they screamed for mercy.
Every technique became an end of level boss to defeat.
Every day was a brutal reminder of how utterly useless I was with my instrument.
But I kept at it, in the blind hope that someday, things would change. They had to. I was putting my life on hold in the pursuit of a never ending goal. I was clueless as to where I wanted to be, but I knew it wasn’t here. That was enough to drive me forwards; even without a destination.
Keep going, Jamie. Keep putting in the effort. You’ll get there.
But you know what? I never did ‘get there’. Sure, things changed, but there is no such thing as a destination because we’re always learning. There are always new skills to master, new directions to travel and new standards to be met.
They say the difference between a winner and a loser is the fear of failure. A champion dreads the thought of losing more than they crave the feeling of victory. Although this is probably true – I believe it’s the fear of remaining exactly where we are which terrifies us more than anything.
I’m not a champion, but for 6 months I practiced like one. 6 long and lonely months hunched over my guitar because I felt like a fraud.
I still do.
So why am I telling you this?
14 years on from the slog – it’s time to return to the woodshed.
I will never have a better opportunity than right now to put in some serious guitar practice.
4 to 6 hours every day. That’s the standard I am setting myself. 30-40 hours a week spent with the one thing I spend every day thinking about.
This is my passion. This is what I want to do with my time. Yes, I’m studying for a degree and I have a guitar tuition business, but there are more than enough hours in the week to fit everything in.
I’m willing to push myself harder than the next man. This is what it takes.
I feel like I’m close to the next level. The only way to realise this potential is to put myself into a situation where growth is the only possible outcome.
To be a winner, you must train like a winner
You may have seen a recent story online regarding NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his insane work ethic. It was told by a guy called Rob – who happened to be a fitness coach with Team USA during the 2012 London Olympics. I don’t know if Rob has a last name, or even if he’s a real life Rob –but he tells of his first experience training with Kobe and the astonishment he felt towards his dedication and commitment to success.
I was invited to Las Vegas to help Team USA with their conditioning before they headed off to London. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade in the past, but this would be my first interaction with Kobe.
The night before the first scrimmage, I had just watched “Casablanca” for the first time and it was about 3:30 AM.
A few minutes later, I was in bed, slowly fading away, when I heard my cell ring. It was Kobe. I nervously picked up.
“Hey, uhh, Rob, I hope I’m not disturbing anything right?”
“Uhh, no. What’s up Kob?”
“Just wondering if you could help me out with some conditioning work, that’s all.”
I checked my clock. 4:15 AM.
“Yeah sure, I’ll see you in the facility in a bit.”
It took me about twenty minutes to get my gear and get out of the hotel. When I arrived and opened the room to the main practice floor, I saw Kobe. Alone. He was drenched in sweat as if he had just taken a swim. It wasn’t even 5:00 AM.
We did some conditioning work for the next hour and fifteen minutes. Then, we entered the weight room, where he would do a multitude of strength training exercises for the next 45 minutes. After that, we parted ways. He went back to the practice floor to shoot. I went back to the hotel and crashed. Wow.
I was expected to be at the floor again at about 11:00 AM.
I woke up feeling sleepy, drowsy, and pretty much every side effect of sleep deprivation. (Thanks, Kobe.) I had a bagel and headed to the practice facility.
This next part I remember very vividly. All of the Team USA players were there. LeBron was talking to Carmelo and Coach Krzyzewski was trying to explain something to Kevin Durant. On the right side of the practice facility Kobe was by himself shooting jumpers.
I went over to him, patted him on the back and said, “Good work this morning.”
“Like, the conditioning. Good work.”
“Oh. Yeah, thanks Rob. I really appreciate it.”
“So when did you finish?”
“Getting your shots up. What time did you leave the facility?”
“Oh, just now. I wanted 800 makes. So yeah, just now.”
History is littered with similar tales of athletes and performers who refused to quit until they were satisfied with their preparation.
Jonny Wilkinson, English Rugby star and one of the all-time great fly-halves regularly stayed behind after training until he converted five penalty goals in succession.
“Maybe I’ll hit four in a row and just miss the fifth one. Instead of being satisfied with that, I won’t allow myself to leave until I’ve hit five. An hour and a half later – and having missed loads of appointments and left myself running completely late – I might do it!”
Steve Vai, guitar virtuoso and all-round shredding genius quickly gained infamy for his 12 hour practice schedules and unorthodox methods.
