27 September 2023

Going up? Which mountain were you born to climb?

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Bruce Kasanoff* says one of the most heartbreaking experiences is to spend decades climbing the career ladder, only to find the view from the top is less than inspiring.

It is easy to accidentally climb the wrong mountain… that is, to pursue the wrong goals and ambitions.

Many of us never pause long enough to consider what matters most to us, or to think about the implications of our decisions.

“My father was an attorney,” a newly-minted lawyer might confess.

“I have a mind like his. It never occurred to me that the practice of law could leave me feeling empty and alone, as though I was living someone else’s life.”

Here’s the thing about climbing the wrong mountain: For years and years, it can feel like you are being productive and effective.

You reach milestones that required years of grit and growth to achieve. You get promoted. You make more money. Friends and neighbours are impressed.

You might even be impressed.

Yet when you get to the top — and when you start to gaze at another peak with a sense of longing — you are further than ever from your true path.

It’s a sad story: For 27 years Dan climbed The Mountain of Power.

Three months after summiting — that is, becoming Chief Executive — he had a heart attack and died.

His wife said at his funeral: “Ironically, Dan was happiest when he stepped away from his quest and spent time with his children and friends.

“He was most miserable the closer he came to power, but he could never shake the habit of seeking power.”

Dan had climbed the wrong mountain.

At heart, Sarah is an artist. She spent 10 years climbing the Mountain of Perfection, trying to master the medium of water-colour painting.

During this period, Sarah was her own toughest critic.

She was never satisfied with her work and was always reluctant to offer it for sale or charge high enough prices to support even her minimal needs.

Over time, she began to support and encourage other artists.

When she finally worked up the courage to sell her works at summer art fairs, she always brought a few pieces created by her friends.

It was far easier for her to promote and sell these other works, which she did so effectively that friends gave her more and more artworks to display.

Three years ago, Sarah opened an art gallery, then another.

She has never been happier or more gratified.

Now she is climbing the Mountain of Artistic Fellowship, and she paints for her personal pleasure.

External metrics won’t reveal whether you should be climbing the Mountain of Wealth or the Mountain of Compassion.

To find the answer, you must look inside yourself.

Can I give you a simple five-step system for doing this? Nope.

My gift to you today is far simpler and more effective. It is this truth:

You can decide which mountain to climb over the course of your career and life. You have far more latitude to make such a decision than you may realise.

You are not stuck in the middle between financial and family obligations. You are not too late in your career to make a change.

You are not forced to be ‘practical’ or ‘realistic’, instead of focused on what your heart and soul is telling you.

Let me leave you with a personal thought.

When I reach the end of my career and gaze out at the landscape beneath me from the top of a mountain I have spent decades climbing, you can be damn sure that I want to know in my bones: This is the mountain I was born to climb.

All the names and specific examples I shared today are fictional, but they are based on the type of misguided careers that happen with heartbreaking frequency.

*Bruce Kasanoff is an executive coach and social media ghostwriter for entrepreneurs. He can be contacted at kasanoff.com.

This article first appeared at kasanoff.com.

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