Reaching The Pinnacle

Me on path down from the summit
Me on the path down from the summit

This weekend, the weather in Charlotte was amazing, so I decided to spend my Sunday morning doing one of my favorite things – hiking Crowders Mountain State Park.  The park itself has two peaks, Crowders Mountain and King’s Pinnacle, along with a network of trails that go for miles.

Some situations in my life recently have led me to examine what it means to compromise and to settle.  I think that my hike on Sunday makes a perfect analogy.

Too often, we mistakenly believe that settling looks like never making it out of the parking lot.  We put on our hiking clothes and shoes, slather on some sunscreen, and pack a water bottle, all with the intention of making it to the pinnacle, but simply get waylaid before we have even begun.

The danger of settling, however, is not to be found in the parking lot.  Barring some exceptionally unusual circumstances, you are not going to conclude your hike before you’ve even really had a chance to begin.

Settling is to be found on the trail.  The state park has a network of trails, most of which connect with or overlap with each other.  Pretty quickly after departing the trailhead, you will reach a fork, and consequently, a choice.  Sometimes settling looks like approaching a fork in the path and allowing fear and indecision to halt your forward progress there – for some this hesitation will be brief, but others could spend their entire lives analyzing the pros and cons of each fork, waiting for a sign, polling others about which way they should go, and allowing the fear of the unknown to root them in place.

However, all of the trails will lead you somewhere.  There isn’t necessarily a “right” trail and a “wrong” trail.  Some will be long and winding and the hike will be more leisurely.  Others will be short and strenuous, but provide a more direct route to the peak.  However, when you are close to the trailhead, the trail you choose matters far less than your willingness to walk one.

You are steadily progressing on the path you have chosen.  You are seeing beautiful sights and encountering many other human beings, some moving faster than you, some moving slower than you, some returning from where you have not been, some taking a different trail than you have chosen.

Let’s assume that you didn’t have the foresight to grab a park map at the outset.  You are following a trail, but you have no idea how far you are from the peak or if this particular trail will even take you there.  When do you decide you are finished?

  • Indecision: “I can’t decide which trail to take.”
  • Time: “I have hiked for an hour; I’m ready to go home.”
  • Fatigue: “I’m exhausted; I just can’t go any further.”
  • Pain/Discomfort:  “I twisted my ankle – I can’t continue.”
  • Lacking Resources:  “I am out of water and unprepared to go any further than this.”
The stairs on the short, but strenous trail to the summit.
The stairs on the short, but strenuous trail to the summit.

Here is the thing about settling, folks – when are you in the greatest danger of throwing in the towel and settling?  In the parking lot?  No.  At the fork in the road?  No.  Where then?  Just before you reach the summit.

I have hiked a lot of mountains in my day, and most hikes will have false summits – smaller peaks or lookout points that offer a great view and a feeling of accomplishment.  And I have often been on a new hike, reached one of those inferior peaks, and mistakenly assumed it was in fact, The Peak.

I feel that this is what is truly deceiving about settling.  It is concluding that you have reached the summit, when in fact, you could climb to still greater heights and enjoy an even more stunning view.  For me personally, settling for a relationship is what has been on my mind lately, so I’m going to use that as an example.  We may have different reasons for settling, but the outcome is the same.  We are in a “good” relationship with someone.  It’s solid.  It’s comfortable.  We may be tempted to believe that this is “the summit” or that it is close enough for many reasons:

  • Indecision (favors the status quo):  “I don’t know if I should leave him.  I care about him, but we are miserable.  But maybe things can be different if I just…”
  • Time: “I have already invested X number of years into this relationship, so I need to find a way to make it work.  I can’t just walk away from it.”
  • Fatigue: “I am almost 30 years old.  I am so sick of dating, I can’t stomach the thought of going back to being single again and having to start over.”
  • Pain/Discomfort: “I don’t want to be alone.  Being with someone who may not be right for me is less frightening than the possibility of never finding anyone else.  It would hurt too much to end this relationship.”
  • Lacking Resources: “I am financially dependent on him/we live together/we have a child together/etc.  We are so utterly enmeshed with each other that I don’t know how I could ever possibly leave him.”

I’ve used relationships to illustrate this point since it is something relevant to me at the moment, but this “good enough” mentality is insidious and can invade other areas of your life too.

I feel confident that overall I am steadily progressing toward The Peak and have not settled for an inferior overlook.  But just like everyone else, I find myself tempted by those excuses for settling for less than I deserve because it seems “close enough” and I am indecisive, exhausted, fearful, in pain, or lacking resources.

This is my reminder to demand more from life and from myself.  Concessions and compromises are neither characteristic of the life I want to live nor the example I want to set for others.  Keep pressing toward The Peak.

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