My arm hurts.  It’s a historically familiar ache around where the bicep meets the elbow joint.

I’m not surprised by the pain, even though, I last felt it some five or six years ago.

In truth, I welcome it, as a reminder of a really important strategy for living.

The pain is due to my recent re-entry into rock climbing after a near six-year layoff.

I stopped climbing in 2010 so that I could focus on other projects, not least of all becoming a father.  Now that my oldest kid is four and wants to go climbing, I’m back at it with similar enthusiasm to those days when I made almost every choice in my life based upon which rock face I would be dancing across or falling from.

In my younger years I was, to put it politely, reckless. I rarely trained for climbing the hard and dangerous routes that I would often risk my life on. For some reason I trusted that when the going got really tough, I would muster some untapped resource and work my through it.  It mostly worked, though I have to give credit to at least one friend for lightning fast rope handling reflexes that prevented my early check out from life.

I’ve now been climbing five times again in two weeks.  Today was a second day on.

And my arm hurts.

The reminder is that even though I am technically and mentally still a capable climber, I am also vastly out of shape and out of practice for many of the complex and punishing movements that I would have once taken for granted. I never thought I’d say this, but climbing no longer feels easy to me.

With that awareness, I observe a pattern worth generalizing…

In any number of contexts that we desire to perform our best, it’s a good idea to always stay attentive and committed to improving. I suspect that you know people who get comfortable (read: complacent) in their jobs, marriage/relationships, parenting, health, community and education?  Two of my really good friends recently separated after eighteen years of being together. Both of them agreed they had taken each other for granted for at least half of that time.

Another buddy had a million dollar a year job as head of a media team. One day his boss came in and told him it was over. He spent two years unemployed and hit absolute bottom. Looking back, he realized he’d got lazy and dropped the ball too many times from behind his designer desk.

Pained arms are like divorce and job loss, in that they inform us of our regression rather than progression.  I think I’m correct in saying that there is no static phase for any of us. We’re either moving towards a better (to each individual’s own standard) version of life, or regressing in some way.  Often, the regression goes on without our awareness as we slide subtly towards a sudden and unexpected drop.

I love climbing and it’s worth it to me to put the work in to get leaner, fitter, stronger and more flexible. I’ve also decided that I want to be climbing with my sons when I am an old man, so I don’t plan on taking another five-year sabbatical.

Though it’s unlikely I will ever climb as hard as I once did, I can still train towards steady improvement. My arm won’t be aching for long, which is just as well, as I just realized that I haven’t carried a breakfast tray to my wife in bed for some time.

Complacency?

Maybe climbing should be the least of my concerns?