“Slow down. Calm down. Don’t worry. Don’t hurry. Trust the process.” – Alexandra Stoddard
While on a recent run in a crooked Colorado canyon near my home, the ridgeline which marked the end of the canyon—and my run—poked out in the distance around every twist in the canyon walls. It seemed so far away. I run this canyon frequently, so I knew every footstep in front of me. I’m often motivated by the challenge ahead. Yet the distance wasn’t motivating for me, not today.
I think life is sometimes like this. Our aspirations, goals, and dreams can seem far enough away that they appear unattainable. I think this is the reason so many of us abandon the pursuit of our goals or don’t even try to begin with. Henry Ford once said, “Obstacles are what you see when you take your eyes off the goal.” With all due respect to one of the greatest industrialists of the 20th century, I think that’s complete hogwash. It’s nearly a guarantee that obstacles will present themselves in almost any of life’s pursuits, and if you’re not present enough in the moment to notice them and navigate around them, you will fall short. Sometimes these obstacles need to be anticipated and ways to mitigate those obstacles need to be planned. Always keeping your eyes on the goal is too simplistic to describe an effective way to achieve it. So what should we do?
This fall, my wife and I spent a weekend climbing three of Colorado’s fourteeners—Missouri Mountain, Mount Oxford, and Mount Belford. Missouri is only visible for about half the hike, and Belford’s summit is out of sight until you’re practically standing on it. The standard route for climbing Oxford involves climbing Belford first, so it isn’t visible until you reach the top of Belford. What kept us trudging up a steep trail, gaining 4,500 feet in just four miles (despite the fact we couldn’t see our goal for much of the way), was striving to reach the next curve in the path or the next big boulder on the side of the trail. This is the process of climbing, and the process is what gets you to the top.
If our focus is only on the end result or the ultimate goal, we continually remind ourselves that it is far away and that the trail is steep. But if we remain present, learn to appreciate the journey, and break up our ultimate goal into smaller sets of goals, then the trail won’t seem so long and steep.
The more than mile long traverse from Mt. Belford to Mt. Oxford included a quarter mile of technically easy class 2 hiking but on a punishing 50 degree pitch. My lungs burned with each gasp of the thin air at 14,000 feet. Not once in this area did I think about the top of the mountain I had not yet reached. Instead, I reveled in my view of the Rockies, many of the peaks below me for miles to the horizon. And my thoughts were limited to the next step I was about to take. We made quick progress on the traverse by taking our eyes off the goal and focusing on the obstacle. I hope Henry Ford wasn’t offended.
On my next run in the canyon near my home, I may push through fatigue when I see that faraway ridgeline. But if I feel less than hopeful in my chances of getting there without stopping to catch my breath, I may just concentrate on getting to the next curve in the canyon. Part of success in life is knowing what works for you and what doesn’t, and knowing that can change from one circumstance to the next. There’s an old adage: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” We may become discouraged if we only focus on the giant elephant, or the approximately 378,957 bites we have to take. But if we focus on each bite and not get ahead of ourselves, then each bite can give us confidence.