The howling winds feel like they’re going to shred you to pieces. The subzero temperatures have frozen your toes, numbed your senses, and challenged your resolve. There is a string of people above you, dangling on the side of death. You look below and you see the resemblance of humans, their faces obscured by layers of snow and exhaustion.
You cautiously follow the trail of ice screws left behind, wondering if one of them might give way hurtling you to your death.
Your muscles have been exploited beyond capacity and it is only your determination that lifts each arm and sustains each leg.
You recall the thousands of hours of endurance training pushing yourself beyond your limit and are bewildered by how insufficient it was. The sickness and the vomit were only illusions of the discipline you had cultivated necessary for this climb. It’s as if your body had forgotten strength and abandoned its understanding of power.
A subtle smile appears for a moment, contradicting the severity of your hardened face as you realize how this mountain has absolutely scorned the immense preparations you had made.
The smile quickly evaporates like the moisture on your tongue and you gasp for another breath of air hoping to seize it before it flees.
No amount of time acclimating to the climate would have sufficed for such an arduous task. An endless supply of oxygen would quench only a fraction of your lung’s thirst.
Nonetheless, you rally your spirit with each ascending pull, looking forward to nothing but rest.
One at a time people begin to disappear. The brilliance of the sun reflected against the white draws an image of vanishing as they cross over into the glory of accomplishment.
The momentum you thought was lost, the hope you thought had retreated begins to revolt in expectation. Your heart begins to race uncontrollably. Is it the cold or the excitement that causes your hands to tremble? Does it matter?
You begin to think to yourself, “Finally I can stand up to the scoffers. I can justify the thousands of dollars I’ve invested, the foolishness of my decision, and now I’ll prove them wrong.”
As if resting on the throes of divinity, you allow your hand to rest under the spotlight of the sun. You allow it the selfish luxury of enjoying the summit without the rest of your body.
With one final lunge you throw your body in a display of crude elegance. Your face smothers the snow of the summit, you embrace it in both relief and in victory.
“All around you there are shouts, celebration, and tears.
“We made it! We really, actually, finally made it!”
“Look at the earth it’s so beautiful.”
“Look over there.”
“I wish I could share this with my family, this view is breathtaking.”
One voice penetrates the rest.
“Get up and look at this. Just look at it.”
And with an eerie voice, your hands caressing the snow and your eyes not daring to look up, you respond,
“But this is the summit, not that. All I’ve wanted is this summit.”
You might think this person is a lunatic and without a doubt he is. But I guess that makes us lunatics too.
We go through this life looking at some end goal, a personal summit and that’s all we want. We become so consumed by this one thing that we lose sight of why we wanted it in the first place.
For some of you, your summit might actually be the equivalent of Everest. It might be the pinnacle of your field, life, relationship, or whatever.
But as you stand on top of that mountain, as you relish your accomplishment, will you dare to say you’ve conquered the world? Would you say life and the rest of society has submitted itself to eternally do your bidding?
Zoom out and you will realize you are only a speck in the vastness of life. You are a speck one erratic gust of air can dethrone. You stand in a place many have stood and a place where many more will stand.
Look around and you’ll see the other peaks protruding through the floor of clouds. You’ll see that the beauty and the achievement of the summit lies not in the summit itself but for the view and the perspective it grants.
It is what reaching that position, attaining that status, or becoming that person now qualifies and positions you to do that is worth chasing, not the fading glitter of a gold-plated name tag.
It is a reminder that no matter where we are in life and what we might have achieved, there is always more to learn, to appreciate, and to achieve.
Don’t become so addicted, so goal-oriented you miss out on the splendor of your environment and the celebration of community, dreaming, and hope.