Your Goals May Be a Mirage Hiding a Cliff

People think that summiting the mountain is the goal…they’re wrong.

If you start a new job, build your own business, or begin a training plan to climb a mountain, you better realize that your goal should not be promotions, contracts, or summits. All of those things are the result of a lot of hard work and dedication, but they should not be the outcome you seek.


After finishing college, I took up rock climbing to fill the void that being a college athlete had filled. Like most people I started in the gym to establish my confidence and skills, and before long I was lucky enough to befriend folks who climbed outdoors.

Fast forward a couple years and I was now an experienced indoor and outdoor climber, working part time at my local gym, climbing bigger projects outside, and even volunteering with a local Mountain Search and Rescue Team.

The more I was around my outdoorsy kin, I learned lesson after lesson…but none stuck out to me as much as this one.

It’s not about making it to the top. It’s about making it back down.

Photo by alan parker via unsplash

In the Search and Rescue world, “the way back” is always at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Why? Because SAR folks are out there rescuing people who reached the summit and didn’t plan (properly) on how to get back down to safety!! It is quite literally, life and death on the side of a mountain if only one half of the equation is considered.

The same can be said of a lot of things in life. (maybe not life and death…but failure and true long term success)

Author and entrepreneur Ryan Holiday was recently interviewed by GQ, and addressed a comment about how motivation should not be outcome focused:

I work with lots of different writers. I ask, “Why do you want to write a book?” And whenever someone tells me it’s because they want to be a New York Times’ bestseller, I’m out. Because it’s a bullshit goal. It’s a goal that you have almost no control over. So the idea that you are going to spend a year or two years or five years of your life engaging in a process to get an outcome that you don’t control is insanity.

When your motivation is not really outcome focused, and you intrinsically like the thing, I would argue that the best work comes from that place.

Bingo!

Writing a book (or climbing a mountain) is a fantastic pursuit, but when the goal of that process is only recognition (a summit in the mind of the writer) you are destined to ultimate failure. You may summit that mountain, but you will be up there all by yourself, with no plan and now way down.

You will freeze to death in the cold of desolate success. Unless you consider the whole journey.

It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.

–Ernest Hemmingway

How to avoid the outcome focused cliff

1. Don’t get locked in on the goal

Avoid being like the intrepid Wile E Coyote, who gets so focused on catching the Road Runner that he falls into the canyon amidst a cloud of dust. Force yourself to step back and look at the big picture. Only then will you see the hazards that are just past the “prize” and know to adjust course to avoid disaster.

2. A partner can keep you in check

In the mountain climbing world, a solid partner is not only competent and as motivated as you are, but will also not be afraid to tell you when to turn around. It’s easy to be so motivated to achieve the goal you set for yourself, that you lose sight of everything around you. Like a snow storm that envelopes the top of a mountain, reducing visibility to only your own feet; your career dedication has the potential to harm you more than help.

A worthwhile partner can pull you out of that haze and show you the abyss you were about to march right in to. We all want to see that life changing sunrise come over the horizon…but sunrise is when visibility is at its worst….your partner can tell you that light you see is a train about to hit you, not the sun.

3. Accept the cliche: you have to love the process

If you are reading this article then you’ve probably heard “you have to love the process” a thousand times. That’s because it’s true. In the context of this article…if you don’t love the process and are only focused on the goal you set, you will be let down once you reach that goal. Sure you’re a success…but was it at your own expense? Others expense? What’s next?

Passion for the process safeguards you from those potential pitfalls; and that “process” may mean different things for different people. For some, it may mean the actual work, for others it may be the people they work with, and yet for a few it may be the overarching mission of their organization. Either way, the passion is there and will keep you steady.


“The big picture doesn’t just come from the distance; it also comes from time.”

Simon Sinek

Implementing this ethos in your life and career takes time. It’s hard when all you see in the short term is the restrictions all around you, not allowing you to do what you would like. Yet, if you can keep coming back to those three things to steer away from that cliff…you will be shocked at how beautifully things can turn out for you in the long run.

Photo by Suzanne D. Williams via Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s