How to Climb a Mountain (Not Really But Kinda)

Confession – I’ve never climbed a mountain made of rock.  Maybe some day, but I’m afraid of heights and it just hasn’t happened yet.  So this post is about another kind of mountain.  I’ve had a lot hoping around in my brain this week, and I’ve been struggling to wrap my thoughts into a package that makes sense, so I’ll apologize if this post is a little scattered.

Okay.  Hope has been on my mind.  Redemption.  Lost causes.  (Do they exist?)  And where and how to begin when the mess on your hands is crazy big.  Like a mountain.

I’m going start by telling you a story from film camp that involves my friend Frank.  Frank is the awesome Italian who gave me advice on marinara sauce.  I met Frank in the fall of 2006.  (Wow.  That was eight years and a lifetime ago.)  We were in the same class at the Maine Media Workshops, basically an intro to film making.  This is the class that would lead to me moving to New York City, someday I’ll write more about that…

Anyway.  Frank and I became fast friends during the making of our 3 projects during those 7 weeks.   His final project meant a lot to him and it was a pretty awesome film noir concept.  However, the day of shooting didn’t go according to plan (nothing ever does in film, just like life).  We got behind schedule and ended up rushing the shooting of the last few scenes.  I’m being gentle with that description… there came a point when the set descended into near complete chaos and when I looked over at Frank, he was catatonically staring into space because he could see his project going up in smoke as we were all choking on the clouds emanating from the smoke machine.

When filming was done and equipment put away, we went back to our rooms and Frank told me, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I’m too terrified to watch the tapes.”  He didn’t think he had enough footage to tell the story he intended.  I just wasn’t going to have that – I wanted my friend to succeed!  And I knew that not watching the footage was not going to help him at all.  We were on a very specific time schedule and he had to start editing!

So I looked at Frank and I told him, “You need to suck it up and watch the tapes.  The footage will be the same whether you watch it now, or in 24 hours.  The longer you wait, the more time you are wasting, when you could be fixing what you have.”  Long story short, Frank took my advice and watched the footage.  He confronted the problem, assessed what could be done and moved forward.  And everything worked out in the end.  His project closed the weekly show of student work to thunderous applause.  I’m proud of the small part I had in it.

I told you that story about a mini mountain because it illustrates something that I think we ALL are guilty of. What is it about human nature that makes us want to avoid our problems?  Especially when avoiding them will only make them worse, drag them out, postpone the inevitable?  Why do we wait?

I have been incredibly guilty of doing this.  Obviously.  If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have let my weight get out of control.  Or my drinking for that matter.  And I wouldn’t have let various other issues grow bigger and bigger, all the while saying “everything is fine”, when I should have been confronting them.  Heck, if I did’t put things off, I wouldn’t be dealing with the mountain of laundry I have in my bedroom right now.  So why do we do it?

Well – maybe because mountains are scary.  You sit at the bottom and you stare up a mountain and you can’t figure out how you’ll get to the top.  So you instead of starting, you just sit down and pretend like it’s not there.

But the mountain doesn’t go away just because you ignore it.  And you can’t move forward unless you climb it.

Once upon a time, I was a mess.  Seriously people, a mess.  I think I did a decent job of hiding it but I was an unhappy, dissatisfied, hurting mess for a long time.  Inside and out.  I’ve spoken pretty candidly on here about my struggles with overeating and drinking – they were certainly two of my biggest mountains.  I’ve also talked about getting up when you fall down, which I had to do more than once. It took time and energy to climb over my stuff.  But I did.

That doesn’t mean I’m done.  I’ve got a couple of metaphorical mountains on the horizon of my life.  But now, rather than be paralyzed by the thought of how big they are, I’m excited to see what happens.  I know that I can’t fail as long as I keep trying.  Eventually, I’ll find my way.  Whether it be mental, physical, emotional, there is nothing like the feeling of conquering something that’s haunted you.

What is your personal mountain?  You might have more than one (my advice, tackle one at a time).  Is the mess really big and you don’t know how to start?  What I’d like you to know today is this: I don’t care how big your mountain is or what it’s made of or how scared you are.  You can climb that bastard.  Even if you don’t believe that, I believe it for you. I believe that is true of absolutely anyone because it turned out to be true for me.  If I am capable of change, then anyone is.  Remember – I was a freakin mess!  I’m not prefect now, nor will I ever be, but I’m a hell of a lot better off than I once was.  The truth? Your problems, like my problems, will be your problems until the day you decide to deal with them.  So why the hell not today?  Just do it because they will not fix themselves.  Take it from someone who tried the ‘Ignore it and it’ll go away/just get better’ thing.  Entirely ineffective.

So let me tell you a few things I know about metaphorical mountains:

  • Whether or not you climb is entirely up to you.  No one can drag you up one, even with the best intentions.  You have to get your own two legs underneath you and do the work.  You can ask people to come with you, you can get support, in fact I recommend you do.  But you are the only person you are with 24 hours a day and that makes you responsible for your choices and your journey.  If you’re heart’s not in it, you won’t get very far.
  • When you start up a mountain, you don’t know how you’ll get to the top.  Or how long it will take.  And that’s ok.  It’s not really important to know.  Even if you think you know, or if you are the best planner in the world, you will have to change your plans a couple of times, the more you learn and the higher you get. The important thing is starting. To quote Tina Fey: “Say yes and you’ll figure it out later.”  Making the commitment to get to the top is half the work.  Then, just staying open to possibilities.
  • The view from the top is really freaking awesome.  No one can ever take it from you.  You earn it and you own it forever.

Back to the title: How do you climb a (metaphorical) mountain?

You confront the problem, assess what can be done and moved forward.   One foot in front of the other.  You refuse to quit.  You realize that there are gonna be days when you are tired or a little lost or you’ll screw up – and you promise yourself that on those days you will sit down and rest and not panic.  You’re human after all.  And then you get right back up and move forward some more.

You keep doing that over and over again.  It won’t happen overnight (not at all) – but one day, everything will be completely normal and you will look around and realize that this life that you are living was not always your ‘normal’.  It’s better.  You’ll realize this Latin phrase now applies to you:

Non sum qualis eram.

I am not what I used to be.

And when that happens, whatever your mountain was, I hope you tell me about the view.

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