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The Brave Climber enters the Valley.

 

The view that unfolds before her eyes is breathtaking; a myriad of mountains stretching as far into the horizon as anyone can see. All the mountains are different shapes and sizes; the ones closest to her are small and round, more hills than mountains really. Others, further down the Valley, stand tall and proud, sticking out like giants among dwarfs. The Brave Climber pauses in her gait to take it all in. The view is truly extraordinary, so many peaks, so many opportunities and so much to choose from. 

 

Looking at the rounded hills closest to her, she can clearly see the routes leading to the top. These routes are straightforward and uneventful; they are safe, without any real climbs along the way. The further down the Valley she looks, the harder it is to see the paths. For the truly impressive mountains she needs to squint her eyes, and even then she isn’t sure she can see the right way to the top. It’s clear that following these paths will require scary amounts of failure and that reaching their peaks will never be certain. The far horizon is dominated by these impossibly high mountains. Their walls are flat like a rocket, smooth like a political lie. The climbing routes are more complicated than a software code and require as much decision making as running a country.   

 

What all the mountains in the Valley have in common are the people populating their summits. The Brave Climber recognizes her family, friends, celebrities from TV, news and social media, and a whole lot of strangers. As a rule, the smaller and more eroded the mountain, the more people populate its peak.

 

The Brave Climber looks up at all these people, who all seem to be looking back at her, saying: “Come! Join us! You can climb whatever peak you want!” 

 

Sudden excitement fills her heart. This is the moment she’s been waiting for her whole life, to finally have a chance to climb a mountain of her own. The Brave Climber starts skipping down the path, full of passion and energy, never losing sight of the myriad of peaks. It’s so incredible! All those peaks waiting for her to climb. So many to choose from!

 

So many to choose from.

 

So many to choose from…

 

The eroded, fairly easy to climb, mountains are the closest. She can see the many people standing on their summits, recognising some of them as family or members of her communities.

 

She can also hear them the loudest, they all say: “Look brave little one, this is a great mountain to climb, we climbed it and so should you!”

 

The Brave Climber feels drawn to their calls, but she doesn’t succumb to them so easily. From where she’s standing she can see the incredible view of all the peaks available to her. The dreams of greatness fill her head, successfully muting the voices of her elders. She prefers to know all her options first. That’s just who she is. So the Brave Climber looks around at all the other mountains, evaluating all routes, strategies and her own abilities. Only then will she make an educated guess at where is the best route to attempt her ascent. 



The further down the Valley she looks, the higher the mountains are. She has to tilt her head until it hurts her neck to see the summits of the highest giants. There, on these peaks, she recognizes those rare individuals who can read their biographies while they’re still alive. She wonders what kind of spectacular views she could see from up there.

 

She looks back at the easy low peaks that host the majority of people. 

 

When mountains erode, when they age and become run down from all sides, their walls become smooth, diagonal and require little to no effort to climb. Many people decide on these kinds of climbs because climbing gives them no pleasure. Their priorities are focused elsewhere – family picnics at the mountain summit, the solid stability such a summit provides or the pleasure of security while ascending. Many such people would look at the much higher peaks and have no desire to see the views from up there. Eroded mountains provide wonderful views aplenty. 

 

However, a problem arises after reaching the top of the eroded mountain. Somebody looks at a different, usually higher peak, and dreams of achieving that one instead. 

 

You see, once you’ve climbed a certain mountain, it’s very hard to get off it and start anew. This applies to all mountains, and in fact, the higher it is, the harder it is to climb down. That’s not to say it’s impossible. It just requires a lot of self-motivation, grit and being able to resist the social pressures of other climbers who think you need their discouraging advice. 

 

That’s why most people decide on one route, take it, climb to the top, and then stay there their entire lives. 

 

Choosing the right route is the First Challenge our Brave Climber will face and it is perhaps the most crucial of all challenges on her way.

 

The First Challenge is only accomplished by sufficiently understanding yourself. 

 

The Brave Climber must understand her abilities and inner-drives alike. She imagines herself standing atop the eroded summit among all those other people. She reaches deep within herself and questions  if being there will sustain her happiness for years. She can almost instantly feel the answer is “no.” She feels the ambition kindling inside of her and knows that she’ll always be drawn to the more challenging routes. 

 

So, which mountain should she choose? Once again she looks deep into her heart. “What am I good at? Do I enjoy doing what I’m good at? Do I enjoy doing something else I’m not yet proficient in? If I had the choice of doing only one thing for the rest of my life, what would it be? If money weren’t the problem, what would I do all day? Great, but can that activity somehow generate money?” After taking her time to answer all these questions as earnestly as she can, the answer becomes clear and rather obvious. That’s the beauty of knowing who you are – all decisions become obvious. 

