In mid-July after my freshman year of high school, I stood on the top of a mountain for the first time. It was not an especially lofty peak; my fellow backpackers and I had been able to walk up to its summit in less than a day. Nonetheless, I stood on the very highest point, surveying the terrain around me with an undeniable sense of pride. I was hooked.
In the years that followed, my interest in mountains only increased in intensity. I loved the idea of having a visible goal in mind, a defined peak to reach and cross off my list once I’d set my feet upon it and snapped a triumphant summit photo.
Mountaineering was not my only interest, however. Throughout high school I had been a cross country and track runner, and early on it seemed I would have the chance to compete at any college in the country. But during my junior year track season, suddenly I was no longer competing at the highest level. When I was no longer going into races with a goal of winning or setting a personal record, I became unsure of what, exactly, I was working for. I lost the motivation to keep pushing myself, which only set me back further.
Sometimes there is no physical peak I can keep in sight as I work toward a goal. During a track meet my senior year, in my first two mile race, I let go of my old goals for the first time and instead focused on just passing each girl that was in front of me. I didn’t win the race or get a personal record, but I did run faster, with less effort, than I had in a long time. When I charged across the finish line, it felt oddly similar to when I stood on a mountain peak for the first time. What I was just beginning to realize was that everything in life is not a mountain. Sometimes there is no obvious peak, and at times like these I need to set goals that seem insignificant to others but help me stay focused on continually making progress.
I still enjoy striving for the defined, impressive accomplishments, be it getting into a respected school, winning a race, or acing a test, as long as they are realistic. But I’ve also learned that many times, life won’t hand me ready-made mountains. I believe in making my own mountains.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.