Are you governed by fear?
If so, it’s time to figure out if what you’re scared of is real or imaginary.
What if there really isn’t anything to be afraid of?
You might have some setbacks or “fall,” but at the end of the day, you’ll be fine.
In the face of stress, you can get overwhelmed by negative emotions, or you can look forward. You can instead focus on the task ahead.
It’s all about your mindset.
On today’s episode of The School of Greatness, I talk about fear with a champion climber who has learned to be mentally tough by constantly pushing her limits: Sasha Digiulian.
Sasha Digiulian first began climbing at 6 years old, in 1998. She has won the World Championships for Female Overall and has placed Silver in the Bouldering World Championships, as well as Bronze in the Duel. Sasha has been the undefeated Panamerican Champion 2004 to the present, and she is a three-time US National Champion.
Outdoors, Sasha is the first North American woman to climb the grade 9a, 5.14d, recognized as one of the hardest sport climbs achieved by a female. She has done two. Sasha was the third woman in the world to accomplish this grade. Additionally, she has onsighted multiple 8b+’s, 5.14a’s, ascended groundbreaking multi-pitch routes of up to 1000 feet of 8c climbing, and has accomplished multiple First Ascents and 28 First Female Ascents around the world, including a First Female Ascent on the North Face of the Eiger.
Sasha has learned to trust the process and the universe in order to quiet her anxiety.
She says that the only way to get up a mountain is to think positively. She’ll find herself saying, “Just go, just go, just go” when she’s in a tough spot.
So get ready to learn how to have the mindset of a champion risk-taker on Episode 731.
Lewis: This is episode 731 with world champion Sasha Digiulian. Welcome to the school of greatness my name is Lewis Howes, a former athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today, now let the class begin.
Hellen Keller said “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” And Marcus Aurelius said “You have power over your mind not outside evets. Realized this and you will find strength.”
I am so excited about this episode Sasha Digiulian is a professional rock climber who in 2012 became the first American woman to climb grade 9A, after leaving high school she took a gap here to travel and rock climb, concentrating on international competition and outdoor climbing. She won the gold medal at the world championships and she has climbed over 31st female ascents as well as 8 significant first ascent in South Africa, a big wall in Brazil in 2016 and a misty wall in Yosemite in 2017. Digiulian is a 3 time national champion in female open and she has won multiple female open Pan-Am championships from 2004 until the end of her junior career 2010. She was the undefeated Pan-American champion and, wow I’ve been excited about this for a while because she inspires me to grow in my own life. When I watch her images, her videos and watch her story over the last couple of years as I got to know her online, I said ‘I’ve got to have her in the studio and learn about the way she thinks.’ When you’re climbing vertical alone or with a partner, and you’re climbing this huge mountain vertical and that you’re sleeping at the side of the rock, how do you stay mentally prepared? Mentally tough, mentally focus under all the conditions that are being thrown your way on a cliff climbing thousands of feet. Then I said if I could learn some information some wisdom from her own experience and if we could translate that into our own life, if we can translate that into the challenges we’re struggling until the walls we’re climbing and the obstacles that we constantly overcoming and I thought this would be a very powerful episode and it definitely is. Make sure to share this with your friends Lewishowes.com/731 with Sashi Digiulian, she’s an incredible woman make sure to follow her over on Instagram and YouTube and all those places as well.
In this interview we talked about how having an open mind helps with staying focus in your life also how great passion creates the greatest climbers and the greatest achievers in life. Why negativity doesn’t get you anywhere, I don’t care how frustrated you are about something the negativity you have in your life will only hold you back it will not propel you forward, and how to trust the process when you listen to the universe. How to tap into that trust and intuition even more, super pumped about this.
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Again a big thank you to our sponsors for helping us make this one of the best and biggest podcast in the world and spread the message of greatness just like we have with our dear friend today. I am super excited about this one let me introduce to you the one and only Sasha Digiulian.
Welcome back everyone to the school of greatness podcast we’ve got Sasha Digiulian in the house, what’s up girl?
Sasha: So excited to be here.
Lewis: Good to see you. I’ve been trying to get you on for I think a year and a half I was saying earlier, we connected on Instagram so it’s the first time for us hanging out in person but it’s been fun to watch your journey and I’m always curious and fascinated about connecting with people like yourself because what you do is extremely difficult and I could never do it. So, I appreciate your artistry, your work ethic and your skill level because it’s just, I can’t even climb like 7 feet on like an easy wall, I tried this last year where a big handles and everything, my ability is horrible I can’t stay close enough to the wall. So, you are.
Sasha: It’s all relative that’s my little.
Lewis: This is your thing and you’re a former world champion is that right?
Lewis: 3 time USA champion and what’s the discipline called?
Sasha: So rogimian I was the overall rogimians that’s like the combination of all 3 disciplines sport climbing, bouldering and speed climbing and for now its sport climbing. So in Pan-Ams slow competitions.
Lewis: What’s the difference between the 3? For those that don’t know anything about.
Sasha: Yeah, so speed climbing is basically the most digestible form of completion climbing that you can describe an audience and that’s whoever gets the top of a modulated wins.
Lewis: Artificial wall. How tall is the wall?
Sasha: its 15 meters which is about 45 feet and then sport climbing is also on all competition climbing on artificial settings. So sport climbing is more of a difficult path that no one has ever climb on before and so it’s new to every single competitor so we’re all in like a clean playing field.
Lewis: You don’t get to practice beforehand? You just see the wall.
Sasha: No, you don’t. You see the wall and then you have 1 shot to get as high as you can and then the tiebreaker is timed. Then bouldering is similar but it’s a composite of different boulder problems and normally there’s 45 boulder problems and each of these there’s rounds qualifier, semifinals, finals but bouldering is the shorter more powerful form of climbing. So there’s about normally 8 movements on shorter walls whereas sport climbing is 15 to 20 meter walls is like 60 feet, bouldering is like a maximum 15 feet.
Lewis: Got it.
Sasha: Because you don’t have a rope, so if you fall you fall into like a gymnastics pad.
Lewis: Interesting. So, you started this when you’re really young?
Sasha: Yeah, I started climbing when I was 6.
Lewis: Did you dad get you into this or did someone?
