The Hill Will Always Be The Hill

We’re fairly deep into our ultra-training season. Our Saturday long runs are now 20 miles or more.

There’s a hill about a quarter mile from our house, at the start of our usual route. It goes on for about a 1000 yards or more, at a pretty steady grade.

I’ve run it hundreds of times.

It’s always hard.

It never gets easier.

Sure, measured over years, my heart rate is probably lower, my breathing easier than when I first started running it. I do recover faster.

But the hill is always hard. And every time I start out, I think about that damn hill. And how hard it’s going to be. And how unfair it is that it never gets any easier.

(Yes, unfair, dammit. It’s unfair.)

And therein lies the problem: I think that the hill should be different than it is.

The hill is just the hill.

Suffering happens when we think that things should be other than they are.

  • There’s always resistance when we start to write.
  • A new job or school always takes us out of our comfort zone.
  • A new diet always feels unfamiliar
  • The hardest part about going to the gym is always getting in the car to go.
  • A new project always requires more of our time and attention.
  • Starting out on the trail with a heavy pack is always uncomfortable.

These things just are. Kinda like laws of physics.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like to think of myself as an agent of change. I like to make shit happen. I really do. But we waste a whole lot of time and energy when we fight against the things that are.

Steven Pressfield in his wonderful book The War of Art reminds us that, regardless of endeavor, resistance will always be with us; that if we entertain it even for a moment, all will be lost; and that the only remedy when we face a hill is to climb it. When we succumb to resistance, when we allow it as an excuse in our lives, we succumb to fear, and settle for mediocrity.

So just settle down and do the work; get out the door and start to run; go to the gym and forget the drama; show up at the keyboard and start to type.

The real Secret is that there is no secret.

Ya just gotta do it. Ya just gotta start. Ya just gotta push through.

The hill will always be the hill.











No Competition

How do you stand out in the crowd?

How do you get heard among the myriad talking heads?

How do you compete in this challenging economy?

The answer is: You don’t.

You don’t need to compete. There is no competition.

Years ago, I had the privilege of studying with the late great adventure photographer Galen Rowell.  Late one afternoon, the dozen of us in the class set our tripods up side by side and, as the golden light faded across the Berkley Hills, our shutters clicked. We burned through countless rolls of film.

Now, one might predict that the photographs, made of this same vista, in the same place, with the cameras all pointed in the same direction, all at the same time, would be, well, … the same. But if you were to predict that, you would be wrong!

The twelve photographers came out with twelve very different sets of images.

Sure there was some similarities. But each of us had a different eye, a different view, a different interpretation, a different perspective.

And so it is in all our lives.

Each of us has unique gifts and talents; each of us has a way of seeing the world that is all our own; each of us has our own way of interpreting what we see; and each of us serves in a way that no one else can serve.

The problem is this: we lose sight of our own uniqueness. We get caught up in the noise of the marketplace.  We become enmeshed in the fray.  We want desperately to be picked, chosen, hired, retained.  And so, paradoxically, we try to blend in order to compete; we become vanilla; and in the process we become invisible.

As I coach and strategize with folks who are out in the marketplace, I see them trying on veneers; endeavoring, without success, to dance to others’ tunes.

There is something about our essential selves, I think, that scares us. Perhaps we fear that we will be found out, found wanting; found unusual or strange; that we will be judged unworthy – because we fail to conform, because we fail to fit in.

I remember struggling with this fear as a young trial attorney. I was told that, really, the only way to get new business was to play golf. I tried valiantly to play golf. I hated it. And I sucked. As the years went by, I realized that my clients came to me, not through golf, which I abandoned with trepidation, but through the activities that I truly loved: mountaineering, climbing, hiking, sailing, outdoor adventure. The golfers had their clients; I had mine.

My own coach Tama Kieves reminds me that when we are true to ourselves, our people will find us. Our customers will find us. The right opportunities will come to us.

There are a bizillion accountants, financial planners, physicians, network marketers, lawyers and life coaches. There is only one of you.

