The other day I was having a discussion with a client about how life get’s really hard sometimes. You know those moments where something rough happens, and you think to yourself, “jeeze, I really hope that nothing like that ever happens again.”
You made it through, but it beat the crap out of you and you’re ready to just… Not do that again.
But, of course, life doesn’t care and we’re meant to be challenged. So, something else rough comes into being.
This is the part where I usually think to myself, “*very impolite language* I don’t want to do that! How on earth am I supposed to be capable of doing that when I only just made it through the last thing!?” (Well, first off, that link above is pretty helpful.)
In response, my client (an awesome lady who’s seen some shit and is wonderful because of it) gave me this analogy to think on:
“Life can be like taking a hike up and down the mountains. At one point, you come to a mountain that is 8,000 ft (2. 44 km) in elevation. You think to yourself that you’ll never make it up and over, and yet you keep going. Down at the bottom of the other side, you congratulate yourself on doing it, only to look ahead and see another mountain, 10,000 ft (3 km) this time. You despair, thinking you’ll never make the 10,000, until you realize, you’ve already made the 8,000. All you really need to do is test yourself against the 2,000 ft (.61 km) difference.”
This actually hit me quite close, as I had never thought of it like that before. (hence the neat-o blog post) And it got me quite excited.
The analogy draws on the wisdom of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, and the idea that every challenge in your life prepares you for what is to come. (though, you can only see that in hindsight.) I particularly liked the idea that that first challenge, that first hike, gave you the endurance to climb the second challenge.
It’s not a perfect analogy for life. Life is waaaaay too complicated for that. And sometimes you’ll meet a 10,000 ft mountain that also has lots of dips and mini meta-mountains added to it before you ever meet that smaller mountain.
But as I’ve come to see it, you only have a small number of choices where this is concerned: One, you climb the damn mountains and you’re propelled forward. As you climb the mountain, the mountain actually begins to lift you up and teaches you how to climb it. You learn how to identify the irregularities in the ground and flora that are easier to step in and which should be avoided. Or, you can ignore these lessons, and become stuck on the side of the mountain until you see the next place to move if ever you choose to. The other option is to never approach the mountain at all.
It seems impossible to not climb the mountain, to refuse to move forward in life, but so many do. As previously established, climbing the mountain is merely an analogy for facing the challenges life presents you, be it finding a new job, coping with a loss of any kind, writing a book, or going to school, etc. Anytime you want to do something new, or something new is presented to you that is the mountain. Some mountains are optional, others are not. When we choose to refuse the compulsory mountains, we stagnate in the canyons or on hillsides in places where the rocks fall and the detritus lays. This is where the shadows cast by the peaks lie.
Dragons and other monsters live in those shadows.
These are the people you see who seem thoroughly miserable, that you know haven’t lived up to their potential, or are drowning in their misery or bad habits.
Sometimes you fall back down the mountain and you have to climb sections you’ve already climbed. Maybe the fall injures you and now you need to find a new way of climbing the mountain. And climbing is a requirement if you don’t want to be eaten by the monsters in the shadows.
The analogy doesn’t say that climbing mountains is easy or gets easier. It just means that you’re training, and you’re constantly being prepared for what is coming next. And if you think the canyons and valleys can look lovely, I suggest trying the view from the peaks. The view is wider and the air is clear and your understanding of the surrounding world deepens as you can see it uninhibited.
And I think that’s the most encouraging thing.
When things go wrong, you’ll find that they usually go on getting worse for some time; but when things start going right the often go on getting better and better.
C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew