Even if I didn't have as quick of a climb time as I hoped for, that doesn't mean I still didn't work hard, love the view, or truly enjoy the experience.
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Shreya Ganeshan rock climbing
Credit: Courtesy of Shreya Ganeshan

While growing up in Georgia, I was constantly focused on excelling in everything I did, from schoolwork and competing in classical Indian singing competitions to playing lacrosse. It felt like I was always working toward this arbitrary goal of perfection.

After I graduated from the University of Georgia in 2018, I moved across the country to San Francisco for a job as a data scientist at Google. There, I immediately picked up rock climbing, joining my local climbing gym despite not knowing a single soul. I easily made friends — seriously, these gyms are so social, they're basically a bar — but noticed that the climbing community is super male-dominated. Because of that, I began to compare my physical achievements and my mental strength to counterparts who weren't built like me, didn't look like me, and didn't think like me. It's became rough on my well-being, to say the least, because being a perfectionist means I constantly look at my environment and think, "Why am I not that? I could be better, do better."

Shreya Ganeshan Mountain Landscape
Credit: Courtesy of Shreya Ganeshan

But over the last few years, I've slowly come to learn that I'm not perfect, and that's OK. I can't accomplish the same physical achievements as a six-foot-two man can, and I've come to accept that. Sometimes, you've got to hike your own hike, and climb your own climb.

And even if I don't reach a new height or hit a specific climb time in the first go-around, I'm trying to remember that my experience wasn't a complete failure. For example, even if I have a slower time climbing Hawk Hill — a super famous hike in San Francisco — than I did on my previous trip, it doesn't mean I didn't work hard, love the view, or truly enjoy every bit of it. (Related: How Rock Climber Emily Harrington Leverages Fear to Reach New Heights)

My climbs have taught me a lot about my body too — my strength, how to shift my weight, my weaknesses, my paralyzing fear of heights. I respect my body so much for overcoming that and being stronger because of it. But what I love most about rock climbing is that it's a mental puzzle. It's very meditative, since you can't focus on anything other than the problem in front of you.

In one way, it's a complete release from my work life. But it's also a huge part of my personal life that I'm actually proud of cultivating. And if there's any lesson that I've been able to take away from my career in a STEM field and apply to my rock climbing hobby, it's that done is always better than perfect.

Shape Magazine, March 2021 issue

By Shreya Ganeshan and Ellie Trice