Sasha: No, so I went to my brother’s birthday party at a local climbing gym and he was turning 8, he was a hockey player I was figure skating. We went it was like this little group of boy hockey players and me and then I grew up super competitive with my brother and I think that something like very engaging about climbing for me was that finally I found where I was better than brother at.
Lewis: First try?
Sasha: Yeah but so I did well, I think I had a natural inclination to like do well at the birthday party whatever that means and so the gym employee told my mom ‘Hey, Sasha seems to really enjoy this, you know we have a junior team program.’ And that was this program that meets each Wednesday and Saturday morning. So, I started going to that it was like a group of youth kids that from the area I grew up in DC. Then one Saturday morning I walked into the gym and they were holding a youth regional championships and that was how I literally stumble upon the competition climbing.
Lewis: Wow, the rest is history you just kept pursuing it.
Sasha: Yeah, so that’s when I went to the first competition and I was 7 and I can be in the 11 and under, I won my category kind of like
Lewis: First time?
Sasha: Yeah, I mean like beginners luck and then I started competing in a youth level, I started competing my first international competition was actually the North American Championships in Mexico City when I was I think 10 or 11.
Lewis: It’s pretty cool.
Sasha: And then that was like my first big international competition to win and then I started competing for the U.S national team when I was 16 because that’s your eligibility for competing for the U.S on like the world cup circuit and then did the world cup circuit won the championship then I started to transitioning my career more to outdoor climbing.
Lewis: So after you won the world championships how old were you then?
Sasha: I was 18 just turning 19.
Lewis: That’s starting to like get old in the competition world right?
Sasha: It is I mean it’s definitely in your competition prime I would say you’re about 16 to 22.
Lewis: Okay, so you won the world championship is that always the goal as a kid? Just like to go, be on the USA team win the world championships?
Sasha: Yeah, I mean my goal as a kid was like win nationals or like climb 514 which is a number in climbing that number on the grade scale 5 point scale. So, as you progress up numerical scale it becomes numerically more challenging.
Lewis: How you go.
Sasha: Yeah, exactly.
Lewis: 5.0 is?
Sasha: 5.0 is super easy it’s like slob like walking on climber.
Lewis: Really? So I could do that?
Sasha: You could definitely do higher grades than that.
Sasha: And then as you get into 510 that’s when it starts getting more technically challenging. So the grades breaks into sub categories of (A, B, C, D) that’s 5.10A and then 5.10B is harder than 5.10A and that goes up to 5.15.
Lewis: That’s like the hardest grade, is that like straight up?
Sasha: Basically like there’s like minimal holds and like a challenging angle and I mean the beauty of climbing is you fall a million times before piecing together something that you are working on. So one question I get asked a lot is do you ever fall? And it’s ironic to me because I fall all time, I’m not free soloing my discipline is free climbing. So free climbing and free soloing the difference is I have a rope so if I fall I fall into the rope and I’m totally safe.
Lewis: But you fall and hit a rock still right?
Sasha: Ideally not like you fall into air or you kind of like pendulum softly into the rock.
Sasha: Yeah, so if you’re climbing you have different points of security along the way and you’re basically clipping a carabineer into the rock and then you clip your rope into that carabineer and then if you fall you basically fall into your lowest carabineer.
Lewis: 3 feet 6 feet?
Sasha: Yeah, it could be like 60 feet it could be 10 feet, like 60 feet could be like major fall.
Lewis: You drop that far before?
Sasha: Definitely takes some big rope falls.
Lewis: 60 feet?
Sasha: Ideally you’re falling from air and that’s like.
Lewis: So, you’re not gonna fall and hit a rock, you’re falling and then just like in air?
Sasha: Yeah and a lot stressing your climbing partner because it’s the (?) responsibility to give you a good catch. So like give into the dynamism of the rope.
Lewis: How do you get back if you falling into air I’m assuming like angle like up-side-down. So how do you actually get back to the rock?
Sasha: So, if you took like a really big fall you ideally have what’s called a (?) to ascend the rope and that’s like just you put it into the rope and climb up on the rope, if it’s not too big of a fall or you can reach the rock then you just kind of pull in the rope yourself, but in order to successfully ascend a climb like surfers wave you have to start at the bottom and reach the top without falling. So where there’s like what I’ve gotten into the last few years is big wall climbing and that’s multiple role playing on top of each other so you could be spending like multiple days on the cliff face and in order to successfully free climb something, you need to not fall once. So if you start from the bottom and you reach the top maybe it’s like 3,000 feet or something then everything in consecutive order has to be done perfectly.
Lewis: Or if you fall once it won’t catch you and bring you down once?
Sasha: Then you have to go back down.
Lewis: All the way back down?
Sasha: The last pitch and each pitch is broken up by rope.
Lewis: How far is that?
Sasha: Could be like 150 feet or so really depends.
Lewis: So if you fall 150 feet is that, people do that?
Sasha: Oh you wouldn’t fall that far that’s like the link of the entire pitch, hopefully you don’t fall 150 feet.
Lewis: If you fell 6 feet you gonna do that whole? Go back down?
Sasha: Yeah and that happens all the time. So you’ll learn a lot about like patience and the process because it’s kind of like putting together jigsaw puzzle you have all these different pieces and all these like link cliff phase sequences to put together and try and figure out how to get through this one passage like really challenging.
Lewis: And make it without falling?
Sasha: Yeah and then put them all together.
Lewis: So the natural progression for climbers who are competitive is to go on the world circuit ranks and try to win championships and do the artificial climbs, the indoor climbs it’s mostly indoor I’m assuming?
Sasha: Yeah indoor.
Lewis: And then once you maxed that out the transition is to go outdoor?
Sasha: That’s a really natural progression because climbing by nature is an outdoor sport and that’s where you can really push the envelope of human capacity, because there’s like this limitless horizon of what you can possibly achieve in places that you can climb, cliffs to ascend.
Lewis: What’s the highest mountain you’ve climbed?
Sasha: I climb the north face of the eiger in Switzerland and that’s I think about 13,000 feet.
Lewis: You climbed 13,000 feet from the bottom or was it like half already and you started from there?
Sasha: From the bottom.
Lewis: How long does that take?
