One of my dearest friends and I love to converse in metaphors. What better way to illustrate a point than to put yourself into the story? For some time I’ve considered how to share one of the better metaphors on this website. It brings to light a potential impediment to success that is not often considered and can be touchy. It’s the idea that success itself can be an impediment to our success.
First, I want to thank my friend for permission to use this metaphor.
You Can’t Take ‘Em With You. Imagine that we all start out at the bottom of a mountain. We’re looking up and we just know that there are beautiful views and wonderful experiences waiting for us higher up. As a whole, we begin to climb.
The First Ledge. After a lot of effort we find our first resting place. A nice ridge quite a distance up the mountain. Adulthood. We look around. Nice view. A nice place to rest. We socialize. However…
Keep Climbing. Some of us can’t stay. We get antsy. We know there are more ledges further up and they promise even more amazing views. Heck, there are plenty of people already up there calling down to us in encouragement. It’s hard work but we take off. Next stop? Higher ledge.
Moving Up or Moving Across. We stop at the next ledge. We’re more battered and worn down. Getting from the lower ledge to this one was much harder than we anticipated. We are panting and sit down. We look around and in utter shock notice there are fewer of us than there were. A lot fewer. What happened? Someone offers a theory:
It was too difficult for them.
They were still tired from the first run.
They didn’t believe the view would be worth the effort.
A group of us feel rested and decide it’s time to keep moving. We’ve enjoyed the view and the company but we know we have to go higher. We know the view is even better further up. More than that, it’s different terrain. New flowers. New wildlife. New life to be experienced. It’s exciting. We groan in anticipation of the effort which has been getting tougher and tougher but we blow out a breath, check our supplies, meet the eyes of those making the journey and start off.
We quickly stop. Some people are going up like we are but others are simply swinging across to another ledge. Why?
I’m not up for the climb but I think the view will be better from over here. If nothing else, they say, it will be different.
We keep going but our souls are a little less settled. We were sure more people would be going up like we were. Then we shrug. Maybe the view was better straight across or around the other side of the mountain. Who are we to judge?
The Air Is Thin Up Here. Huffing and puffing we notice that there are very few people climbing. We’d offer support to them if we could talk and climb at the same time. It’s much too difficult. We can barely focus on our own goals…that ledge that at once seems closer and infinitely far away.
It’s Getting Cold Up Here. We arrive at the ledge and the view is different but it’s getting difficult to enjoy it. We’ve lost a lot of the team. There aren’t nearly as many people here as started out. We look at the others and wonder if they feel as beat up as we do. Are they as tired? As cold? We also don’t volunteer anything about how we’re feeling. We’re too tired and too filled with conflicting emotions. How do we express something we haven’t sorted out for ourselves?
It’s Getting Lonely Up Here. We’re having serious doubts here. There are so few of us up here and it seems like every time we climb we find fewer going with us. The ones who do go and make it are like us and we understand and respect each other, often from a distance. Our feelings are too raw. This isn’t what we thought it would be like. We doubt ourselves.
It’s Breathtaking Up Here! When we reach the goals we sit and watch the sunrise and the sunset and see details we’ve never noticed before. We were so busy climbing and dealing with other considerations to have enjoyed them as much before. We appreciated them, sure, but to truly enjoy them like this is awe-inspiring.
We may know we will be on the climb again soon – we may go up or across. We know we will have very few companions but we understand now. It was inevitable.
Recalling the Journey. Some of us will write manuals and instructions for those wanting to make the climb. Do you tell them truthfully just how hard it is? How much doubt you have? How cold it can be? How shocking to see that not everyone who starts out on the journey ends in the same place?
Do we share what it’s like to find ourselves so exhausted, only to look down and find people hanging from our own ropes, expecting us to pull them up when they aren’t willing to do it themselves?
Do we tell them that not everyone has the same level and definition of success so we may all end up in a different place?
Do we tell them that some of the people on that first level accuse us of having magic ropes so that we didn’t have to make any effort at all? Do we tell them that no amount of explaining will convince them there’s no such thing as magic rope?
I believe that when people start to succeed and see that in order to continue they have to go places that their friends and family can’t go, they falter for a variety of reasons.
They feel guilty about being more successful. They feel it’s more important to be liked than to be successful. They don’t want to be resented. They are afraid of going it alone. They are afraid of what succeeding will mean.
I also believe that plenty of people start out visualizing success and doing everything right, but when it starts happening, and the reality of what comes with success sets in, they stop and in some cases even go backwards, returning to a more familiar ground.
It honestly takes incredibly courage to succeed. No matter what your definition of success is.
So, instead of wishing success for people, I wish them all the courage in the world.