 

And so the Brave One approaches her mountain. She sees it in all of its glory and the uncontested certainty fills her heart. This is the peak she was born to climb. It stands proudly in the middle of the Valley, far away from the eroded hills, but also nowhere near the gigantic peaks. And that’s ok. Her mountain is perfect in size. Climbing it will be challenging but not impossible. The summit is high enough to challenge her ambition and provide spectacular views from the top, but not so high that she’ll lose sight of the loved ones living on smaller hills. The mountain she chose is just right and the Brave Climber is ready to begin her journey. With dreams of greatness obscuring her vision, she approaches the steep wall of her mountain. 

 

The first few steps are treacherous. Not because they’re hard, oh no. On the contrary, the first few steps are treacherous because they’re too easy. 

 

The Brave Climber is fresh off the ground, full of energy, excitement and ambition. She starts climbing fast, pulling herself up the wall at  breakneck speed. And what she neglects in the process is to feel the mountain. She doesn’t reflect on the steps she makes and how they connect to the overall ascent.

 

And so, several meters above the ground, she faces The Second Challenge: easy hand-grips are gone. 

 

Her muscles are tired from climbing too fast without a break. Her excitement diminished because she’s suddenly very conscious of the ground below without any safety net to fall back on. The fall from this high would be very painful, if not disastrous. Where are those damn hand-grips?

 

The Second Challenge begins when she has to slow down and start making serious decisions about every single step she makes. The more mindful she had  been during the first stages of the climb, the easier this challenge would have been. That’s why excitement is a double-edged sword; it can get you up from the ground but it can also cloud your judgement.

 

To overcome the Second Challenge, our Brave Climber must begin to examine all the possible hand-grips and foot supports within her reach before deciding to trust them. 

 

The muscle strength and willpower are now scarce resources and she must be extremely mindful of spending them, giving herself plenty of rest and making sure that her body is well nourished and strong. 

 

The Second Challenge is all about taking two steps up and one step down, seizing opportunity, examining it, carefully gripping and then learning to let it go if it doesn’t feel right. The most important mindset in overcoming the Second Challenge is to remember that there’s always a way, even if obscured from the climber’s current perspective. 

 

When the Brave Climber feels stuck at a dead end and believes that she has exhausted all the opportunities around her, she must accept that perhaps descending one step down and then taking a couple of steps sideways will give her a fresh perspective and a new menu of possibilities. 

 

At that point, many climbers, not understanding what the Second Challenge is truly about, decide to give up and try a different, easier mountain to climb. Those often surrender and go back to eroded mountains with their heads weighted low with embarrassment. 

 

The key to overcoming the Second Challenge is remembering that it is the most enduring challenge of the climb, often lasting for the majority of your time spent climbing. The only way to stay motivated is to learn how to love it. At that point in time the best our Brave Climber can do is forget about the peak ahead and enjoy the climb itself.  

 

Some people are motivated by the fixation of the summit, but that’s another double-edge sword. Such fixation will indeed keep them motivated, but will also make them take unnecessary risks and, more often than not, cause them to fall from the mountain to their deaths. 

 

The most happiness-balanced way of ascending is remembering that the summit exists and that slowly, step by step, you’re getting there, but mostly enjoying the views and the thrill of finding new ways forward from where you are now. 

 

The Brave Climber suddenly remembers a very overused phrase she keeps hearing everywhere: For it is always the journey – not the destination – that fulfills us. It makes her smile because as cliche as it is, it really helps her stay present during the climb. 

 

With this in mind, our Brave Climber learned to enjoy the climb, keeping the goal in the back of her head and being more present in the moment. 

 

Slowly, she progresses forward. Two steps up, one step down. 

 

She looks around the Valley and fills her eyes with the beautiful views. The warm sunshine rests on her face, a gentle breeze tugs her clothes. There are birds singing somewhere close. She closes her eyes, enjoying the peace of the moment. For a time, she forgets about the mountain and its peak, taking in life and all its beauty. She rests her hand on the smooth, rocky wall of the mountain, thanking it for its existence. With gratitude and a big smile she continues her climb, no longer concerned about the pitfalls. 

 

However, there is always going to be one more challenge lying ahead. 

 

The Third Challenge comes at different stages for different people. Sometimes closer to the middle of the climb, sometimes in the beginning, other times right at the end, and often more than once. 

 

The Third Challenge is fear. 

 

One way it can manifest is when the Brave Climber takes a glimpse of the long way she has climbed so far and the sheer magnitude of it fails to fit inside her head causing a powerful vertigo, freaking out her primitive brain. 

 

Another is when she looks up at the many more challenges to come before she can reach that distant peak. She remembers the struggle she had to endure and her motivation dwindles as her brain calculates all the struggles yet to come. 

