The Race to the Top – a reflection on time in the mountains
Having spent a few days in the mountains, the following thoughts ran through the mind whilst meandering my way around the peaks of Snowdonia.
1) How tackling mountains relate to life!
2) Don’t let failures define you
So how exactly does life mirror a day in the mountains? Well these are my thoughts.
Dreaming of Success
We all have dreams of reaching the top of something or being the best we can be, but have we all got what it takes to turn dreams into reality?
When you arrive at your own personal base camp, which for the vast majority is no more exciting than a Car Park at the bottom of a modest peak. We are full of optimism and thoughts of success, with the pictures you went to sleep with the night before (standing on the top, waving your flag and taking your selfie) still fresh in the mind. But then natural instinct and curiosity makes you have a quick look up at the task in hand. This is never wise! because, a lot of the time you can’t even see the top, but you can see enough to know, its a long way. The realisation then kicks in that I’m going to have to actually earn this accolade by hard work!!!
You then try to unsee what you have just seen. And nervously go about doing the last minute prep or as our military mates would say “sorting out your admin” Because like any great adventure – there is plenty of danger to be had in the mountains and as the old cliche goes, if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail.
In life this goal of reaching the top, could be anything from chasing promotion in work, beating your mates at some sporting challenge, to making as much money as possible or even and not to be knocked, it could be as simple as “just to be happy” If only it was simple😊
Whatever it is that occupies the eye of your mind! unless you are one of the few privileged, we all have to start at the bottom and when you’re sat in that car park of life. The top can seem a million miles away, an impossible summit. It is sad but true (when I say true there is no scientific basis for this other than observation and opinion). That many are put off by the perceived magnitude of the challenge ahead and therefore never leave the car park! but for those that do.
The 3 stages of the mountain
1) The start.
You’ve sorted your admin, you’ve set off on your chosen path, full of beans and optimism. Then within 30mins you realise. Christ this is hard it’s been an uphill struggle from the off.
At this point you start doubting yourself and for many the fixation on the top becomes a bit less. As negative thoughts start setting in and the excuses of why you don’t need to reach the top “today” start running around the head! This is where you have to remind yourself of the reason why you set out for the top in the first place! And if this reason is good enough – you’ll keep going.
Why are you doing it?
At the start of any adventure/challenge always have a reason why you stated in the first place, this should be personal, just for you and what you fall back on when times are hard to motivate and rejuvenate yourself!
This pretty much mirrors life’s challenges – it is the start of anything that is the hardest, that first few weeks, months or even year/s to get yourself off the bottom, is always an up hill struggle and it takes a special person to keep going and get to the next level.
2) The Middle
Now I’m no Edmund Hillary but in my experience every mountain has a bit in the middle where for some reason, things even out, it’s less harsh and you start to Coast along and enjoy it.
Again life’s mountain is very similar. On that race to the top of your chosen field. You will reach a comfort zone. You’ve got over the early milestones and you are now bossing what you are doing. You are not at the bottom and you are not at the top but you have reached a level of perceived “respectability” an area where you could quite easily operate at. You can see how far you have come and have a sense of achievement but also see that you are a fair bit off the top. Many, many people are happy to stay at this level and who can blame them.
For some thou the middle is a frustrating place to be, they have worked hard to get where they are and know the top requires the same amount of effort again. These people will start looking for short cuts and alternative paths. They may even start to take risks.
This happened yesterday for me on Cader Idris we were half way up and the weather was changing for the worse. When it was suggested that we take another path as it “looks like a short cut” To me all I could see was a path that went off to the side around a boulder and into the mist. I said “No” stick to the agreed route rather than chasing a false dream down a blind alley! It’s dangerous and recklessness and bores out of frustration in wanting to reach the top as quickly as possible – Remember there are no short cuts to the top! My analogy was meet with raised eyebrows as I kept a straight face.
3) The Top
Now whether you are talking life or the mountains the final push can be a hurdle to much. In the mountains you usually see the terrain get rougher, the gradient get steeper and the risk factors get higher! And you need a bit of luck.
