Seeing success as a mountain climb

We all hear and read about the plethora of success and failure stories. As human beings, we can most easily relate to extremities, as our worldview tends to be reflected as hyperbole in our memories, swinging as a pendulum one way or another based on our emotional state, relation to the context of any given scenario, and other nuanced biases.

Great stories are told of those at the peak of their respective fields; those who’ve faltered — or yet — don’t meet the prerequisites of public perception for success, are granted plenty of attention. In exploring the hierarchy of successful individuals and civilizations over the years, there’s a deep chasm often not cited in documents and stories; the metaphorical bridge at the end of one’s journey, one in which you only truly possess knowledge of with credible experience in crossing.

Similar to the old saying of how trees falling in the forest with no one around permissibly dictates the potential of it not creating a noise, the oft uncharted waters in this specific area of one’s path to success is easy to ignore and play off, but equally as fallacious to disregard. The science makes the hypothesis invalid in one scenario just as the ignorance of the existence of this ravine in the road of success does not invalidate the reality.

In my time of doing what I do, I’ve collectively seen more than a fair variety of roads traveled, veering into different paths and ultimately, the many different endpoints reached by various individuals. I am of the belief that our traditional support infrastructure in place, while well intended, is not well calibrated. I’m going to use the analogy of mountain climbing to paint a picture of the most historically misrepresented detail in the hierarchy of success.

The peak’s varying milestones

Our perception of mountains are generally first seen as a thing of beauty and marvel, and secondly as a great challenge. However, only one intending to climb and arriving at the base will fully actualize the intimidation factor of the entire journey, looking directly up at a more chilling angle than can be exemplified in photos. This is analogous to the consumer-vs-producer dichotomy that splits perception of difficulty for the one watching and the one doing. Seeing people reach the top of a peak seems “cool”, but removes all context and personal struggle of the remaining 99.9% of the mountain.

As it stands, the beginning of the climb provides the most support. There’s frequent stops, friendly tourism to accommodate newbies, knowing there’s a safe and easy way down, and the least harsh of environments to endure. It’ll take some initial valor to begin, but once you’re there, a deceptive comfort zone enshrouds your journey’s humble beginnings, one you truly don’t suspect of leaving you until your support structure potentially collapses at the tougher parts of your journey.

The center of the mountain naturally exemplifies the mid-point of your journey, but only perceptively. Anyone who’s been to the top or near the top of any peak in their lives would deem a man claiming the center as the “middle” a fool. Sure, you’ve made progress and you haven’t given something up in a week’s time in an endless pursuit of your next dopamine fix, but you’re still ignorant to the challenges up ahead, and far too egotistically inclined to view yourself at an irrationally high accomplishment level to your peers below you at the bottom of the mountain.

The mid-range in any given career is generally the least supportive of others on the same journey. They lack context for the greater challenges of the journey and therefore erroneously inflate their self-perception to a degree of “being able to do that if they felt like it,” while having an ironic, contradictory opposition to the inferiors. They have great envy for those above and irrational disdain for those below.

The part of the analogy we’ll touch on most, and the basis for this article’s existence is the near-peak of the mountain. You’re not quite there, but you feel it. You could make it, but you’re quickly realizing your perception of how close you are is utterly skewed — as if the peak of the mountain is mocking your very efforts. You’ve undermined this very part of the journey because you were deceived that you were within arm’s reach.

You’re not alone here; many people arrive here but few chalk up the confidence to tell the tale. This is the end of the journey for most people, often ignored while people are misguided into Disney-esque fantasies that close the gap, feel-good supporters that don’t understand the struggle but expect you to hearken to their unsubstantiated wisdom.

…Of course, when you actually surpass this egregious milestone, you get to the peak, the celebratory climax of the journey, the one “halfway” through the journey and at the start we aspired to be without the knowledge of challenges ahead and sacrifices left behind. So, let’s take a look at…

The 90% mark.

Once you’ve arrived here, the darkest part of your journey materializes. You’re not where you aspire to be, your willpower is being tested to its absolute capacity. You begin hamstering the various disadvantages bringing you down, you look to the tactic you once despised; you’re looking for excuses that validate your halt in progression. You become deluded while quickly looking for answers and do anything it takes to feed you the illusory premise of having a worse starting point, harder obstacles than those above you, less support, weaker genetics, less money — anything to put you at ease.

And who can blame you? You’re almost there, after all. But why does this feel more like the halfway mark — no — below the halfway mark? Why do you falsely envision yourself to being just out of reach? Once again, many become discouraged and stop here.

There’s no medal for “almost” there. Even a silver or bronze medal is out of your grasp; you’re not one with the elites. You’re not reaping the rewards of the best but you’re enduring the harsh atmosphere that suffocates you at such altitudes. You lost the support structure from your humble beginnings because while your rewards aren’t calibrated to your level of success, those below still can’t fathom even your circumstance. There’s no one reaching down to grab your hand without considerable fortune because they’ve endured exactly what you’re suffering through now — and who would want to risk repeating that by slipping down?

Your muscles are sore and you feel weary from exhaustion, but looking down is equally as terrifying as the journey forward. Your peers have long since given up, and you’re primarily without company. You’re alone, and you just want someone to understand your predicament.

What’s worse, you’re running short of supplies. You, like everyone else, sorely miscalculated provisions required for this journey, so not only are you at the toughest part of the road, but you’re doing it while starving. You can’t sleep, you can’t rest, and you can’t breathe…but you can’t go back, you’re too high now. You’re now a slave to your “just out of reach success.”

Will you keep climbing?

You’re fighting your greatest demons with the greatest challenge of your life ahead of you, and you can’t tell if you’re now lusting for the top spot or for comfort. You don’t have all year to think; you’re (literally) on a slippery slope, and you have to think fast, because this purgatory you’re enslaved to won’t wait. If you don’t act, you’ll only exhaust your remaining willpower and stamina — and if you decide to give up, you’ll have given all of your strength for nothing, because there’s no reward that exists for where you are, and anything you’ve accumulated doesn’t compare to the guilt and regret you have for not completing your journey. If you don’t, you’re at the bottom again — every face that peers at you in the beginning makes you feel as the laughingstock of existence; you clench your fist knowing that you’re no better off than these “plebs” who’ve enjoyed their comfort yet also have received inconsequentially less benefit with their near-zero effort.

The good news is there are people that understand where you are. We all are running from a looming fear of failure. The threat is sometimes the only thing that keeps us alive. You’re encouraged to keep pushing forward, because you’re not alone, but your company is limited to jaded competitors who also feel isolated on their journey or those who have failed outright and don’t fancy telling the shameful tale.

You can make this journey, but understand the concepts of severe diminishing returns, long-term famine of validation, seclusion, and every ounce of your sanity. You’ll have to learn to break strength thresholds, remove barriers, and sometimes get rid of the very things you hold dear and loved most, lest you be weighed down and grow even wearier on the seemingly futile conclusion of your journey.

So, what will it be?