Back in 1996 I visited Africa and travelled around 9 different countries in a converted army overland truck. It was an amazing trip and I was able to visit some amazing places. One stop was on the edge of what was then called Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) with the plan of walking up the Mountains of the Moon. An incredible mountain range on the equator with tropical jungle at its base and snow at the peek.
I was really excited to make this walk and started out with high hopes of making it. The first day was a long hard trudge up the mountain, through jungle with both the temperature and humidity ridiculously high. I was determined to make it though. By lunch time the path had all but disappeared and it was down to simply scrambling up the mountain.
So head down and step forward.
Honestly that first day was monotonous in the repetition of hard climbing one step in front of the other, especially given the heat and humidity. It was punctuated with tripping over tree roots and that was about it. I don’t think we managed to get to the first camp until night time at which point we fell immediately asleep.
Waking up the next morning was a nightmare for me. With just one days climbing the difference in altitude and affected my asthma to such a degree that there was no way that I was going to be able to cary on. I was so angry at myself (Like I had any say in how my body would react) and although I so desperately wanted to cary on I realised that it wasn’t going to get any better with additional hight and I would only become a hinderance to my travelling companions.
I knew I had to turn back.
I would be starting the descent earlier in the day than we started the climb and given that it was literally all down hill I knew I could take my time. I was offered a porter to travel with me but decided that I had a good enough sense of direction to make my way down on my own. (Which thankfully proved to be the case)
I started my descent with a heavy heart and a feeling of failure. It wasn’t good to be me in that moment. However as i slowly walked down the mountain I was faced with the most incredible views I had ever seen. I could not believe that I was in the same place I was the day before as I stepped, stumbled and tripped up the mountain side, looking down at my feet at times willing one in front of the other the incredibly steep slope.
The view now in front of me was one of incredible natural beauty, the likes of which I have never seen since. I must have only been walking for about 15 min but I had to stop and sit down and simply stare. This continued for pretty much the whole walk down. I had no idea that behind me for the entire day was an incredible view. The times when we stopped to drink or eat had been under the cover of the trees. But now I walked through these desperate to get to a gap in the tree line to see what the next view would give me.
I was alone, with only the noise of whatever jungle animals were around me at the time. Looking out onto something I will never forget. Yet I was there the day before and hadn’t considered this view was there. It seems completely stupid that I didn’t but we were told that it would be important to reach the camp before nightfall and wee hadn’t even managed that. We had one job the day before. Move forward. Yet 24 hours later I was in the same place but experiencing it in a whole new way.
Slower, more purposefully, taking in the moments I was given. I recognised that the day before’s job was to walk was to get it done by night, but i hated every damn minute of it! What would my journey have been like had I taken into account the view behind me?
One argument would be that the pay off for the hard work was the view at the top and I would agree. Undoubtably the guys that made the snow line and had a snowball fight on the equator, had a much better view and they would have had the same journey back as I would have done, only 3 days worth.
Yet, when I think about how this applies to my work and what I can learn from it I find there is always a new mountain to climb. I never reach the top. When I do, I set a new goal or create new targets and am thinking about what I need to do to challenge myself to hit or reach them.
I realised it can be impossible to accept “mountain top” experiences because I never do reach the top. The answer is therefore to turn around and enjoy the view. To look at the distance travelled during the day/week/month/year and celebrate that.
When you reach a viewing platform, take off your rucksack, kick off the shoes, pour a cup of tea and enjoy the view. Perhaps even encourage others to do the same with you to look at what you have done or to encourage them to do the same in their own work. Not to brag but to celebrate that what you do is good and is worth taking a moment to enjoy.
Pretty soon you will we getting ready to tackle the next mountain but in the mean time, enjoy the view.