 

Or perhaps she’s been stuck in one place for too long, used all her opportunities for a steady grip, moved sideways to the left and right and still couldn’t find the way forward. Her mind freaks out thinking that’s it, she’s never going to make it, which evokes emotions of failure, regret and self-doubt. 

 

Or perhaps it’s the summit itself that awoke the fear. Perhaps, halfway through the hard ascent, our Brave Climber catches a glimpse of a different, sunnier looking mountain and has second thoughts about the goal she’s pursuing. 

 

There could be many other reasons, but they all direct towards one basic emotion: fear. 

 

Fear is the biological reaction to the unknown – at least when the brain thinks the unknown will bring future pain. And fear can only be conquered with perspective. 

 

Imagine you’re in a forest at night and hear a strange noise behind you. Instantly you’re flooded with fear. But then you turn around and realise that the source of the noise was a harmless and cute little bunny. Now, you’re flooded by relief and your fear is gone. Although adrenaline is still circulating your blood, you don’t feel petrified anymore because your perception about the source of the fear was changed. 

 

But how do you do that, if there’s no bunny to look out for?

 

One way to tackle the Third Challenge is to turn the tables. Change the perspective you have to one that is positive, opposite, broader or more detailed. 

 

It’s scary seeing how far away the ground is? How about seeing the same distance while feeling proud of how much you’ve accomplished? If you’ve gone so far already, going all the way is a piece of cake. 

 

The destination seems far and the road to it is blocked by many obstacles? Good! Let them be there because you don’t have to focus so far ahead. You can look forward to the next little goal in sight – the next grip, the view from that rock shelf two meters above or the well deserved rest you’re going to enjoy while sitting on it. Let the destination be as far as possible, reaching it means the end of this climb, which you are enjoying greatly. 

 

You’re stuck in one place for too long? It only means that you’ve exhausted the opportunities within your current perspective. All you have to do is change what you’re looking at. Introduce variety. Learn new things, go to new places, talk to strangers, expose yourself to things outside of your current interests. All of that will expand your perspective. If you stay in the same place and only look at the rocks and hand-grips that you’ve looked at before, you’ll never progress higher. It’s time to find new rocks to look at.  

 

What about having second thoughts about the summit? Well, you could remember the good reasons that were pulling you towards that particular goal (positive perspective). You could also look at the sunny peak on the other mountain and realise that actually being in the sun all the time is quite annoying (the opposite perspective). You could give a shout to people entertaining the other Sunny Summit and ask them if it really is as great as you think it is. You could even give a shout to climbers on top of your own summit and ask them the same question (broaden the perspective). 

 

The fear starts in the mind and in the mind it always ends. 

 

And so, while courageously balancing the Second Challenge and the Third Challenge our Brave Climber reaches the top.

 

She’s made it. 

 

The Peak.

The Summit.

The Destination.

The Goal.

The Dream.

 

Yuppi!

 

The Fourth Challenge.

 

Oh. 

 

Yes, there is a Fourth Challenge and it begins at the summit. 

 

So far we’ve seen the summit as this motivating future “want”. But now, that “want” becomes a reality and it is very challenging for humans to make that transition while sustaining happiness.

 

Remember when the dream car became “your car” with crumbs all over it? Remember when the dream girl became “your annoying girlfriend”? Or the dream holiday in Greece turned into a rainy week in a Greek hotel?

 

Reality loves crushing dreams more than Mike Tyson loved crushing jaws. 

 

The Fourth Challenge is staying happy on the summit. 

 

Overcoming that challenge is realizing that the summit is not some four foot by four foot platform with a bench to sit on for the rest of your days, but rather a path

 

Once our Brave Climber reaches the top, she finds herself at the beginning of the path with staggering views on both sides. The path continues flat for a while, then it forks; the left side continues towards the foot of a much higher peak which the Brave Climber can choose to start climbing and the right side continues straight and relatively flat. She will meet many such embranchements along the way, all welcoming her to try various opportunities. 

 

The path itself won’t always be flat. It will include its own little hills which will take some effort to climb. It will also occasionally dip down, forcing the climber to face a few lows; but as long as the climber stays on the path, it will continue to that mountain top with breathtaking views. 

 

The path itself was made by previous mountaineers, and if our Brave Climber is truly brave, at any point she can get off the main path and create her own. This is risky, because a wrong step can send her all the way down to the rocky ground. It also brings unexpected results, as going somewhere no one else has been will make you see things no one else has. That’s how new mountains get discovered. 

 

Whichever way our Brave Climber decides to go, whether she’ll brave the next Summit, continue on this path enjoying the views or go off doing her own thing, she is already seeing the views that people down on the eroded peaks can only dream of. 

 

The life in the mountains is so beautiful, so fulfilling and so incomprehensibly different to the crowded space of the eroded hills, that few people decide to go back down. 

 

Once a mountaineer, always a mountaineer. 




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