It is not the mountain that wears you out

Mountains are intriguing and mystical. Each one has its own splendour and beauty and, of course, the highest ones intrigue us the most. There are at least 109 mountains on Earth with elevations greater than 7,200 Metres (23,622 ft), and as we all know, Mount Everest is the Earth’s highest mountain, with a peak at 8,848 meters (29,029 ft) above sea level. We look at these mountains and wonder what it must be like to stand on top of such a mountain. Those who have accomplished this tell us that it is a thrilling experience to look down and feel that you are on top of the world. You can see the way you walked and climbed, and you recall those agonizing moments when you seriously considered giving up. You can remember the moments when you felt that you simply could not continue, and when you had to dig deep and just keep going. You pushed forward one step at a time, until you took the final step – and suddenly you had arrived at the summit. The relief and joy when you realize that you have made it are indescribable, they say. Even though you feel exhausted and drained, the sense of accomplishment overrides all of that. Filled with joy, pride, and gratitude, you plant your flag, saying to yourself, it was all worth it.

There are striking similarities between mountain climbing and our life journey. We all have to face a mountain of sorts from time to time. Some are more like hills and easier to navigate, but some are simply daunting – like the one we are facing at the moment, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The truth is, humans are built for mountains. We need those mountains. We need challenges. As tempting and fantastic as a life without uphills and mountains may sound, it simply is not what we signed up for. We would soon die of boredom, if life was an obstacle-free and never-ending sunset cruise with free cocktails and endless parties. That is not the perfect life. Let us not be duped by social media and glossy magazines to buy into this fantasy. There is a perfect life, and that is the life you and I are living right now, because it is tailor-made for us. Each one of us is on a unique journey, with our own unique downhills and uphills, mountains and plains, and by design, we always have what it takes to walk this path. We just sometimes need to dig deep to walk that path, particularly when the going gets tough.

Whatever your specific mountain is that you are facing at the moment, now is perhaps a good time to be reminded of what Robert Service once said: “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” If you have ever been walking, when you get some sand or a tiny pebble in your shoe, you know what he means. It is amazing how this little irritation can distract you and become the focus of your attention. For some reason, we normally try to ignore it and keep going until the discomfort simply becomes too much and we stop, remove the shoe, and get rid of the sand or the pebble.

One of the by-products of the lockdown is that we have had time to think about life and ourselves, to take stock, and do a bit of a life review. Before this, we were so busy trying to reach the top, that we hardly slowed down to pay attention to grain(s) of sand in our shoe. We told ourselves that it is not such a big issue, that we will deal with it later. It is annoying but not unbearable. We can live with it. Well, we are facing quite a mountain at the moment. It may be a good idea to take our shoes off now, and to remove the sand. As we all know, trying to ignore that grain of sand in our shoes is futile. It doesn’t go away. Denial is an even worse option. As someone once said, the worst kind of lie is when we are lying to ourselves, because denial stands for Don’t-Even-Know-I-Am-Lying.

So let us be brave and identify that grain(s) of sand in our shoe. We should ask ourselves, “What have I been ignoring or denying?” “What is irritating me?” “What frustrates me?” “What is stealing my joy?” A clue here is to find the things that sour your mood. Too much exposure to negative news can cause this too. In that case, limit your exposure to the news, and focus on good things that are also happening. If you have developed a bad habit, then address that. If you are surrounded by toxic people, then avoid them. Whatever that grain of sand is, identify it and deal with it, and keep walking and conquer this mountain. It would not have appeared on your life path, if you were unable to deal with it.

Remember, “Mountains are only a problem when they are bigger than you. You should develop yourself so much that you become bigger than the mountains you face.” – Idowu Koyenikan