On a brisk fall day, Pig and I triumphantly summited Mt. Bierstadt alone (well, as alone as one could be on Bierstadt). It starkly contrasted my first 14er attempt 2.5 years ago, where after 6+ hours of splitboarding up Gray’s and 20 minutes from the summit, I collapsed, cried, and yelled. (Though it’s unclear exactly what I yelled, it was definitely not general audience friendly.) Emerson and Pig were there too, comforting me with their sad beady eyes as I berated myself and whatever came to mind. We turned around and even though we snowboarded down incredible spring corn snow, that day is mostly remembered by me as a day I got engulfed by The FONF.
The FONF stands for The Fear Of No Fun and it encapsulates the self-defeating thoughts and scenarios that weigh you down when confronting challenges. It’s no fun to have to turn around short of an objective. It’s no fun to become irrationally mean and make other people sad. It’s no fun to feel like you don’t belong out there. If something’s not going to be fun, why bother? Why even try? Fear of these things happening make me reluctant to say yes when I’m invited to something that’ll clearly be fun but also hard. It makes taking the next step seem pointless.
Unlike legitimate concerns, The FONF consists of hyperbolic, self-defeating misconceptions about yourself, your surroundings, and the people you’re with. In the case of our Gray’s Peak tour, it was reasonable for me to be a little fearful about skinning above tree line for that extended amount of time. I was rightfully grumpy about turning around at mile 7.7 of 8 because that objectively stinks! However, it was unreasonable to think that turning around meant the day was a complete waste and I will never accomplish anything ever again. Similarly, it’s unlikely that people were offended or even cared about my 1 step per 10 seconds trudge. Barring anything drastic, I was probably not the only person out that day who boarded the struggle bus.
Since Gray’s, I’ve had more FONF-inspired implosions but I’ve learned to mitigate their onset somewhat. I now remind myself of a few thoughts when my eyes start to dagger and my jaw clenches into a scowl (signs of an impending storm of self-doubt and despair) or when my first reaction to an invite is “I shouldn’t because I’ll just be a slow, fun-sucking blob.” Here are 4 of those thoughts:
- It’s not suppose to easy. – For a while, I didn’t truly accept that things will be hard. I thought “this will be hard (but like not really), oh WTF, this is hard! It must be because I suck!” Hard means you should be struggling and feel like your chest will burst. Hard means turning around is always probable and there’s a 99.9% chance that that’s a false peak in front of you. The struggle is more indicative of how you can progress and not of your current and future failures. The challenge makes the reward for this type of fun. As JFK said, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I like to think JFK meant to include mountain biking, splitboarding, and peak bagging in the “other things” category.
- Being mean (to yourself or others) won’t make you or the situation better. – I worry people will hate me when I struggle. On a few occasions, I convinced myself it was a good idea to preempt them and hate myself first! Doing that just made everyone else uncomfortable and me the inconvenience I was desperately trying not to become. Reading Syd Schulz’s “How I Finally Stop Saying Sorry” helped me realize the unconstructive nature of this behavior. (If you’re getting something out of this post so far, I highly recommend you read Syd’s posts.) The part that turned on lightbulbs for me is “[your group members] probably had a fairly good idea of what your ability level was before they rode with you, so they probably knew they would be doing some waiting […] The truth is, if they’re that much faster than you, they probably do think you’re slow. And they probably don’t care. And even if they do care? You shouldn’t care, because you know what — you’re out there, doing your best and it doesn’t make one iota of difference whether someone thinks you’re fast or slow or average or whatever. It changes NOTHING.” From personal experience, I can attest that crying over my perceived flaws and undeservingly calling people jerks did not make me faster or the slope any less steep.
- Incompatible adventure buddies exist and it’s nothing personal. – I’ve learned to accept that there exists incompatible outdoor buddies and no one is to blame for that. Cheese is good. Peanut butter is good. Cheese and peanut butter together? Not so good (as least not that I know of). Blaming cheese or peanut butter and shouting that you hate them won’t make the combo any better. Accept that and move on to find your cracker or your jelly. In the meantime, commit to the people you’re going with. Trust they have too. Once you’re all out there, recognize everyone already did the hardest part — showing up — so enjoy whatever the rest of the day has to offer.
- It’s all pretty silly. – Instead of having my face wind-blasted off while scrambling up a ridge, I could be watching YouTube videos of dogs reuniting with their owners. Instead of ignoring my Reynaud’s and letting my fingers turn into useless Colby Jack cheese sticks every time I go splitboarding, I could be sipping hot tea somewhere warm and indoors. It’s so silly! Noting how silly this whole pushing-our-bodies-in-uncooperative-weather-thing is makes the suffering slightly humorous, sometimes enough to elicit a laugh that provides the air intake desperately needed for that next step.
The next time you catch yourself slipping into no fun paranoia, try thinking about these things and maybe it’ll help unmask whatever is driving it as nonsense. If that doesn’t work, then maybe try dramatically falling down, rolling over, and telling someone, “I’ve been attacked… by The FONF!” Because now that you know what The FONF is, get out there and have fun with it.