“I used to divide my day into about 12 hours,” Vai told GP way back in February 1983, when asked to describe his practice routine. “The first nine hours were divided into three equal sections. For the first hour, I would do a series of exercises to develop my fingering. Then I would go through all the scales and modes, and I would write synthetic scales and learn them. Then I would harmonize them and break the chords down. At the end of it all, I would just play.”
“I was transcribing music for Frank Zappa, doing everything from guitar and drum solos to orchestral scores and lead sheets. The work was quite intensive, and I found myself spending 10 or 12 hours a day listening to just one minute of music. I was concentrating so intently that I felt dazed whenever I stopped for a moment, but I achieved unprecedented results. I discovered new forms of written notation, greatly developed my ears, and transcribed some of the most rhythmically complex musical situations ever recorded — all by sheer single-pointedness of mind.”
Daniel Day-Lewis, multiple Academy award winner and all-round acting guru is so utterly devoted to each role, it’s a wonder he even remembers his own name. Check this out…
While playing a brain surgeon in ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’, he taught himself Czech, even though the role was in English. As part of his preparation for ‘Last of the Mohican’s’ he built canoes and spent time living off the land. In his first Oscar winning role, playing cerebral palsy suffer Christy Brown in ‘My Left Foot’, he refused to leave his wheelchair and demanded the crew spoon feed him at meal times. As Bill the Butcher in Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Gangs of New York, Day-Lewis would stay in character and pick fights with random crew members. To top it all off; he lived and slept in an abandoned jail preparing for his role as a prisoner for ‘In The Name of the Father’.
If you were to try something similar… what would happen?
Aren’t you even a little intrigued to find out?
If you’re willing to race – you must be willing to crash
Success is all about taking risks.
It’s often a leap into the unknown. Are you able to leave your comfort zone in the pursuit of the rewards lurking outside?
“What if I fail?”
Then so be it.
Life is not a dress rehearsal – it is all or nothing. If you’re not moving forwards then you may as well give up. Being stationary is akin to falling behind. It serves no purpose.
Comfort is a disease. It strips us of our energy and our vibrancy. We are conned into believing it’s a desirable outcome – but those who feel comfort are just waiting for the light to go out.
They just don’t know it yet.
What do these guys have in common?
Ashley Revell, a 32 year old professional gambler from England sold everything he owned and placed the resulting sum of £76,840 on a single spin of a roulette wheel. He won £153,680.
In 1986, an unknown guitarist by the name of Joe Satriani took out a $5000 dollar credit card in order to record his first album ‘Not of this Earth’. He is now regarded as one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
The answer is simple.
They walked the walk.
Most of us talk about what we want out of life – these guys made it happen. They both knew the risk but they did it anyway.
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take
Climbing his first building without a harness was probably the scariest moment in Alain Robert’s life. But what if he looked up at the daunting task ahead, and decided to call it a day and go home?
Would he be able to live with himself?
I doubt it. The idea of being the first guy in history to climb a skyscraper without any safety equipment would eat away at him for the rest of his life. Every passing day would be another missed opportunity to reach immortality and the adulation of a nation. Everyone remembers the crazy people. He would go down in history as a climbing legend… but not if he went home, tail between his little legs and a thousand excuses trailing from his lips.
What about Kobe Bryant? He’s out there pushing his body to the limits because the alternative is to lay in bed, unable to sleep, terrified his peers are on the practice courts, developing their legend and reaching a level of greatness never seen before.
A winner doesn’t lie down and hope for the best. They take luck out of the equation by training harder than everyone else. When everyone else is sleeping – they’re training. When everyone else is eating – they’re working.
When everyone else has finished for the day – they’re just beginning.
Fear nothing, literally
We’ve all faced seemingly insurmountable challenges and come through unscathed. Even if shit hits the fan and you have to experience an uncomfortable situation – it’s only temporary. You’re still here. You’re reading this – alive, well and ready for the next challenge.
Pain is temporary – strength is permanent.
Every challenge you face strengthens who you are. It toughens you up for the next round. Life is just a computer game and each challenge is another level in your quest for the riches you so desperately seek.
Robert, Bryant, Wilkinson, Vai, Day-Lewis, Revell and Satriani are only able to push themselves to their physical, mental and financial limits because in their minds, there is no other option. Success is almost irrelevant. They have fully embraced and accepted the possibility of failure – and they don’t care.
But here’s the thing…
It’s not about reaching the top. It’s not about working harder than their peers. It’s not about how many goals, points or accolades they earn. It’s not even about the money.
It’s the flat out refusal to accept this is as good as it gets. They’re not ready to give up. They want to push themselves as far as is humanly possible.
They’re willing to die for what they believe in.
Risk vs reward?
The only risk in life is doing absolutely nothing.