climbing, croissants, and careerlab
Before bed every night, I list fears that rise to the surface. Some are real enough to cast a shadow over my week: midterms, flu season, fatigue. Others are so irrational, I write “not real” in the margins. I think of these as everyday fears: not dangerous, but just real enough to stick.
This week, I tried to face a few.
My friends queued hype songs on the ride to Sunday Night Climbing. Ringing beats turned all the way up crackled over the speaker, a throwback to Saturday night.
In the rental car—a roomy mom van big enough to fit eight of us—we rolled the windows halfway down, dancing in our seats. Since freshman year I had promised to join my friends, to “give it a try,” and this Sunday was the first I didn’t let myself back out.
Central Rock Gym felt smaller than I had imagined. At the counter, protein bars boasted low sugar next to a special chalk for reducing hand sweat. Climbing routes lined each wall in shapes and colors so bright they popped, yellow on purple on orange. This way, belayers on the ground could see clearly enough to yell directions to up high: “Go Rekha—you’re doing so great buddy, just try and stabilize your left foot on that little curvy hold out to the side…yeah, the one that looks like a banana…there you go, right there.” The biggest holds looked bigger than a head; the smallest, smaller than half a fist.
On an angled wall dotted with metal hooks, ropes swung, balancing climbers on either end. Wrist muscles flexed. “That’s lead climbing,” my friends explained. Lead climbing, it turns out, means status: certification.
Brown students filtered in. A handful walked with swagger I’d never seen before, the capital-c “Climbers.” They scanned the gym expertly, mapping a course while unloading personal gear bags and slipping into harnesses. They shared an unofficial uniform: slick leggings under form-fitted tanks or graphic tees advertising activity.
My friends taught me to measure climbs by scale, ranging from beginner’s 5’6” to the impossible 5’13”. I watched Rekha scale a 5’9”—scattered, inconvenient hand-holds dotting an uneven wall—pulling herself quickly to avoid sore arms. I can’t imagine an easy climb, but Rekha made it look conquerable.
Maddie had climbed a 5’8” before but never on an inclined wall— her challenge tonight. She paused a few times (leaning into the harness, looking up, doubting), but she always came back, maneuvering between holds, angled sideways until she finally grabbed the top. From below, Maddie’s climb felt satisfying in a simple, immediate way—she said she couldn’t do it, then she did.
My destination was a 5’6”, chunky holds marking a flat path. I climbed slow and tentative; I’m not used to lifting myself like this, I realized. Halfway up, my hands shook.
I found my fear close to the top—even indoors, strapped into a harness, guided by Rekha and Maddie below. Climbing to the highest hold felt like letting go, trusting, but I couldn’t trust myself yet. “I’m scared,” I repeated without thinking of anything else.
“You’re close,” Rekha promised. I grabbed the last hold and sank back into the harness before she lowered me down.
I left the gym early with Maddie and her boyfriend, Ben, all of us too tired for a second climb. We named ourselves the ACC—Anti-Climbing Club—and laughed about the capital-c “Climbers.”
We shared a bar of dark chocolate and spread homework across desks. I didn’t miss the shaky fear of that wall, the flight instinct I didn’t know to expect, but my climb felt distant now. Back to school, back to Sunday night.
I used to do this all the time. After hours spent researching the perfect cake or pastry spot on Yelp, I could just take myself there. I had favorite desserts: the melty cookie bigger than my hand at the bakery a block from my high school, almonds croissants a train ride away.
But by senior year of high school, food became a source of fear. And even now, after a few years of practice, some strands of that fear still linger. I don’t remember how to enjoy some of those old favorites, “fear foods,” or at least how to enjoy them alone.
So this Monday, I took myself out for breakfast. I walked down the hill to Ellie’s Bakery on Washington Street to try its signature almond croissant.
Ellie’s felt friendly. Pictures of hens and handwritten menus lined the wall, advertising local ingredients and coffee specials. I knew what I had to order—the almond croissant, not a familiar parfait or buckwheat bread—and a server brought it to me oven-warmed, with toasted almonds crumbling off the top.
I sat on a stool at a long counter, lined with morning coffee drinkers ordering their own breakfast treats…scones, rolls, a mysterious jam-filled bun. My mom used to do this all the time when she lived alone, I reminded myself. Walking for croissants—that was one of her favorite activities.
My croissant tasted comforting: nutty, rich and light, a little salty even—worthy of a strong Yelp review. But I struggled to enjoy it. There’s a voice in my head that still exists, feeding fear into food adventures.
On a big chalkboard, Ellie’s calls itself “a place where everyone does their own thing for the love of it.” I want to do that, I thought, looking at it—to adventure alone in search of comfort food, to savor without questioning—and it doesn’t come easily. But I guess this is how I start, learning by taste.
The future has to be more worthy of fear than climbing or croissants, but after pushing it back more than a year, my First Time Conversation at CareerLAB wasn’t the wake-up call that I expected.
Across from a career counselor, our allotted half-hour passed easily with getting-to-know-you questions, summer brainstorming, and concentration research. While we spoke, I filled a notebook page with open-ended promises to myself: “check deadlines,” “go to open hours,” “reach out to alumni.”
In the conversation’s scariest moment, my career counselor said the word career. And yet—psychology, business, education, something where you don’t sit all day—these futures still feel remote, a couple years of conversations away.
I could do this part for now, mapping out possibilities in a comfortable chair. I could start small, or think about starting.
The future isn’t a single fear, I realized…it’s full of everyday climbs, tastes, new lists to face.