Sasha: Actually, we did that particular route in 3 days and it was first female ascent up, one of the climbs I did with a climbing partner that we ended up what’s called (?) where you sleep on the side of the mountain and then you’re just kind of fully engulf in the process of climbing big walls or big mountains, which I love because it kinds of mutes all the surrounding chaos in our daily lives.
Lewis: Nothing else matters.
Sasha: Yeah, you have to be present.
Lewis: So this is a 3 day climb with one other person, are you the first female to complete it?
Sasha: Yeah, the first female ascent. So a lot of my career in outdoor climbing is doing first ascent or first female ascent around the world.
Lewis: First ascents for any human?
Sasha: Yeah, that’s the goal. So I mean like climbing it brings you everywhere because there is basically a place to climb around the world in every remote location you can think except for barren deserts.
Lewis: So now when you do this first ascents you are with some else though?
Sasha: Yeah, I always go with someone else and often because you need a climbing partner. So the climbing partner that you have is doing this climbs with, so normally you’re climbing together or your climbing partner is supporting you and then often I go with a film crew too. A lot of I mean professional climbing like how you make a living is through your endorsement deals and then a lot of what we do is content creation.
Lewis: If you don’t have a content then it’s like maybe 1 or 2 photos or something and that’s it right?
Sasha: Yeah, what’s interesting is like in today’s world social media has shifted the whole land and landscape of what professional climbing looks like because now instead of talking about my adventures I can share them on like a live basis which is really cool.
Lewis: Yeah, your Instagram is amazing so inspiring it’s like this epic shots of you. How do you stay focus when it’s like okay I’m about to climb this next step but its scary moment.
Sasha: I mean sometimes you encounter parts of the climb that you don’t think are physically possible for you and a lot goes into like kind of dwindling down little pieces and trying out different ways that you can a solution.
Lewis: Because you’ll try and you’ll fall a bunch a few feet or whatever.
Sasha: Exactly and you keep like pulling back on and trying something else fall, pull back on try like a little credit card size into the rock to dingle off of and then if that doesn’t work then you either just like keep banging your head on it or like train harder and return.
Lewis: What happens if it doesn’t work? You just go back down?
Sasha: Yeah, sometimes.
Lewis: Shut up, simply a thousand feet in the air.
Sasha: Yeah it can be like I can’t do this right now. You can literally stop like if you’re on a 3,000 foot climb you can be stop by 6 feet because like if something doesn’t go and you can’t physically do it and move then that can be the end. I think a lot of what climbing has taught me is there’s often a solution you just have to kind of like open your mind up to different possibilities and a lot of climbing what’s so intriguing about sport physically to me is that it can be the smallest differences and body positioning that makes all the differences. So, it’s like all upper body hand string oriented sport but you’re really using your entire body like your core, hips and really the driving force you are using your foot work really well because you have to balance on like tiny little nubbins and shift your weight and allocate exert enough force to move up the wall.
Lewis: Yeah, I feel bad now when I have this 20 foot artificial wall with huge hand holds and I can’t even get up to climb.
Sasha: The artificial walls can be really challenging. I mean so a lot of pro climbers train indoors like I train at it climbing gym in order to prepare for my outdoor climbs, I even built a gym in my house.
Lewis: That’s really cool.
Sasha: It’s like no excuses every room in my house has some sort of training equipment like do I live in the gym or is my house turning into a gym.
Lewis: What the key to being one of the greatest climbers like what’s the principles and fundamentals?
Sasha: I mean not to be cheesy or anything but I think the passion about it like in my opinion you can succeed at whatever it is that you really will yourself to want and if you love what you’re doing then just naturally you’re gonna do it a lot and put in the hours of practice and engage your mind and body and perform optimally. And like I love the climbing community so much there’s just this interconnect in nature of it around the world like I can go to Spain and have like this Spanish family that I connect with through this overarching passion, or I could go to Madagascar or South America, like wherever it is there’s always this climbing community that you can connect with because you’re both, you’re doing something you really love.
I think passion in my opinion is the number 1 ingredient to succeeding in anything.
Lewis: Is it more male dominated or female dominated?
Sasha: It’s definitely male dominated and the background of climbing.
Lewis: Why is that?
Sasha: I think it’s that the background of climbing was traditionally many men were doing and now they are definitely a lot more woman getting into climbing which is like amazing, I love to see it and especially on the gym, climbing has been exploding and it seems from the gym industry like gyms are popping up in urban locations around the world. But their transition from indoor climbing to outdoor climbing is still like I think more men are making that transition that women, but as I go to more popular like what’s called sport climbing areas then I’m seeing more women, I think that like women just needs to see other women doing it and be like why not? That’s what I feel strongly about like first female ascent and first ascent in general is like you don’t need to be held back if you see, if I see that a woman has done something I can be so much more inspired and connected to that than if I see a male has done it, because maybe it’s less relatable but the beauty of climbing too is that woman and man are both capable of achieving the same heights.
Lewis: I almost feel like woman have more of an advantage because of you know being tinier and smaller and the strength in that size right?
Sasha: Yeah, on certain climbs certainly, like woman have a tendency to have a really good technique I mean obviously men too and like hip mobility, climbing is a strength to body ratio sport so the stronger you are then that’s really good but then you also want to be in total body control and awareness. So it’s kind of like I mean in your ideal state it’s like a dance with the wall.
Lewis: Did you take dance lessons?
Sasha: I used to do ballet and figure skating, I competed in figure skating and that’s kind of like. So I’m dual citizen with Canada and like my whole family is like skiing, skating winter sports so I’m not the only one in the family who climbs actually.
Lewis: Did figures to be a better climber?
Sasha: I think ballet and figure skating gave me a good body awareness, like another sport that has a really good crossover is gymnastics.
Lewis: Do you do gymnastics too?
Sasha: No, but I love watching gymnastics.
Lewis: Can you do backflips and everything?
Sasha: No sadly. I never tried backflip.
Lewis: Have you ever tried to do just like a pull-up challenges? Like how many can you do?
Sasha: Yeah, we do a lot of pull-ups in training and a lot of times are weighted pull-ups because that’s a quicker way to gain strength.
Lewis: Holding like 100 pounds between your legs is crazy. How many pull-ups can you do just free body?
