BlackLine Blog

November 16, 2022

4 Tips for Accountants From a Professional Rock Climber

Leadership & Culture
3 Minute Read

Hilary O'Brien

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At BeyondTheBlack, BlackLine’s annual event dedicated to modern accounting, attendees were encouraged to go beyond. Go beyond the numbers. Go beyond expectations. Go beyond your comfort zone. To continue with the aspirational theme, this year’s guest keynote speaker was a man who knows all about going beyond—Alex Honnold, a professional rock climber who is the only human to free solo El Capitan in Yosemite.

Free soloing is a subset of technical rock climbing in which the person climbs alone—without ropes, harnesses, or other protective equipment—relying entirely on their own preparation, strength, and skill. While this may sound risky, scary, and downright insane to many of us, Alex told the captivated audience about how he went from a 10-year-old kid who enjoyed climbing things to being one of the most accomplished climbers ever.

And now, you may be wondering …

What does a rock climber have to do with accounting and finance?

The answer is: more than you might think. Elite rock climbers are strategic thinkers, expert problem solvers, and are willing to take on challenges others would run from. This sounds a lot like accounting and finance professionals!

Rock climbers are also masterful at focusing their attention on the most difficult part of the climb. Instead of worrying about every move, they zero in on the challenging areas that deserve extra attention. This isn’t all that different from your focus on exceptions and outliers, where you’re able to reduce risk and focus capacity on other strategic priorities. This is especially true if you’re using BlackLine solutions, like Transaction Matching and Cash Application, to automate your end-to-end accounting processes.

Climbing a mountain—or starting on a digital transformation journey—are monumental challenges. They are also full of specific tasks that could be interesting, straightforward, or not overly time consuming. Like rock climbers, if you can separate the difficult from the easy, you can boost your optimism and enjoyment of challenges.

Now that you can see some connection between F&A and climbers, let’s jump into four key takeaways from Alex’s keynote that are valuable for rock climbers and accountants alike.

4 Tips for Accountants from a Rock Climber

1) Choose the next logical step—don’t go too big but do challenge yourself

No matter what you’re trying to achieve—whether it’s part of your digital transformation journey or climbing a big wall—remind yourself to take incremental steps that will help you improve and learn, but that aren’t so big as to prove overwhelming and demoralizing. Alex spoke about how, for many years, El Cap was an impossibility for him. He wasn’t ready, he hadn’t done the in-between steps that would prepare him to scale the monolith. But after years of climbing and accomplishing other challenges, he knew was ready. You can take the same advice to heart when it comes to your next big challenge.

2) Preparation is key, and so is knowing when to jump into action

When you commit to a challenge, give yourself the time and space to prepare. Get ready physically, mentally, and emotionally. Maybe it’s a huge professional endeavor like an ERP upgrade or automating your AR processes, or maybe it’s a personal dream like running a marathon. Whatever it is, if you want to succeed, you need to anticipate challenges, manage risk, and prepare accordingly. An interesting point Alex made was to not “over sharpen the knife,” meaning, when you’ve prepared and practiced and you’re in the best possible shape, it’s time to act. Otherwise, you’re just procrastinating, and you might lose your ideal window.

3) Not all projects have to be epic

In the Q&A session after the keynote, Patrick Villanova, BlackLine’s CAO, asked Alex what his next big challenge is. Alex noted that he has numerous smaller climbing projects going on and that he has plans to go back to Yosemite to finish a new route. And while none of them are the same scale as El Cap, they’re still meaningful to him. The takeaway is that just because a project you’re working on isn’t the biggest or most epic thing you’ve ever done, that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Each success brings you closer to your next one.

4) What it means to be a professional

Alex has been climbing almost his entire life, eventually turning pro. And like many of us, there are days where he doesn’t want to climb, doesn’t want to do the cardio, doesn’t want to hang by his fingers to improve his grip. But being a professional means you do the work, even on days you don’t love it. Sometimes you just have to grind it out. So, in those moments where you aren’t feeling it, remind yourself that there are big things in store for those who put in the time and effort.

So, there you have it. Some great tips for accountants … from a rock climber!

Start Planning for BeyondTheBlack 2023

The chance to see an incredible speaker like Alex Honnold is just one of the many reasons you should attend BeyondTheBlack. It’s not too soon to start planning for one of our 2023 events. We hope to see you soon!

Check Out Free Solo

One final note: if you haven’t watched Free Solo, we highly recommend it. “Free Solo is both an edge-of-your-seat thriller and an inspiring portrait of an athlete who exceeded our current understanding of human physical and mental potential. The result is a triumph of the human spirit.”

About the Author


Hilary O'Brien