I recently had one of those weeks. You know the kind I mean? The ones where you have to dig extra deep to stay focused and get everything done but there’s a payoff at the end? Like the week before vacation where you have to get your work projects in order, home projects in order, buy extra food for the cat sitter, set the watering system, and pack all the while still feeding, watering, and caring for yourself and your family.
So, during this particular week I kept coming back to my go-to metaphor for life: mountain climbing. That’s the one that sticks for me even though I haven’t climbed a proper mountain in ten years.
One step at a time: For any mountain that I’ve climbed, there is a moment in the parking lot that I look up at the summit, or what I can see of it from the base, and doubt that I have any chance of reaching that point in two or three days time. The mountain looks massive and my stride looks incomparably small. But seeing the task ahead of me, I shoulder my pack, and start one step at a time.
Rest breaks: The first time I climbed a mountain it was with a guide named Jason. For every hour we climbed, we took a 10 minute rest break and he would lie down on the breaks. He had a go-to philosophy: Why stand when you can sit and why sit when you can lie down? He was a master of not only making sure we stopped to care for ourselves, but also capitalizing on that time.
Team work: On the higher reaches of most mountains we rope up in teams of five or so, with about 30 feet of rope between each climber so that if someone falls, the rest of the team can dig into the snow with their ice axes. This method either keeps them from falling very far, or serves an anchor to pull the climber out if they’ve fallen into a crevasse. Is there a better metaphor for remembering that others are there to help us?
Self-care tricks: When you stop to rest, especially during the pre-dawn hours, the sweat instantly freezes on your skin and you get really cold, really quick. So the trick is to have your parka handy. And here’s the key, you load your parka pockets with yummy snacks so that when you put it on, it’s like one-stop shopping. By yummy snacks, I mean trail mix with candy mixed in or your favorite nuts, not protein bars that are going to look, feel and chew like leather. Because when you’re so incredibly tired that feeding yourself feels like a chore, it has to be appetizing and handy.
Set a turn-around time: The idea of a turn-around time makes me think of the guide Rob Hall who died on Everest in 1996. He was so focused on getting his client to the top that he ignored the time he had told his team they would turn-around no matter whether they’d summitted or not. While the consequences are usually not nearly as dire, there is often a similar limit in life, whether it be bedtime or the time you have to leave for the airport. There’s a moment where you just have to stop what you are doing and call it good.
The slide down: One of my favorite mountains to climb is Mt. Adams in Washington State. We leave our camp in the middle of the night to head for the summit. About 20 minutes out of camp there’s a 50-degree slope that takes hours to tackle. But what takes about five hours to climb only takes 45 minutes to slide down on our butts for one of the best payoffs ever.
So that’s my metaphor for life – climbing. I haven’t even touched on false summits, the rest step, and the pressure breath. When I’m tackling something hard, it works for me to envision the components that will get me through: put one step in front of the other, take regular rest breaks, rely on my teammates, make it easy to take care of oneself when things are hard, set a limit for when you have to stop and then enjoy the payoff.
What’s your go-to metaphor?
(featured photo from Pexels)