Sometimes, to try to gain some perspective, I like to imagine dialogs with versions of myself who had ended up doing more difficult or dangerous work. What if I had been a mountain climber instead of a software engineer?
Hey there! What are you up to?
Just climbing this here mountain, you see!
Trying to get to the top?
Only 2500 meters left!
Won’t that take a while?
Aren’t you uncomfortable?
In so many ways!
To get to the top, couldn’t you just take a helicopter or something?
I suppose, but that’s not the point. I’m exactly where I want to be right now.
On a journey like climbing a mountain, you probably spend the vast majority of your time doing the climbing, and only a tiny fraction at your destination. What if you were a mountain climber that only felt happy standing on summits? Would that be enough to compel you to trek mile after mile, meter after meter, for that fleeting moment of satisfaction? If you were to ask a mountain climber where they would prefer to spend most of their time, do you think they would say “at the top of the mountain” or “climbing the mountain”?
We’re all climbing our own mountains. Many at a time even. And I think it’s natural to look up at all those distant, foggy summits sitting on top of challenge after challenge and feel discouraged. Tired. Maybe even hopeless. Sometimes, maybe when things change or we decide the challenge truly isn’t worth the cost, it’s important to turn around or rest. In the other cases though, I think we can get so focused on reaching the summit that it makes actually climbing the mountain miserable.
“I’m not good enough.”
“Getting there isn’t worth it.”
“I don’t think I’ll make it.”
These days, our problems are often intangible or scary enough that we forget that they are mountains. Or maybe we ended up on a mountain without even choosing or realizing it. In any case, too often we forget to be present to the journey to the top, to take things obstacle by obstacle, step by step, moment to moment.
“I’m getting better.”
“I’m enjoying the way there.”
“I’ll make it as far as I can.”
What can you do when you find yourself on a mountain?
Be kind to yourself. What would you say to a close friend in the same situation?
Look behind. When you’re halfway up a mountain, you’re at the top of half a mountain. Don’t forget to recognize how far you’ve really come.
Bring a friend. Who else is on this journey with you? Either as a fellow climber, or a support team.
Step, breathe, repeat. Unless you have a helicopter, we’re all getting to the top the same way: one step at time.
I find that reframing a frustrating experience as one step in a journey often gives me what I need to take the next step. It even helps me reinterpret that experience in a more positive light.
What are your mountains? How will you face them? What would a mountain climber do?
Originally published at https://masontang.com on December 16, 2018.