As I reach the end of the year, I find myself in the envious position that nearly everything I set out to do this year has been done. I’m naturally feeling very pleased with myself, especially given how ambitious those targets were. I now get to spend December relaxing (i.e. getting bored) working out my plans for next year.
But one of the things that has come from the introspection I’ve been doing is that whether I’m thinking about my writing, my health or my swordfighting, I can see there are parallels. As I said, I’ve got a lot of time on my hands suddenly.
I liken it to climbing a mountain, and whilst this isn’t a new analogy for success, I’ve refined my thinking around it.
So the first stage is setting off. That means gathering your boots, your supplies for the journey and going to the base of the mountain. All too often I encounter people who spend so long worrying about what makes of boots to have, or what supplies to take that they never make it to the mountain.
In many ways that’s natural, better that you make some attempt to prepare than freeze to death on the mountain. We watch videos of interviews, read articles about techniques, make plans around our individual circumstances based on those we wish to emulate.
But at some stage we need to go to the mountain. There are plenty of people who never get there. I see this with people who say that they’d love to write a book, or want to study swordfighting, or want to get healthy. It’s universal.
Now it’s unlikely you’ll reach the top of the mountain on your first attempt. Some people are prepared for that. Some just want to hike the foothills, enjoying the views and the experience.
Some will be over-confident and decide they do not need paths. They will charge into the undergrowth never to be seen again or to emerge sometime later, cut and bruised from their experience.
But at some point, whilst still hiking in the foothills, you’ll encounter a blocked path. A tree will lay across the path. That path could be the footsteps of your favourite author or sportsman, or even a healthy recipe you’re trying to make. And that tree? Well it could be that your personal circumstances don’t allow you to write from 1am until 4am like your favourite author because you have a day job, or you can’t go to training on a Wednesday because you have to look after the kids, or you don’t have the type of cheese you need for that recipe.
What the tree across the path means to you will be as personal as your own individual goals and aspirations, but you’ll come across it and when you do you’ll have a couple of options.
Some will stand there and shout. They’ll moan that there is a tree blocking their path and they can never progress. The tree will remain there. Others will turn around and go back to the base of the mountain. They’ll go back home and make plans to follow another path. A subset of those will be perfectly happy with the hike they got, but others will have the anger of the first group who stood and shouted.
And then there will be the final group of people. They’ll go off the path into the undergrowth. They’ll not go far, just enough to get around the tree. Vines and brambles will tangle round their legs, there will be a lot of swearing and it’ll be an unpleasant experience… but eventually they’ll get around the blockage and be able to carry on.
As you progress up the mountain, the various paths cross. You’ll encounter further blocked paths as well. But you’ll be less likely to go back down to the base of the mountain. Instead you might walk back to an intersection of paths and maybe take a different one. Or you might brave the brambles and get round the blocked path that way.
Whichever you choose, the path will slowly become steeper. There will be more things blocking the paths, and the paths you follow will become less well trod.
At points the trees will clear and give you a fantastic view of how far you’ve climbed. Some might choose to stop at these idyllic spots deciding that this is as far as they are prepared to climb up the mountain. Some will be happy to do so, others will be bitter that the paths ahead are so poor and littered with obstacles.
But if you’re one of those rare people, those people who want to climb to the top of the mountain no matter how difficult you’ll come to another stage.
You’ll find the paths of others that started out as wide well-maintained tracks before narrowing down to little more than an animal track, will disappear entirely. The mountain has now got so steep that you are no longer hiking but climbing. The obstacles will no longer be a tree blocking a path, but and outcrop that you have to climb over. You’ll fall… often.
It’s scary and you’ll fall a lot. It’ll test you both physically and mentally. You’ll see people scaling the mountain beside you. Some will progress faster, some will create a path by which you can edge up the mountain a little, but progress is slow.
And so in this final stage you’ll realise that there are no longer any paths to follow. Some will say that’s as far as a person can go, that you need to be a climber not a hiker to progress further, or even worse that the way ahead is so impossible that only the supremely talented or lucky can find a way up.
But you’ve had an entire mountain to teach you how to overcome obstacles. Your choice of paths, your decisions in how you got round blocked paths has equipped you, and it has equipped you uniquely. This is where you draw on that experience.
Many will tell you that you are wrong, that this is not the way up the mountain. Perhaps they are right, perhaps they are wrong… but there are no more paths. It stops becoming about other people, it becomes about you and your ability.
You’ll worry you’ve become like that person who charged into the undergrowth back down in the foothills, you’ll doubt yourself. But the important thing is that you’re making your own path based on experience not ignorance.
At times you’ll need to attempt the same obstacle time and time again. Some might give up, enjoying their spot on the mountain like those who stopped at the idyllic clearing, but there will be those that keep trying until the overcome that challenge.
It’ll be harder than you ever thought it could be but if you focus on one handhold after another, one step at a time, you’ll make progress.
No-one has ever made it to the top of the mountain, no-one knows how high it goes, only that it gets more difficult as you go on.
Enjoy the climb.