You can never compete on price. You can never out-Walmart Walmart. There is only one important point of difference among all the competition: you.

The truth is: there is no one just like you.

Trust who you are.

Give to the world the gifts that only you can give.

No one can compete with that.


Take The Easy Way Out

I was out on the rock face at about 11,000′ enjoying the view. The climbing was fairly straightforward, and flowed easily, even though I didn’t know the way.

My climbing partner was 100 yards below me and to my left in a narrow cleft.  He was trying a different approach and it wasn’t going well. I could hear him grunt… and swear from time to time. And occasionally I’d hear the scatter of rockfall.

After nearly 45 minutes of struggle, my partner emerged below me, conceding at last that the route that I was on was the right one.

I’ve thought of this scene countless times over the years. Usually, when we’re trying too hard – whether in the mountains or in life – we’re off route.

The right way is not always without difficulty. But there is a natural flow and unfolding when we’re on the path we should be on.

“We are rather like whirlpools in the river of life,” writes Charlotte Joko Beck. “In flowing forward, a river or stream may hit rocks, branches, or irregularities in the ground, causing whirlpools to spring up spontaneously here and there. water entering one whirlpool quickly passes through and rejoins the river, eventually joining another whirlpool and moving on. Though for short periods it seems to be a distinguishable as a separate event, the water in the whirlpools is just the river itself.”

Suffering, Joko Beck suggests, arises when we pretend that we are not the river; or when we wall off and dam up our own small eddies.

I think suffering arises when we paddle up stream.

Years ago, I took my boys to Disney’s Blizzard Beach. Encircling the outside of the park is a “ride,” a gently flowing river. You sit in an inner tube – and float along.

I’m not very good at Blizzard Beach. I get antsy. I want to paddle. Maybe even change direction. If there were Blizzard Beach police, I might go to jail.

Many of us like to pretend we’re in control. That we own the river. That through cleverness and craft, we can navigate and forge the way. Maybe even force the way.

But constant paddling saps the spirit and tires the soul.

Dan Millman writes, “Surrender involves getting out of our own way and living in accord with a higher will, expressed as the wisdom of the heart.”

What if we didn’t have to struggle?

What if we could trust the river, surrendering to the Great Flow of our lives?

What if the easy way was The Way?

This is an encore of this post originally published December 8, 2011.


If You Knew

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.   — Henry David Thoreau

A friend of mine died two weeks ago today.

Suddenly. Unexpectedly.

Another friend found him – but not in time.

He was a wonderful human being: intelligent, articulate, funny, gentle, compassionate and giving. He was a devoted husband; and an adoring dad. His impact on the world was reflected in the swath of the grief  – and in faces of the hundreds who lined up in the hot June sun to pay their last respects.

He was 56.

His death has haunted me so: Arbitrary. Capricious. Unfathomable.

Our children had come of age together.  We had so recently talked and laughed and shared a meal. We were close in age. And I saw in him an uncommon zest, and zeal for life.

I am certain that when he woke up that Thursday morning two weeks ago, he had no idea that it would be his last.

And I began to wonder, how would I live – what would I do differently – if I knew?

If you knew, would you let the warm shower run a moment longer down your back? Would you savor those first moments with your coffee?

Would you walk barefoot in the dewy grass? Feel the breeze across your face? Would you watch the light play across the spider’s web?

If you knew, would you harbor the grudge, indulge the guilt, hold the anger?

Would you check your email one last time? Spend an hour less on Facebook? Care about your Twitter stream? Drive quite so fast? Fret as much? If you knew?

What would you write, who would you talk with, what would you share?

Would you curse the moments at the light? Worry about the dry cleaning or the dishes in the sink?

If you knew today would be your last, would you make the call, heal the rift, hold the child, write the poem, paint the picture, dance the dance, sing the song?

Would you linger just a moment longer in your lover’s arms?

Would you get up early to watch the sun rise one last time?

If you knew?