Last summer, I went on a trip. Before the trip, I believed in reaching goals for the sake of reaching goals. I believed in biking across town on trails unknown to me not to better my knowledge or to have fun, but to say I did it. I believed in getting good grades just to have them on my record, in black ink on ice white paper. I believed in climbing higher mountains not for the excitement or experience, but to say I had. To me, it was not about the journey, but about the final destination.
As I began to prepare for the trip, which involved days of backpacking and hiking, I only saw the tip of the iceberg of my Himalayan-sized problem. As I was honing my elementary level rock climbing skills, I noticed the tiny ecosystems wedged between the slabs of rock. As I was teaching my fit body to power up the scree and loose rocks rather than gliding over rolling hills, I noticed the Dahl sheep level with me, wandering across the mountain ranges. As I practiced stopping myself with an ice axe from sliding hundreds of meters into an icy cold lake, I realized I was not saving my life to say I had, but to be able to see the fantastic sunset as I hiked down afterwards.
The epitome of this revelation came to me about 200 vertical feet from the 12,799-foot summit of Granite Peak, the highest point in Montana. I was sunburned, I was hot, I was tired, and I could go no further. I had a headache from the altitude and I felt sick. I had pushed myself up 700 vertical feet of rock climbing, but this was my limit. I was perched on the edge of a desolate rock, looking down at least 2000 feet. I was waiting for my friend and her dad to achieve our goal. I sat there, and threw myself the best pity party ever known, complete with sniffles and tears. Near the end of my epic five-hour event, I took a second, looked around, and really appreciated my surroundings and myself for the first time. I had climbed more than 6000 vertical feet with a 40-pound pack for two days. I was, by my guess, at least 20 miles of mountains and backcountry terrain from any kind of civilization. There was no horizon, only rows and rows of blue mountain ranges, every way I turned. I had survived Froze to Death Plateau (the name is less meaningful in the middle of July). Even though I never made the summit of Granite Peak, my ultimate goal, I still had the privilege to experience a paradise of which most only catch a glimpse in a photograph or painting.
At that moment I identified the belief by which I live, and will continue living as long as it is possible: in the long run, my success is judged and measured by only me, and that success is not always winning the race, being valedictorian, or reaching the summit of the mountain, but how I grow and better myself as I reach those goals.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.