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What Really Matters?
Imagine being one of only 5 people in a world heritage protected space of ten’s of thousand’s of hectares of pristine mountain wilderness terrain up above 2500m. All I could hear was the wind, my heartbeat and the odd bark-like calling of an alpha male baboon. Otherwise absolutely nothing.
There is a peace that high up in the Drakensberg mountains between South Africa and Lesotho, where if you wanted to (be in) touch your Maker, it’s hard to imagine being any closer. A deeply spiritual place and a peace like nowhere else on earth.
What a thrill to be alive and with the faculties required to make such a 1000+m ascent possible.
I had intended to “climb” the 3004m Cathedral Peak. We started from the hotel on 1400m at 7h30 in a group of 5 including the guide (who did 3 steps to my every 5 or 6) and were briefed that we needed to maintain a serious pace to get to the top by 11h30 and to be able to return before sunset by 17h30.
Having a Go – Race versus Pace
This turned out to be a question of “race versus pace”. Based on previous ascents of similar peaks, I had banked on 10 hours and about a third of the way up, I realized my pace wasn’t going to make it in the time available. I wasn’t up for a race. My pace was commensurate with a 1952 vintage body and unfortunately that wouldn’t have been enough to maintain the race required to get to the top and returned to base safely before sunset, and without putting me (and the others in my party) at risk of a serious or fatal accident caused by excessive fatigue. I was willing and able to know and to acknowledge my limits.
Smelling the Roses and Savouring the Moment
And so I told the others to go on without me and was instructed to turn back latest at 11h30. I watched their ascent soon putting stretching times between their and my specific points of arrival. I continued the ascent at my pace; one at which I could pause and catch my breath in the thinning air, and continuously soak up the majesty of my surroundings. Reaching that turn-back time, (at about 2,500m) I stopped to ingest the awe inspiring scenic quiet around me with all my senses, reminded of the saying: “sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits“.
This was one of those latter moments. While I was really disappointed not to be able to reach my goal of ascending the impressive summit of this mountain peak, I was nonetheless rewarded by the extraordinary sense of solitude and serenity I have only ever been able to find in the mountains. One I felt even stronger being completely alone at that point and that there had to be a significant price paid in physical and mental effort to get “up there”, no matter how far it was compared to the goal.
I made my way down again with my heart and soul filled with an abundance of proud, inspired and satisfying emotions, also taking in the beauty of the scarcely placed mountain flowers from time to time while marveling at the ever present views.
When I got back to base at the hotel I immediately did something for the local brewing industry’s benefit and penned the outline of this blog as I reflected on having a go. That evening we shared a great collection of stories within the returned group, each in their own way very pleased with what had been achieved and experienced. You see, only the guide plus one other made it to the summit, but we all felt like winners. Why? Because of having a go.
What did I Learn from Having a Go and “Failing”?
The Price and the Prize
I learned that while I was disappointed not to have met my goal, I was nonetheless very pleased and grateful that I could and that I did “have a go”. I learned that there is “A Price and a Prize” and that one always has to keep them in perspective.
Winning at all Cost?
I was reminded that this is often a matter of the positions we take towards something. I thought back of my very first weekend of my professional coaching training when the captain of an AFL team with 3 consecutive AFL grand final wins (almost 4) locked horns in a debate about winning with a fellow student in a wheelchair. While the one saw the world through their lens of “winning at all cost” the other understandably viewed the world more from the value of being able to have a go. The extremes of their views created compelling insights into this age old dilemma so very clearly for us all.
I learned that “Managing Expectations” starts at home. And that whilst I coach my clients on setting stretch goals, and planning their execution in such a way that they are more likely to succeed than to fail, I realized on the day that I had fallen foul of my own advice. I hadn’t done sufficient homework ahead of my mountain quest to know what the “rules” were and so I fell short of my own personal expectations I had set.
There are many very competitive people out there that would deem me to have failed. And in terms of my goal of wanting to reach the top they are right. So I needed to reframe this for me and acknowledge that “I had a go” when a great many of my age group wouldn’t be willing or prepared to “have a go”, right? And like the wheelchair lady, knowing my limits and acknowledging myself for that, rather than beating up on myself for “failing”.
You see, most people don’t have goals for that very reason – so they can’t fail. Their focus when they did was on “failing”, and not on what their “failure” had taught them for next time. Not realizing that having a go will always take you further than taking the “safe” route (and the easy way out). And in taking the “safe” approach, not only depriving yourself of the learning you forgo, but also the enjoyment of the process and your ability to “delight in the scenery”, as I outlined above. Plus risking the impact that can have on perpetuating a low(er) self-worth and self esteem.
So next time you face a challenge, any challenge, whether at home or at work or at play, what will your predominant attitude be:
- having a go, despite the fear, knowing you could fail, but also that you could win and that you will learn something from it (it might be difficult but its possible)
- or playing it (too) safe and not trying (it may be possible, but its too difficult)?
I would urge you always to try “having a go” and perhaps setting it up in smaller steps that you have enough confidence in to try, and keep trying. And if you need someone experienced to run alongside you and encourage you, while holding you accountable so you don’t give up too soon, why not work with a coach? What if you did and it helped you over some personal barrier thresholds that could have made all the difference you really needed towards that “extraordinary life”?
Having a go. It’s never too late you know?
In case you are interested, I referred to a few further blog articles in the above text. You can click on them here: