Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Onwards and upwards...

       "Nobody trips over mountains.  It is the small pebble that causes you to stumble.  Pass all the pebbles in your path and you will find you have crossed the mountain."

                       ~ Author Unknown

       "Building a business, or any large task for that matter [ahem, like writing a dissertation?], is a process that you must take one step at a time.  It's the little things that can sometimes be the biggest obstacles.  If you're feeling overwhelmed by the big picture, try tackling just one thing, then another, and another.  And, don't forget to give yourself a well deserved pat on the back as you finish each task."

                         ~ Michelle Henry

If you are like me, you may have a tendency to dismiss bromides such as these. Pass all the pebbles and viola! You crossed the mountain.  Right!  Life is more complicated than that. Or am I just paying too much attention to complexity and detail at the expense of striding out? 

I decided to post and comment about these inspirational quotes today because I do support the underlying truth they contain. It's easy, too easy, to get distracted by the small stuff in our lives. It's hard, very hard, to recognize the small stuff for what it is when we encounter it. Which pebble can I safely step over or on, and which other pebble will get in my shoe or cause me to slide down the mountain? 

Am I alone on this? I don't think so. We're all climbing mountains of one sort or another, but there are pebbles on the path. Making progress is not as easy as ignoring the pebbles. Every step exposes the climber to a new array of pebble-like distractions. We may toil at clearing the path, but the next step seems to bring more pebbles. Perhaps the trick is to see the pebbles and spend just enough energy to decide whether to step on, over, or around them.

What if I slip or stumble? Fear of failure causes us to get really good at the wrong thing--avoiding mistakes. We obsess over our To Do list. We re-write the paragraph ten times. We sort and categorize and polish our pebbles.

What if I reach the summit and realize only then that I climbed the wrong mountain? Fear of success causes us to focus on all the pretty rocks on our path. Life is full of so many interesting distractions. We fritter away our time and energy on pursuits that are only tangentially related to our main effort. Wouldn't it be a pity to miss out on the simple joys of life because we were so hell-bent on getting to the top?

The smart climber will recognize that some balance is a good thing. There may be more than one path to the peak, so I will strive to be open to options, but not to the extent that I stop moving. The peak I can see from today's vantage point may not be the actual summit, so I will be prepared for disappointment, but I must keep moving. There is time for clearing pebbles, but only to the extent that I can keep moving. I climb the mountain I am on, right or wrong, because it makes no sense to worry about someone else's mountain. I climb to the best of my ability, while trying to get better at what matters. There is only so much room in the rucksack for non-essentials, so maybe it's time to give away the rock collection and get back to climbing a little faster. 

Pass all the pebbles and life will be perfect, right?  No, not quite. The process of climbing asks us to climb while noticing the pebbles and thinking about each step, but climbing, always climbing, always moving onwards and upwards.