Sasha: Probably around 30 to 40.
Lewis: Wow, you’ve got to be able to do that you need that endurance.
Sasha: Yeah, you need like, so something that I installed in my house for instance is a treadwall and that’s like a treadmill but its rotating wall. So you could climb like thousands of feet in one session without actually vertically gaining.
Lewis: It’s a wall that moves that has?
Sasha: And you can set different climbs on it and you can take out and change them out and then you can change the speed at which the motor goes from a notch of like 1 to 10. So that’s something that I used a lot and why it’s like helpful in my house. And then I have a hang board which is where you hang from your fingertip normally with weight or train what I am currently training right now with one arm pull-ups.
Lewis: You do?
Sasha: I’m like close but.
Lewis: With just fingertips?
Sasha: Yeah, I do it on a climbing hold because that’s the most applicable.
Lewis: What if you just grab the bar think you can do it?
Sasha: I think if I’d be close I think that I can hold the locks which is like holding at certain position, but I’m too weak still to do.
Lewis: Really? You’re too weak? How is that even possible?
Sasha: I’ll blame it on the added weight.
Lewis: There you go. How do you manage stress when you’re in a difficult situation?
Sasha: I certainly definitely been in stressful situations where one time one of my first big walls I was climbing and we got to a point where we got all through and we had to untie and basically make a decision if we’re gonna simul climb or wait to the top.
Lewis: What’s that?
Sasha: Simul climb is when you’re connected to your partner and if you fall then you know you both go down, but there’s the off chance that the other climber being able to hold you both but you know it’s not likely and this is like not a scenario that I normally get into but it’s just the extreme situation of what climbing brings you to the moment. And it was because we’re doing a big wall and on big walls normally you have to get to the top after a certain point because you can’t repel down the entirety of the route. So when you get to the summit then there’s normally a repel line that you got on it’s like a hike and we got about a hundred vertical feet left in front of us and we couldn’t find any sort of gear to secure to the rock with malleable loose and then the other option was to continue to the top just like free solo, and free soloing is not something that I do on a regular basis I’m not actually in favor of free soloing and it’s also like if you fall mathematically certainty death.
Lewis: You will die.
Sasha: Yeah exactly. But in this situation it was kind of like this is our reality so in that moment there’s no room for thinking about like what could go wrong because that’s all with this negative energy that’s gonna be compounded and make that chance more likely so you have to, like really I have to just focus on my breathe and be like I’m getting to the top and just like think positively and channel all of my concentration energy towards climbing and reaching the summit and.
Lewis: How high up were you at this point?
Sasha: We’re about like a thousand feet up the ground.
Lewis: You did free solo?
Sasha: Yeah we had to do free solo and this is like one of the situations where like rest mitigation of like fear irrational fear, rational fear and this was like rational fear to have like I can’t fall and then also navigating lose rock, and this was in the dolomites in Italy.
Lewis: How steep is this?
Sasha: This is pretty vertical and I was climbing and my left hand and left foot broke and like I could feel the weight of this rock just like falling into this blink wisp of darkness and kind of like this mind body convergences of I just, I think I tap into that flow in state of getting to the top.
Lewis: Wait your left hand and foot broke what do you mean?
Sasha: Like the rock.
Lewis: So your climbing it like the epic movie scene which falls back and you’re hanging from one arm and hundred feet from top and a thousand feet up and if the other hand would’ve broke as well you’d be dead?
Sasha: That’s it yeah.
Lewis: That’s crazy. So, wait a minute there’s 2 options you could free solo or you could do the other one which was?
Sasha: Simul climb which is being connected to each other.
Lewis: But if one person falls you both die?
Sasha: Right, I mean if that person can’t hold.
Lewis: Who’s gonna hold it?
Sasha: Yeah it was kind of like you know in climbing this is a really rare situation like that’s happened to me that was probably one of the most extreme situations that I’ve been in climbing but you have to just confront what the reality in front of you is sometimes and make decisions based on. I will always make the safest decision and that’s why this scenario was so rattling to me because I don’t free solo and we had to in that situation and it’s kind of like, you have to make do with what you have.
Lewis: Could you not have gone back down?
Sasha: It would’ve been really not in this particular climb.
Lewis: Thousand feet down it’s really hard to do that right?
Lewis: Did you fell down from that point?
Sasha: No, normally when you’re on a big wall it’s hard to bail after a certain point because you go through a lot of terrain that’s really divergent and the dolomites particularly and somewhere like Yosemite you can always like bail down, you don’t have to get to the top, you can get back down or more vertical like clean faces you can do that but certain mountains you kind of like when you’re in it you have to commit.
Lewis: And you know there’s no coming down after 500 feet or whatever after a certain terrain? So you know that going into this climb like you have to make it to the top?
Sasha: Yeah, it was also nearing night time and so like you want to get to the top so get off the actual mountain
Lewis: So how long were you guys I guess climbing until you are failing until you had to make this decision?
Sasha: We didn’t fall there we were just trying to find like points of security like a bowl or somewhere where we could put a piece of equipment like a friend or a cam and that’s like a device that you use, you put this device into a fisher and there’s different sizes that matchup with different size of the slot in the rock, that’s just as safe as a bowl if you know what’re doing and how to place it.
Lewis: If you fail you’d be hanging?
Sasha: Yeah, but when you’re on really malleable rock like a break.
Lewis: It’s not secure?
Lewis: Okay, so how long were you thinking like you can’t find a space to lock in, how long was that until you had to make a decision either way?
Sasha: Probably under an hour for sure.
Lewis: So you’re trying to find this thing for an hour?
Sasha: Yeah, because you can just get lost on like a particular cliff face if it’s big and like the dolomites and it’s not that clear of the path and like the hardest part of our climb physically and technically most challenging was earlier on in the day and we got through that part quite quickly, but then more adventurous aspect of it which actually where stuff really gets dangerous was where we ended getting to the summit about 9pm and having to sleep at the top that night unprepared.
Lewis: So are you hanging from this rope for this hour are you hanging on the side of the rock for an hour?
