At the age of 18 I started climbing a tree – my “career” tree. I learnt how to jump up each branch in logical sequence: going to law school, becoming a lawyer, then an associate, a partner, and soon a leading partner. The very top of my tree was in sight.
Each branch had brought its version of “success”. What no one realised however was that my outer success had not translated into a feeling of inner happiness and fulfilment. The reality was quite different: a life built on pressure and stress; on pretending to be present with my family; on compromising who I was for the person I was expected to be; and the list goes on.
At 40, something happened that would change my life. It came in the form of a little voice inside, waking up from a long slumber. A mere whisper at first, it invited me to pause and focus on the view around me. So instead of looking up to the next branch as I had always done, I looked outward and listened.
The first thing that struck me was my tree was one of millions in a huge forest, with each being climbed by someone. There were those like me who seemed in a hurry to get to the top, while others seemed content sitting on a branch, enjoying the view.
The second thing I noticed was a large shape beyond the tree line – the contours of a beautiful mountain in the distance. Even from afar I could sense its energy, its power and its majesty. It had an instant and profound effect on me, as if speaking in a language only I could understand.
I was suddenly overcome by a powerful urge to get down from my tree and head towards the mountain. So I peered down for the very first time, and images of the twenty-two years of climbing flashed before my eyes.
I was bombarded by “head noise” with all the different “ME’s” speaking at the same time, jostling for my attention: “you’ve worked so hard for this”; “you have security, comfort, a clear path….”; “you’re not happy”; “there’s only uncertainty and risk out there…”.
My energy level dropped like a stone. I didn’t move, still looking towards the forest floor, totally mesmerised and confused. Did I see freedom or was it something else I had no words for yet?
I needed to calm down and think, so I closed my eyes. The little voice whispered: “breathe … just breathe”. I felt my heart slow to a steady drum beat, echoing through my body. I opened my eyes, tilted my head back, looked to the top of my tree – and paused. I then let my head roll down, squeezing my chin against my chest, and paused again. After a few seconds, I raised my head to the horizon, allowing my gaze to extend beyond the tree line to the mountain – and paused once more…
The drum beat intensified, its echo pulsating through my veins, eclipsing all the other sounds. At that moment I knew! A big smile unfurled across my face, my eyes glistened and a sense of purpose and connection overwhelmed me.
With inexplicable certainty and my energy restored, my body began to move towards the forest floor. After setting foot on the soft ground, off I went on a northern heading, like a young buck galloping in the wild for the very first time.
It was as if I was going to meet an old friend who knew me better than anyone, who understood me, who knew how I felt. And then it hit me! The mountain I had seen in the distance, the mountain I was going towards … was ME! The me who didn’t pretend, the me who didn’t need to live in stress; the real, authentic me whose true voice had not yet been heard. I was the mountain and I was going towards it!
I had reached the stage in my life where I could discover who I was – my values, my talents, my aspirations; what I wanted most out of life and what I was willing to give back. I sensed if I took the time to answer these questions, I would reconnect to my unafraid, inspired self.
I ran through the forest tirelessly, feeling light and free, and before long, I entered a clearing with the mountain standing before me. I stopped instinctively to take in its magnitude and beauty. I was chomping at the bit to scale its sloping hills, follow its winding streams, explore its caves, and discover its secrets.
“A new climb”, I thought to myself, smiling at the irony. This time it felt all about the journey not the destination, but with no future and no past … just a series of moments to be discovered and savoured from a place of curiosity and connection.
After a final deep breath, I put one foot on the mountain and off I went …
Welcome to the Mountain. Welcome to your Mountain.