You can have worked extremely hard, over a number of hours or days with no shortage of sweat and effort to get within 100’s of metres from the top and suddenly the weather changes! Winds, downpours and fog beyond belief. And what do you do? Go on blind and fatigued taking potentially dangerous risks or do you suffer the disappointment of failure and turn around and head back down?
I will admit on more than one occasion I’ve turned around before the top due to the weather! Is this bad luck or is it bad admin! I think you can be lucky and reach the top but if you fail to make it! It’s not luck it’s – You weren’t prepared enough, I.e either or all of the following- kit, maps, knowledge, fitness or confidence.
On my turn arounds it was 100% the right thing to do. Not familiar with my surroundings and horrendous weather. You learn from each experience and live to fight another day!
Life is similar stepping out of the comfort zone of the middle of the road to reach the top is hard. You need the drive and ability – don’t get me wrong we all know people who’ve reached the top by luck!!! But again be honest with yourself if you have missed out. Are you lucky, unlucky or not quite good enough – a hard thing for people to admit!
Enjoy the journey
The unfortunate thing is once you’re on the top, there is only one way to go! And quite often in the race to the top we miss so much of the journey along the way. Don’t view it as a destination to get to as quickly as possible. Enjoy the experience, stop look around, explore and appreciate it. This could be said for climbing a mountain or reaching your life goal. And to get even more philosophical many of us enjoy the beauty around us and appreciate the journey more on the way back down!
The Mistakes we Make
On the mountain or in life?
Don’t follow Others
Don’t assume others know the way, that they are on the same journey as you or heaven forbid they could even be on their way down! Do not rely on or focus on what others are doing! Know your own path.
Do take advice
You will pass many people on the mountain or during life. Who have been to the top, some many a time. Listen to their advice, their tips and learn from their knowledge. But they are not you, they don’t know your limitations or abilities. Absorb like a sponge but be yourself
You will meet many a person on the way up and way down! Say hello, exchange pleasantries and help when you can. You never know when you may need help yourself!
Not giving a shit and not caring!
There is a difference, when you set goals and reach out for the top, there will always be a very small minority that for some unknown reason resent what you are doing. You get the snobs who will look down on you because your walking poles are £8.99 from Aldi. Whilst there’s cost £250, weigh a gram and made of the same stuff that built the space shuttle! Or they will turn their noses up because your goal is to climb Mount Carn Llidi, whilst their off to tackle the Matterhorn. These people are around in all walks of life and it really is important to not give a shit about their opinions of comments.
However not caring is not good. We have to care about what we are doing or we won’t get there! And more importantly we have to care about the team around us. We have to look after them, care about their wellbeing and safety and ensure you take as many of them to the top with you as possible, otherwise – It’s lonely up there!!! – Success is a dish best shared.
DNF – Turn Around – Giving Up
Now if things go wrong and your journey to the summit becomes dangerous there is nothing wrong with turning around, Personal wellbeing comes first. This is the same in life’s journey to the top. Sometimes these decision to stop or change course come due to circumstances outside of your control. Sometimes they come through a conscious decision because the task in hand is not for you and therefore not enjoyable. And sometimes we just give up because its hard or not happening how we wanted it to.
There is nothing wrong with giving up on something from time to time. But you have to be honest with yourself on the reason why and not make excuses. Every DNF you have takes something away from your mental strength and ability to see things through. And like anything, once you have DNF’d once it becomes easier and easier each time, But each one will start to change and define you!!
For example; Did you turn around on the mountain because the weather was closing in or was that your excuse because it was getting hard!
You are a competitive sort and want to win your age category in a Marathon or go sub 3.45. But neither are happening for you on the day and you pull up with a dodgy calf, groin, hamstring or was it in reality a psychological issue! Only you will know and only you can start to resolve it.
Personally I got to the stage were I had DNF’d on two triathlons in a row. Yes I had injuries but the real reason was I came into T2 and gave up. I couldn’t “be arsed” And it wasn’t about the time I’d post or worry over finishing last! that never bothered me. It was deeper than that. So that is why when I took on the Pembs coast path I was not going to DNF, It was not really about competing the course it was about finishing a task you had set yourself.
Don’t Eat the Mushrooms
I think I’ve got to stop picking and eating those mushrooms,when in the wild they are expanding my mind to far!!!