Sasha: Yeah, so we were at the last (?) that we saw. So this is not like to scare you because this is like I’ve been climbing for 20 years and this hasn’t happen once, but I guess at this point being there are extreme circumstances that if you are pushing your envelope in outdoor climbing sometimes you face extreme risk, and sometimes you face risk that actually isn’t risk it’s like you’re high up your last protection piece and it’s seems scary to let go and fall but you’re actually gonna be totally fine and that’s where I would say like rational fear and irrational fear. So, that’s like you can get down to the route of like why am I scared of falling? And maybe that’s because irrational fear would be it’s just like a scary air fall and the rational fear would be like ‘Well there’s this huge ledge beneath me and it could break my leg.’ Then yeah you have the right to be scared and so it’s a lot about choices and trusting your gear, trusting your climbing partner, trusting yourself and not thinking about negative circumstances like sometimes you just have to act.
Lewis: So you got a hundred feet to go and you got to free solo that means you have to unclip everything?
Sasha: Yeah, you coil the rope and carry it.
Lewis: As you’re looking up to this top a thousand feet up and you’re seeing you’re about to free solo this, do you see the route you’re gonna take? Like do you see it before you take it or is it just one step at a time looking for the next hold?
Sasha: Yeah, so like this last stretch of the climb was actually easy terrain, so we knew that we are capable of just like the rock was really loose and finding the right way that’s gonna be like the most solid rock and also you don’t want to get off route but you don’t really know where the route is. So you’re just navigating in a sea of limestone.
Lewis: But you can feel different holds it’s like dirty holds for you and feel like it’s not like there’s nothing.
Sasha: So, kind of like with professional skier or professional surfer, professional rock climbers you learn how to read rock faces. So, I can look at that cliff and see the most accessible way to get to the top and that’s based on like what parturition in the rock you see where you see like angles and curvatures, you just kind of become an expert at reading that because that’s what you’re doing all the time.
Lewis: And so when your left hand and left foot broke off and you’re hanging did you have a fear that you were gonna die then or was it like this sense of calm you got this?
Sasha: Yeah I know this was one of my first big wall experiences and it was definitely, I’m freaking out for a moment and what was a really big turning point for me was the point that I was like all of it like whatever I want to say to my climbing partner, whatever like blame or anxiety or negativity that I feel about this situation, he’s in the exact same situation he can’t help me only I can help me get out of this and that’s by being in control of myself. So, it’s kind of like on a more micro level like negative energy and negative thoughts and doubts doesn’t get you anywhere that only waits progress up the mountain or the climb or whatever it is. It’s like by thinking positively, by thinking about what you can do to get out of a bad situation and thinking like forward. So, I mean that was kind of like the situation that had to be in control.
Lewis: What’s your thought process of going into a big climb or first ascend what do you visualize the day before, the morning of and throughout the entire climb?
Sasha: So before a big wall something that I like to do is laying out everything that’s in my pack. So if I need my sleeping bag or sleeping mat and like my lunch on the wall and normally, I actually make my own bars. So I’m gonna bring some bars and like beef jerky and I normally crave like salty foods all the time in the wall, not sugary, especially if you’re doing something in like alpine because it’s cold and you kind of want hard to your stuff and then like your climbing gear always lay out like my different layers that I am bringing so like a soft shell, a gortac shell and then I put it all in and like I’m ready to go and then it’s where exciting because normally you start like super early, like this summer I was doing what was called Canadian trilogy which were 3 of the most challenging big walls in the Canadian Rockies and I want to the first female ascent of them and the 2nd ascent and some of the days were like 18+ hours.
Lewis: You sleep on the wall?
Sasha: No, I was doing them all and I wanted to do them each of the day so we would leave at like 5 or 5:30 in the morning, hike for about 4 hours and get to the base of the climb and then you’re on the climb for like 12 hours and then you come back down and you’re hiking out to like the early dawn.
Lewis: You belaying down or you climb?
Sasha: We repel down.
Lewis: What’s belay?
Sasha: Belay is like when you’re belaying your climbers so the climbers going up then you have your belayer who is springing you.
Lewis: This is crazy like a whole another world.
Sasha: I mean yeah like we have a little, I mean climbing is growing but there’s still a lot of people unfamiliar of even fact that climbing is a profession.
Lewis: So what do you think about on the climb? Because you map everything out you lay it out you prepare that, what’s the thought process? Are you day dreaming are you present at the moment? What’s going through your mind for 18 hours a day because you go to think something?
Sasha: It’s interesting because it really depends what portion of the climb I want, on the most difficult part of the climb I’m really present and I’m thinking about what each next movement and it could be I’m narrating to myself like my hand turn and grab this, shift your foot like play by play. Then if I’m on an easier section then my mind can kind of wonder a little bit but I’m probably less in tune with that flow state of when I’m of just firing and I’m only thinking in the present of my mind and my body are kind of like converge together and I think that happens a lot when it’s like the 8 hour mark and you’ve been climbing and hiked before that for 4 hours and you’re just like fatigued but something is pushing you through it and you’re just like in it. Then a lot of big wall climbing is also systems so setting up your belay system to help your partner or like hauling up your bag or organizing your rope like there’s a lot of management that goes into it. So sometimes you’re like thinking like this damn rope is tangled and I’m hanging here like there’s all sorts of things that you could be thinking of, but I also sometimes can of like have a little mantras that go through my head.
Lewis: What are those?
Sasha: Like you can and like hold on something like that.
Lewis: Not let go?
Sasha: Or like just go kind of like internally.
Lewis: Who taught you the power of mantras?
Sasha: I think it was just like trial by error like trial by fire, I haven’t really learn any formal coaching on mantras but I really do believe in listening to the universe and I think that if you open yourself up to what the universe is trying to say to you then there’s this timing and process to life that makes sense if you let it make sense. So everything in my life I mean it feel like when I looked back ‘Oh that makes sense.’ The timing and the situation, negative experience led me to a positive experience it’s kind of interesting that it makes me less anxious if I just trust the process, even right now I have this air boot because I have a fractured fibula and it’s like when I did that it was after, I was training for the marathon and I was on a climbing trip through Europe and then Jordan and then back to Europe and so I had this pain in my leg and like I don’t know why my leg is so painful but I’m just gonna keep charging on, it was hiking with heavy pack and climbing.
Lewis: And training?
Sasha: Yeah training for the marathon. Like not listening to my body but then I got to Germany and I got an MRI and I learned that it’s a stress fracture and it was like good thing my pain tolerance isn’t negligible at least. But then when I was given this air boot and I arrived to this series like conference in Miami with international women’s forum and I had all of these blossoming business ideas and I had to be in one place to actually like take advantage of and organize thing just like give my life a little room to breathe and be home and get grounded again. So, I saw this air boot as like life’s way of saying slow down and listen to your body and just be still and I think I’m in a much healthier mindset than I was when I was not stopping travelling because I was like on the road for 4 months straight up to this point of like, now you’re gonna like can inward and get your life just like let it chill. My house is in Boulder but like I’m never there, I love Boulder I have a cat that’s like ‘Hey, welcome to my house.’
Lewis: Well you have a good cat that can take care of itself.
Sasha: She’s super personal.
Lewis: What’s the greatest challenge you feel like you’ve overcome in your life?
Sasha: I think one big challenging chapter of my life was I was a full time student at Columbia and I was also managing my professional career as a climber.
Lewis: Living in New York City?
Sasha: Yeah, and I love New York City it’s probably my favorite city in the world but it’s not like a city where you can really climb outside a lot, I was travelling about like Thursday evening through Monday evenings, I would be like in Beijing for signing for Adidas and like in Japan for a competition just like kind of like always living on the plane half of my week and doing my schoolwork on the plane but also like think trying to managed being a full time student while also maintaining my career and not let my physical performance slip too much, but also having to recognize the backseat that climbing was gonna take for this particular timeframe was kind of like mentally and physically challenging because I think like as athletes particularly we’re really hard on our bodies and ourselves like if we are not getting the physical performance that we want out of ourselves then I had to learn to just like be kinder to myself and be like ‘It’s okay, you have a lot going on but you don’t really like notice that at the moment.’ So like why am I not performing at this level like I was last year and you don’t really comprehend the obvious. So having graduated from school I felt like I have this big weight off my shoulders to really just focus in on my climbing career again which was nice and I’m so thankful that I went to school though, because I grew up in a family that like academics weren’t number 1 and climbing was something my parents were really supportive off of me doing that because that’s what I was passionate about, but they never provided any sort of like, they weren’t like ‘If you don’t win nationals that like you’re terrible type of thing.’ They are more like you need to get straight A’s at school and then you can take off time to go climbing. But they really saw like this academics and athletics balance converge really well and so I think that what I am really thankful that they push on me was the importance of putting my best self forward and like my dad was always like ‘Have fun, try your hardest and be safe.’ And that was like the 3 things that didn’t matter as long as you put your best self forward and then like be safe was parent denominator.
Lewis: That’s great always be safe right? Well who is more influential in your life growing up mom or dad?
Sasha: I would say that my mom and I had a closer relationship just we are probably more similar, with my dad we played football and was really into watching hockey. As I grew up going to the capitals games, we had season tickets I love hockey. Then when I was in New York the rangers are the team that I always root for. My mom learned actually how belay me, so she would come to the gym and belay me as I was training and then like my coach would tell me what to do and then she would be there to support. But I never once shared a contract with my parents nor I like asked them for any professional help and I think that was a little bit of me proving myself in this sport, when I grew up professional climbing wasn’t something that I was aspired to do because professional climbing wasn’t really a thing, it was like professional climbers people that I looked up to are like live in their vans in Yosemite and like were dirt bags and that’s not to like knock that culture just like they weren’t sponsored with like well supportive contracts and living wherever they wanted and travelling around the world. That’s kind of like new thing.
Lewis: What has brought that to I guess to brands to be more invested in? What is that is that different content that people are putting out there?
Sasha: I think that that’s an access to contents like now we have so many platforms to share content and also I mean the gym industry is definitely leading this fitness trend like climbing is social form of exercise that’s really great all body sport, climbing is like this gateway to the outdoors like families gone ski vacations and you can do a decimation climbing vacation.
Lewis: That’s cool.
Sasha: Like you can bring your family to Spain and go climbing or go to Yosemite and then also I think it’s just like people who are spokesperson of the sport of climbing doing their job of like trying to reach a broader audience it’s like for my career I just want to really inspire more people to know about what climbing is, even if they don’t climb just like see my career as like you can do whatever your passion about and even if it’s not a profession already you can create that path.
Lewis: And make a living off of it
Lewis: You making a full time living your passion even though it’s not that popular, big mainstream sport or activity. You call it sport? Even if it’s outdoor and no competition?
Sasha: Yes sport, yeah because there is competition but yeah adventure sport is really the category of climbing and climbing like my contracts put me through Colombia. Now, yeah you can be a climber and make a good living off of this sport like any other like high end athlete, but it’s definitely a new discipline I mean it’s a new sport. We have really (?) and there’s sides of climbing that are really anti corporate sponsors and then there like a new age that’s really accepting, we want to grow our sport we accept this bigger companies being involved because that means more exposure and more support to giving back in conservation and are non-profits like the more you educate people to care about the environment because they’re being interactive with it, then I think the more incline they are to protect it as well. And as a climber we naturally have this affinity for the outdoor spaces and for conservation because that’s our natural playground.
Lewis: Do you have a lot of friends that died from this sport?
Sasha: I do.
Lewis: Like close friends or?
Sasha: Yeah, we definitely suffered some significant losses in our community and I mean there are certain people that I’ve lost that have really rattled me, have either been close friends or people that I looked up to seeing Potter ever since, his dad has always been known the safe and calculated climber even though what he was doing was so extreme and I think he died base jumping but it really put the climbing community at this point of like no one is indestructible and we’re all mortal, I think that’s really my issue with recently as that it just takes one mistake and like that’s it.
Lewis: How many are free soloing a year?
Sasha: Not many, very small percentage.
Lewis: Is this 20 or like 100?
Sasha: I think you probably need to more like percentage of climbers and that’s like 1% of like probably a lot of people have seen free solo that session normally. Like even Tommy Caldwell in the film my hero in the film spoke so candidly about what free soloing is and he’s like one of the great all time legends in climbing but he doesn’t free solo, because I mean if I fall it’s okay maybe I’d break something but the having gone through personal loss like family to friends, like I don’t want to put my family through my own passing, like I want to be there like I’ve seen firsthand and what loss can do to a family and that’s really hard to come at hand like why I would selfishly decide to do that to my friends and family.
Lewis: Yeah, because you’re already at risk but you’re just taking calculated risk being as safe as you can.
Sasha: Yeah, exactly which is like after that story I told people are like yeah. But that was one time and you know my like 20 years of climbing I definitely had like risky situations that were maybe similar but I think a lot is knowing how to use your equipment, being as expert as you can in systems and knowledgeable and why like with climbing there’s like this endless potential of growth and wisdom that you can get for the mountains for climbing that you stay humble because, I mean the mountain doesn’t care like what’s gonna happen to you.
Lewis: Now you’ve lost many friends but you said you also lost people in your family, is your dad passed away?
Sasha: Yeah, he had a stroke in 2014 and never woke up from it.
Lewis: And was that like for you and your family? Did it change the path down your career in a different way or did it just confirm to go down in a deeper way?
Sasha: I think when I lost my dad it brought a lot more awareness being present in the moment and just appreciating the people in my life, I had just gone on a trip from Montreal back to DC where I grew up. I was taking off to Wyoming and I was going there on a climbing trip and what was really interesting was that I was like a clear bluebird day and my flight, he brought me to the airport and my flight was cancelled and it was delayed 24 hours and it was like ‘Hey dad can you pick me up at the airport?’ WE went to spend the night watching the Kings and the Rangers the year that they were in the playoffs together. The next morning he brought me to the airport and I took off to Wyoming and it was like then 2 weeks later my mom called me from the ambulance ‘Dad just had a stroke.’ I was out climbing, I drove straight to the airport and it was like I’ll be there when he wakes up and there was like this week in the hospital just waiting and not knowing what’s gonna happen and then he never did come through for that. It’s like moments like that where I look back and that’s so interesting like why was my flight cancelled. You can think about that and no matter what you believe you can just like see moments like having appreciation for them and I think that in my life over the years I’ve definitely fine tune like I have a lot of comfort and self-confidence through climbing and that’s like a part of my identity and it’s giving me a lot of direction with my life, but then appreciating like who my friends are the closest to me are, my brother and my mother. Mom and I have a really close relationship and some of my cousins, my aunts and uncles also like, they’re all in Canada. So that’s where I kind of like call home when I say I’m going back for Christmas in Canada, my mom’s in Montreal and we grew in the house in Montreal. But I think just like maintaining contact with the relationships that you have and not just like taking people for granted is important and that’s something that, I mean even as the years go by I become more appreciative of it because you know like once you’re in a more public sphere you have to kind of filter like the intention of people sometimes and I think that makes me more appreciative of the grounding of the loving forces of my life and like that’s where I feel the most hole.
Lewis: Would you say that was one of the biggest lessons you took away from his death?
Sasha: Yeah, I think that appreciating the moment and being aware that nothing is certain like things can change.
Lewis: Was he a healthy guy?
Sasha: Yeah there was no lead up, I mean it was just like this he was at a coffee table in our dining room with my mom and brother and then he fell over and the ambulance came actually right away, we live in Old Town, Alexandria.
Lewis: Like 10 minutes?
Sasha: Super quick but it was a hemorrhagic stroke there was like excessive bleeding in his brain which shut all neurological functioning and.
Lewis: And you saw him a couple of weeks before he was healthy, he work out or?
Sasha: He was a big Italian so he was always turning the steaks on the grill and probably way too much red meat, probably like health concerns that you look at in retrospect. But from our state everything was fine but he was really stress and that’s another thing like he was running his own business and like I think that stress is such a killer, like it’s I mean literally you know.
Lewis: I had a friend on, a couple of weeks ago Robert Green who came out with this new book and it took him 5 years to complete the book and had stroke when he finished it and he says a lot of it he thinks was due to stress that he put himself through because he put so much pressure that he created for himself to have this perfect book. He worked out every day, he ate very clean but the stress seems to what cause the stroke which a reminder and a wakeup call for us to never allow the stress to ruin and run our lives and to manage the stress and I think it’s our responsibility to be aware of it, you know if it’s happening for a long period of time we really, you know if it’s happening a long periods of time we really get to reassess and reflect and be aware on how we’re going to shift it and take ownership of that stress level through meditation or sleeping more.
Sasha: I’m such a proponent of sleep like I could not believe more in the necessity of 8 hours.
Lewis: Sleep is crucial, I was just listening to an interview this morning with LeBron James on Tim Ferris show recently and he was like “I need 8, 9 or 10 hours of sleep otherwise I’m out throughout the day.” Because as an athlete you need to be focus and your body needs to recover but you need to have the mental clarity and if you are lacking sleep you’re not gonna have the mental clarity.
Sasha: I’m like sick like boom if I don’t get enough sleep.
Lewis: Now when you’re on the side of a mountain sleeping because you do some climbs where you have to bring the whole tent.
Sasha: A portaledge, I actually figured out how to go to the bathroom up there.
Lewis: How do you even do that?
Sasha: I mean first you got to know your climbing partner really well. So the portaledge is a 4 foot by 6 foot basically like a hammock that you setup and secure on 3 points on the wall, 3 points of security ideally and you sleep with a harness on, I normally take the leg loops of my harness it’s like a waistband and you sleep in the sleeping and not ever roll off, but you know like you have to secure it so it’s flat out from the wall, but yeah when you wake up and look down you’ve got like thousands of feet of cliff below you.
Lewis: Crazy. Do you sometimes think when you wake up like I’m in my bed in Colorado?
Sasha: I never sleep that well on the portaledge.
Lewis: Just in and out constantly?
Sasha: Yeah a little bit of like, I mean it’s not comfortable like sleeping on a hammock isn’t that comfortable, you kind of wake up and like I can’t really move around or kind of like have this illusion that you’re falling but you’re like not falling. But the views are amazing and the views are totally worth it. So the reason that we do that is like because when you’re doing a big wall and if it’s like over a certain amount of feet then we need multiple days to do it in order to successfully do a big wall from the bottom to the top you to do everything consecutively. So you sleep and then you like continue on, maybe you’re doing like 8 to 12 hours of climbing and then sleeping on the portaledge 8 to 12 hours of climbing like making your way consecutively.
