I was planning to follow up my editorial on "dreams" with one on "distractions," but then... I got distracted. My husband made a comment that got my mind spinning in a completely different direction.
"Our problem," he said, "is that we keep forgetting to look back down the mountain..."
What he meant was that we spend a great deal of time and effort "climbing the mountain." We each have our own, individual mountains to climb. We climb with our eyes fixed upon a lofty peak, a destination, a goal to be reached. We climb diligently, determinedly, pressing onward and upward, seeking out handholds, taking a moment's rest on a ledge and then moving forward again, determined to reach the top.
Perhaps our mountain is that novel we're trying to finish. Perhaps it's the goal of getting launched in a writing career. Perhaps it's the desire to get something published for the first time. Perhaps it's a specific objective of writing a certain number of words or pages, in a day, or in a month, or in a year. Whatever it is, it has the power to motivate us to keep pushing forward. And we do push forward, even though, quite often, it does indeed feel like rather a steep climb.
We're encouraged in this venture by nearly every newsletter, blog, or publication catering to writers. We are surrounded, bombarded, and urged onward by articles that tell us what we ought to do to "make it to the top" -- whether, again, that "peak" we have our eyes fixed upon is a novel, or a poem, or a career move. At the beginning of the year, you're bound to run into endless articles suggesting "resolutions" for the serious writer: Write so many words, send out so many queries, organize your notes, dig into your "dead" files for new article ideas, turn your old articles into reprints, and so on. I've written some of those articles myself!
And I'm all for climbing the mountain. I think dreams are a wonderful thing, and that it's far better to have a lofty goal than to have no goals at all. I can't think of anything much more dreadful than being the sort of person whose primary concern in life is what happens to be on television tonight. The very word "aspire" makes one think of lofty peaks and grand vistas.
But there's one small problem with climbing that mountain, and that, as my husband pointed out, is forgetting to look down. Every so often, one needs to stop, take a rest break, make camp, and look back down the mountain to see how far one has come.
If all we do is keep our eyes focused on the peak ahead of us, or the one after that, or the even taller peak coming up after that, the danger is that all we end up thinking about is how far we still have to go. If we only focus on where we're going, it's too easy to start getting frustrated and dismayed by how far ahead of us that goal still is. That peak is still so high above our heads; we still have so far to climb! And quite often, it can start to feel as if we may go on climbing forever, and never reach the "top" of our mountain. (Or, if we do, we're just going to find that it's only a foothill and a much higher mountain still lies ahead.)
So as we move into the last months of the year, I'd like to encourage all you climbers out there to stop for a moment. Look back over the route you've taken to get to where you are at this moment. Identify the achievements you've made along the way. Identify the hurdles and obstacles you've overcome during your climb. And don't stop at simply "identifying" them. Celebrate them.
Was one of your goals to send out a certain number of query letters this year? Regardless of how many you actually sent out -- regardless of whether you reached your "target goal" -- celebrate the queries that did make it out the door. Was your goal to work on your novel? Perhaps your "destination peak" is to finish the novel -- but if your eyes remain fixed only upon that distant goal, it's easy to overlook the fact that you have, in fact, written a dozen chapters, or half a dozen -- or even one!
When January hits, we'll be inundated with potential resolutions. I see lots of articles about how easy it is to break those resolutions -- but I rarely (if ever) see one that encourages us to celebrate the resolutions we've kept. Perhaps that's because our society encourages us to focus on what we have yet to do, rather than to celebrate what we have done. We are overachievers in part because we're never comfortable resting upon our achievements -- or even recognizing them. This, in turn, keeps us perpetually "on the climb," because quite often, we don't even realize we've reached a peak and left it behind, because we're so focused on the next mountain on the horizon.
Don't get me wrong: Climbing is a good thing. But as Miley Cyrus sings in one of my favorite exercise songs, "Always gonna be another mountain..."
So take a break this coming holiday season, and look back down the mountain. You might be astonished to discover just how far you've come!
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