Environment Summer 2017

On Being Fearless

Jimmy Chin on Meru

Jimmy Chin Gave the 2017 may commencement address.

“You might not think someone that has spent the last 20 years climbing in the Himalayas, hanging from high altitude alpine walls and skiing first descents in no fall zones around the world would lose any sleep over speaking to a few college students.  But for the record, I’ve spent quite a few nights over the last few months lying in bed, sweating it out, wondering what the hell I was going to say to you all.”

“My parents were Chinese immigrants. They were very traditional and conservative.  For most of my childhood and adolescence, as far as I knew, there were only 4 career paths – doctor, lawyer, professor and investment banker… When I finished college I was under a lot of pressure to pick a traditional career path. I don’t blame them — I knew they only wanted the best life possible for me and I appreciated that.  But that path wasn’t me. So I told them I was going to move west and live out of my car and climb and ski full time. They were horrified. They would say things like, ‘Of course we’re worried. There is no word in Chinese for what you do.’ I would call my sister and ask, ‘How are mom and dad?’ And she would say, ‘They are a bit worried. They think you’re a homeless person.’”

“I struggled with a deep sense of doubt and guilt everyday — particularly when I was living as a vagabond climbing bum, dumpster diving for food behind grocery stores. But I continued to fight for the life I wanted… People often assume I knew what I was doing. That the path was clear to me. Hell no!  I had no idea what I was doing.  I just knew I wanted meaning and purpose in my life and I set out to find it by following my heart. And, by the way, people always talk about following your heart as if it is easy.  ‘Oh, follow your heart!’ Well, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s not that easy. It’s not always clear what your heart is telling you. You have to examine your intentions endlessly. What are you passionate about? Who is it you want to be? What do you want to do? And most importantly, why? These are big questions and these are questions I still ask myself everyday.”

Jimmy Chin Unity College Commencement

Jimmy Chin: “[My parents] were horrified. They would say things like, ‘Of course we’re worried. There is no word in Chinese for what you do.’”

“When I first looked up at Everest to try and ski it, and the first time I gazed up at the icy flanks of Meru, both times I almost turned around and walked away. They seemed too big and too outrageous to comprehend. I was convinced that I would fail. But I stayed and I tried — and I failed spectacularly on both of them. Through those failures, I learned it was okay to be scared. Even good to be scared…. In essence, those failures gave me the confidence to fail more and in turn to seek bigger goals and objectives in climbing but also in other aspects of my life as well — like in filmmaking. I learned not to let the big objectives overwhelm me and that just like in climbing big mountains, it’s about the three feet ahead of you, putting one foot in front of the other… I often think the greatest failure in life could very well be never having failed. It means you never dared to dream big, never tried something extraordinary, never stuck it out there and never took the risks.”

“We live in a time with more forms of communication than any other time in history, yet our country and our politics are more divided than ever. I truly believe that without compassion, empathy and respect, there is no ability to have true discourse. You will not be able to hear others and, in turn, you will not be heard. Remember, we are all in this together, regardless of color, race, sexual orientation and religion. We are all trying to make sense of the world, struggling to find meaning and purpose and to get through our own existential crises…How will you use your voice? How will you use your education to find solutions to the environmental issues we face today? Frankly put, if you can’t de-politicize the discussion and facilitate intelligent and meaningful discourse about protecting our environment, we’re screwed.”

“I encourage you to think big when you go forward, becoming the person you want to be. The one great privilege you have is the privilege of creating a meaningful life for yourself. And when I say a meaningful life, don’t sell yourself short. Go big! Never stop reminding yourself that every day that passes is one less day you have to live, so get out there, take risks, fail spectacularly, be compassionate, empathetic, respectful, be patient with yourself, put one foot in front of the other, create the life you dream of and become the person you want to be. You have no one to do it for you but yourself.”

More at unity.edu/chin