“False Summits” and Other Lessons from 2013
By: Guest Blogger Rachel Gribling
In the middle of April last year, I stepped off an old bus near the wee town of Kinloch Rannoch, preparing to climb my first mountain. Climbing a winter “munro” (mountains above 3,000 feet) in Scotland is no easy task, thus I was fully prepared for the trek with my North face ski jacket and multiple layers of warm clothing. My fiance is an avid mountaineer and is steadily making his way through all of the 200 plus “munros” . I, on the other hand, had never properly hiked, let alone climbed a mountain in the Scottish winter. Perhaps it was my desire to shoot the Scottish landscape with my Canon Rebel, but I was determined to climb Schiehallion, otherwise known as the “fairy hill of the Caledonians” marking my first munro attempt (and certainly the first of many!) in winter-time.
As I approached the foot of Scheihallion, what I saw before me was frightening – a giant expanse looming above me, reaching into the clear blue sky (a rare occurrence for this part of the world), its summit losing shape amidst the clouds overhead. Needless to say, I was nervous even before I took my first step. What if I get to tired before I reach the top? What if I lose my balance and fall? What if I wander off the beaten track? Several doubts and “what-ifs” flooded my mind. I had expectations about this trip, and the possibility of them not being met was becoming more and more of a reality. Many have compared life’s journey to the steady climb up a mountain. Even Miley Cyrus managed to write a song about “the Climb”. But perhaps what is most neglected by many are those few moments before the assent. And the many expectations we have before our assent. Having already spent twenty-five quid for a bus and mustering up enough courage to climb this munro, my adrenaline was pumping and my pride was at stake so naturally, I was more than ready to go. Indeed, I had GREAT expectations. As I began to climb, I stepped into a natural rhythm and once you’re in this rhythm, it becomes much easier to trudge up the mountain. The next 45 minutes passed by at a relatively moderate pace although my body was beginning to feel the constant trudge upwards. But I saw the summit ahead of me, so I kept on trudging. But as I looked upwards, I gaped in horror. The summit is actually not the summit at all. This is the moment when I was first introduced to the “false summit” – a point in the mountain that looks like the pinnacle or summit of the mountain but upon reaching, it turns out that the summit is much higher.
For those of you hikers and mountaineers, you’ll understand when I say that a false summit is both frustrating and can be both demoralizing and discouraging. The false summit was both of these things for me. In a way, the summit was laughing at me, mocking me. It was acknowledging to me how much ground there is still left to cover and how much I had not achieved. It reminded me of how tiresome life can be if I banked all of my hopes on one single item or person or dream. We all have expectations about something. Relationships. Love. Marriage. Dream jobs. University offers. And these things in themselves are entirely harmless. It is the moment at which we base our personal happiness and sense of worth and value on these expectations that we lose sight of what’s important and may fall into a pit of placing our identity in the wrong things. Expectations can do us a great disservice, so we must learn to master them. Once we learn the secret of the “false summit”, then we can master our own expectations.
So what’s the secret?
When I think of successful people, not people who have a giant salary or a flashy Mercedes Benz, but the people who really live with contentment, these individuals are the ones who have learned one of the most important lessons – letting go. They have mastered the art of letting go of their great expectations. Instead of expecting certain things, they openly accepted what is given to them. If 2013 taught me nothing else but this, then I consider myself to be incredibly blessed. I have often felt the toll of great expectations. In my relationships, school rejections, job hunt.
Why hadn’t my relationship worked out the way I wanted it to?
Why didn’t I get accepted to that university in Virginia?
How come I’m not popular among friends?
I am a firm believer that life is a series of lessons. And if we accept that every event and person we meet along this journey has occurred or has crossed our path to teach us a lesson, then we are truly living life with ope arms and open minds, ready to accept what is given to us rather than expecting what is not.
So have I become discouraged by the “false summit” that is my set of expectations for life? For a time, yes. For a period of my life, I imagined things to be very different to how they are now. But as I stand atop Schiehallion taking in the magnificent view of the Perthshire countryside, while catching my breath after a long, tiring, and rather sweaty ascent, I can’t help smile because I have unlocked the secret of “the false summit”. Because I have come to realize that my reality is much better than my great expectations. In fact, it exceeds them.
My name is Rachel and this is Where I Stand.