I recently read an interview with James Doti, president of Chapman University. He’s a runner, triathlete, and mountain climber…in addition to his day job.
He mentioned a discussion he had with his mountain guide at the beginning of a big climb (I think it was Kilimanjaro) that went something like this:
Doti: That mountain is going to be tough!
Mountain Guide: Don’t worry about the mountain. Worry about the next turn.
Excellent advice. It made me think of two more quotes:
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step…and then another.
The sentiments in each of these quotes is the same. Every journey, every project, every career path, every big achievement, and every lifetime are made up of small and seemingly insignificant steps along the way.
I haven’t climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (yet), but I’ve climbed Mt. Whitney twice. There’s a famous section of that climb called The 99 Switchbacks. It begins at about 12,000 feet. Each turn gets you one step closer to the summit. After 99 turns, you reach the Trail Crest at about 13,600 feet.
Then the mountain plays a dirty trick and descends down the back side about 800-1,000 feet before turning back up toward the summit at 14,500 feet. That small descent may sound trivial. It’s not! At that altitude, and after making it through the switchbacks, descending on the way to the summit is quite a mind bender. The only response to the mountain’s challenge is to take the next step, and the one after that.
Funny thing about the triumphant photo at the top of the mountain (or graduation, retirement, etc.) is that it doesn’t show all the small steps that made the photo possible. Those are for the climber (or graduate, or retiree) to remember and appreciate.
The small steps represent our decision to start. To continue. To change direction, or ask for help. To persevere. To achieve.
Photo: Our crew on the summit of Mt. Whitney, 2009 (time flies!). I’m the guy on the far right, trying to catch his breath. I never would have reached the summit without help from everyone in that picture.