“…we are pleased to offer you a permanent position in our company. A formal offer will be sent to you soon, along with the terms and conditions of your employment.”

I read the email to myself again, hardly believing what I’m reading. I’ve been waiting so long for something like this. I feel a weight I didn’t know I’d been carrying lift off my shoulders. I want to scream and let the frustration of the past more-than-a-few months out. But I can’t. I don’t want to startle anyone, and I need to digest what I’ve just read. I’ll share the good news with them later.

My name is Suleh. There’ not much else to say about myself. I’m fairly unremarkable, but I’m doing something a little out of the ordinary. I look up at the wall in front of me, dotted with colourful protrusions in random places. Some protrusions are more numerous in some colours than in others, and some colours seemed to be arranged closer together than others. And they are, because it’s a climbing wall, and the coloured protrusions are holds, the colours representing different routes.

I’m a little tired from two climbs, but not enough to make it a challenge to climb again. And the climb in front of me is rated an 8, so it isn’t even as difficult as the last climb I’d completed. But I’m struggling with it, and it doesn’t make sense why. But Matayo, and Musa, two of the three guys I‘d come to climb with, can’t climb it either, so I take some solace in that. There’s this one awkward hold in an awkward spot that’s proving near impossible to get past.

One of the instructors at the gym, a small guy in tan cargo pants, a nylon jacket and worn Vans walks by just as I slip from a hold after the fifth time trying to grab the elusive one above me. Musa stops the instructor.

“What do we do for this route?” Musa asks him, pointing at the route marker.

“What do you mean?” the instructor says.

“We’re really struggling to climb it,” Musa says with a sheepish smile.

“This one?!” the instructor says, incredulous. “It’s simple this one.”

“Show us,” Musa says.

I move away from the wall and the instructor positions himself at the start of the route. He gets past the first few holds then in one smooth movement moves his body up and around to the elusive hold. He hangs on it, then climbs slowly back down. We look back and forth between him and the climbing wall, a little nonplussed at how easily he climbed.

“Could you show us again?” Matayo asks him. “And explain what you’re doing as you show us.”

The instructor laughs and starts the climb again.

“Don’t rush it,” he tells us. “When you get here,” he says, pointing to the hold he’s hanging on to (the one before the accursed hold we can’t reach), “move your body and your left arm, as if in a circle, and reach for the hold while you step to the next hold with your foot as well.” He moves to the hold as he talks, deftly reaching the hold and hanging there. We stare. He laughs at us and climbs back down again. “Try it,” he tells me.

I try, and fail again. “You’re rushing,” the instructor says. “Don’t force it, just go slowly and try and go for the hold in one motion.”

Easy for him to say. It reminds me a lot of what people told me when after seven months of job hunting I still hadn’t landed a job. “Something will come up,” they said. “When though?” I wanted to ask. After dozens of job applications and nothing to show for them, I’d even wondered if anything would come up at all.

And the people and companies receiving the applications didn’t make it any better. At least a few of them sent out regrets, but most other rejections were the ghost kind. You never saw them and you never heard from them or of them. And it wasn’t just me. A lot of my friends had gone through the same thing. It was a lot like how the climbing route was rejecting us right now.

I decide to give the climb a break and let Dre, the only guy who hasn’t attempted the climb yet, have a go. Dre is a tall, athletic guy, so I figure if any one of us can conquer the route, it’ll be him. And sure enough, with a little more effort and struggle than the instructor but doing just as he’d had told us, Dre gets past the silly hold and gets to the top of the climb. He climbs back down, a smile on his face.

“That part there is the hardest part,” he says, pointing at the hold that’s been a thorn in our side. “Once you get past it the rest isn’t difficult.”

Musa goes next and although he struggles a little more than Dre he gets to the top of the climb as well. Matayo has two false starts after Musa, but on his third try also makes it past the stubborn hold and completes the climb.

I’m next, and I start to feel a little pressure. I’m rested now and have had the benefit of watching everyone else finish the climb, so I have no excuse not to finish it too. Matayo belays me and I start the climb. I get stuck two holds in and start again. I get stuck in the same place and go again, taking it slower this time. I get to the hold right below the one I need to get to and hold on to it a little too long. My arms get tired. I let go and Matayo lets me fall slowly to the ground. I go again, this time trying to visualise what I need to do.

“Just take it slow and reach,” Matayo says.

“And remember to step up with your leg as you reach,” Musa says.

All very unhelpful advice if I can’t execute it. I get to the the hold I just fell from and as I try and reach for the next one, the stupid unreachable hold, I slip and fall. I hang suspended in the air, despairing at my chances of making it to the top. What was going on with me?

Why was it so difficult? And how come I was the only one who couldn’t do it? How could I be the only one to fail when everyone else had succeeded? The same thing had happened four months earlier. The friends I’d been in the unemployment doldrums with suddenly got jobs. I was left as the only one without a job, and it was torture. I had no income and no prospects, feeling like a freeloader living in my parents’ house. Meanwhile my friends were getting on with life. Some even bought cars and motorcycles and moved out on their own. It didn’t seem fair.

My mom suggested I work somewhere for free, just to keep me busy and gain some experience. “It might open doors for you,” she’d said. Apparently people might see that I’m willing to be of service and to work and give me an opportunity to work for more than free mediocre lunches and sporadic bus fare. I didn’t think it would. But I couldn’t sit around doing nothing, so I volunteered my services at a logistics company, thinking it would be a good fit.

And it was. I was a glorified slave for three months, but I enjoyed it and tried to give it my best. After twelve weeks of shining shoes and mopping floors (no not really, although I did mop a few floors) I took a day off. I was getting discouraged and feeling stuck because no doors had opened. I’d become competent at some things and had even started running the social media for the company (as the token young guy in the company), but I didn’t feel like I was making any progress. Meanwhile my peers were getting even farther ahead. I needed to distract myself from the dead end that was my life.

I’m broke so I don’t go out much. What with everyone working and salaried hanging out usually means spending money, which I don’t have. So I stay home and play Xbox or get work done. But I’d managed to save some lunch money over the last few weeks, and climbing wasn’t expensive, so I could at least afford that.

All that ran through my mind as hung in the air. Then I thought of the job offer I’d been sent. It had come through when I was at wits’ end. But I’d worked hard until I got to wits’ end and it had paid off. I couldn’t let myself down now. I push off the wall and allow Matayo to lower me to the ground.

“Again?” he asks me as my feet touch the ground.

“Again,” I say.

I walk up to the wall and pause, remembering everything the instructor had said. I start the climb.

The first two holds are simple. I need to make sure I don’t get stuck on the third and get tired from hanging on to it for too long. I reach it and pause for a second. Then I reach up and around with my left hand, looking up at that sadistic hold, stepping up with my right leg as I do.

I grasp the evil thing in my right hand and pull myself up to it. My friends cheer below me, and I pause to celebrate the moment. Then I look up and reach for the next hold. Dre was right, the rest of the climb is easy. I reach the top and hang on to the last hold a little longer than I normally would. I’m glad I kept climbing. I’d taken longer than everyone and failed more than they had, but I’d still conquered the climb.