Lewis: It’s crazy.
Sasha: I mean it’s not crazy you’re in it what you do is crazy, to me I could never do it.
Lewis: I know just at the side of the mountain like that, that’s nuts. What’s your vision moving forward? Doing this crazy ascent all over the world being a global citizen and being a female championing this mindset and this vision that you have, what’s your mission?
Sasha: I would love to do a first ascent on every continent around the world, I think that.
Lewis: First time for any human? First ascent on every continent?
Sasha: Yeah, so that’s one of my like more endemic climbing goals, I think that climbing creates the space for exploration and connectedness like I just went to the middle east for my first time in October and living and growing up in this western world, we are fed kind of like this ideas of what other parts of the world looks like and I think that it’s not until you travel and immerse yourself in different culture that you see so many human commonalities and that is what enables us to be better global citizens. You learn about the world through travelling and through experiences and so with climbing I’d like to travel to more places and really bring climbing to places that may actually not have climbing already and then also educate more people about what our sport is, serve as an ambassador and spokesperson for our sport as it grows into all these different spaces in the Olympics, the outdoor space, try to encourage people to conserve and protect our environment. I work on the woman sports foundation I’m on the board and the whole concept is equal pay and equal play for woman in sports to bring in more attention, I’ve also got this series I do its 10 am on a Tuesday. So each Tuesday it runs on outside TV and then I post it on my YouTube channel too. But the whole concept was like bring people into my world a little bit more and provide this behind the scenes glimpse of what my life looks like on a day to day basis.
Lewis: It’s pretty cool.
Sasha: I like creating content a lot of what I do is doing video projects and working with other people and I don’t really know beyond that, it’s kind of like what’s exciting and intimidating is that if you ask me 5 years ago what are you gonna be doing? Today in 2018 like I have no idea.
Lewis: So, you’re present to what’s happening every week, every month but also excited about potential in the future too.
Sasha: Yeah, I think there’s a certain road map that you can have that gives you a sense of direction but then you can’t really put like every sort of pin in the road and stop light that’s gonna go.
Lewis: Is there any question that you would like to answer that maybe people don’t usually ask you that you wish they did? Or do you think that we should know about you that maybe most people don’t know about.
Sasha: Most people know that my favorite color is pink, I also have a superstition that I always have to paint my nails pink before like achievement that I want to do and I mean I imagine I’m a dual citizen of Canada, a lot of people don’t know that actually because I competed for the U.S team. Well I guess I can talk a little bit about my next year’s plan like I have a trip through South America in the spring and then I have a climb in Central Africa that I want to accomplish in July, I climb up El Cap in Yosemite in the fall and then kind of like this sprouted trips throughout the year, but that’s kind of like on the horizon.
Lewis: Are these part of the first ascent in every continent?
Sasha: Yes it will, in Central Africa it will be 2nd ascent and 1st female ascent and in Bolivia and Argentina a series of 1st ascent and 1st female ascents just overall explorations, there isn’t much climbing in Bolivia that exist already. So something that I think climbing has this amazing capability of improving and bolstering the ecotourism landscape of under develop regions in the world so like we did that in Indonesia, I did a kayaking and climbing trip where the whole mission was to developed the ecotourism industry and create an alternative for the economic infrastructure to counter the mining industry that was really destructing the natural environment and the natural community there. So we went to like rural islands in Indonesia and like Zumba it was a really moving project to be a part of. So, I’d like to replicate that kind of like trip in different areas around the world.
Lewis: How can people support you and your mission and follow you?
Sasha: I mean I’m on Instagram Sasha Digiulian and stay in tune for the content, normally if I have like caught an action I throw it up on my website sashadigiulian.com or on social media and try and keep that current.
Lewis: Yeah the Instagram is inspiring you got a lot of amazing photos and videos there. Final couple of questions this one is called the 3 truths and there was your last day many years from now on earth and you got to choose the day that you got to live and you can get to leave behind 3 things you know to be true about all of your experiences in life called the 3 truths the lessons that you would share with the world and people want to access to any of the content that you’ve created and this is all they have access to this 3 truths. What would you say are yours?
Sasha: Kindness I think that no matter who you are, no matter what like you’ve accomplished just human kindness is so important and that’s what connects us all. Passion that’s like such a driving force in my life and what I think that no matter sports or music or arts like just find your passion and live your life by that. Perseverance no matter what sort of like doubt you face with whether negativity or roadblocks like you can always achieve what you want if you will yourself the most and I think like that the universe is on your side, so persevere and be a good person and believe it. So yeah kindness, passion, and perseverance.
Lewis: Well, I got to acknowledge you Sasha for moment because it’s been inspiring to watch your journey the last couple of years, I just feel like you constantly showing up consistently and doing and challenging yourself, you’re not just doing the easy thing you’re doing the hard thing and you’re inspiring people through your message, you’re inspiring humans but also women’s to maybe feel like there’s certain challenge in their life they don’t feel like they can overcome and your helping them and inspiring them to do that in you their own life. So I acknowledge you for that, I acknowledge you for constantly paving the way and doing the challenging things and being a good person and living with passion because I feel it it’s inspiring and thank you for being here I’m glad we can finally make this happen.
Sasha: Me too, thank you so much for having me here.
Lewis: My final question is what is your definition of greatness?
Sasha: My definition of greatness is just loving what you do every day.
Lewis: And there you have it my friends I hope you enjoyed this all about the world championship mindset. How to overcome challenges, how to trust your intuition, how to face adversity head on to achieve what you want and this is a powerful example of how Sasha has been doing this in her life over and over, constantly tackling new challenges new obstacles that have never been done before and she is doing them and I hope you got some inspiration to apply this to your life with whatever you are going through right now. Make sure to share this with your friends’ lewishowes.com/731 tag @sashadigiulian as well and let us know what you thought about this interview as make sure to follow her journey as it is very inspiring one.
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And to bring us back to the beginning Hellen Keller said “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” And Marcus Aurelius said “You have power over your mind not outside evets. Realized this and you will find strength.”
As always I love you so very much and you know what time it is it’s time to go out there and do something great.