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Climbing the Mountain of Life

Throughout life, we come across many experiences, some challenging and some easy.

It wasn’t until I hiked Yosemite Half Dome when I learned that, in order to achieve a goal, it is not necessary to anticipate every obstacle you may encounter along the way. Instead, knowing you do not have to tackle challenge alone is all that is necessary.

For my brother’s birthday, I agreed to climb Yosemite’s Half Dome with him. It wasn’t until I had reached the top and was about to begin the return journey, that I realized the magnitude of what I had done. We had traversed 7 or 8 miles of pine forest under moonlight to get to the peak of Half Dome eight hours later, well before sunrise. Occasionally, the night had brought a nice cool breeze and mist every time we hiked past a waterfall. We had overcome the last 400 feet, the most challenging part of the climb, which required I pull myself up along a steep incline framed by two steel cables, which ran through poles staked into the granite mountainside.

Looking down the gradient, fear overwhelmed me and I was officially scared to death as we were to embark back down Half Dome. Many thoughts ran through my head, “What are you thinking? Why are you climbing a mountain in the dark? Why didn’t you do more research before taking on this challenge? Where is the helicopter? There is no way I am going to make it back down!” I was frozen by all the negative thoughts until I heard “Linh, Linh, LINH!” It was my brother’s voice. Suddenly, the clarity came back. My brother instructed me to shuffle my feet to the next plank just ten feet away from me. That was the key: to take it just 10 feet at a time.

It was during this last leg of the return journey that I learned the most about life’s mountains. I realized how important it is to have someone supporting you in your effort to accomplish a goal—someone you can call a guide. Up until this point, every so often there would be a fork in our path and our guide always chose the right road for us by shining candle light its way. It is funny because most of my life I have considered myself weak anytime I couldn’t do something on my own. But on this night, I questioned why I had struggled so hard to do things alone when, in fact, I didn’t have to. It is smarter and more efficient to use the wisdom of a guide, someone who can help you navigate a long and difficult journey. I hadn’t appreciated this sentiment enough until now. In life, there is no reason to walk a path alone in the darkness. I believe that Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, said it best when he said, “Everyone needs a coach.”

During the expedition, I learned stay on track. There is portion of the climb referred to as “The Saddle,” which is a very steep stairway chiseled out of rock. Our guide gave the instruction to “follow the footsteps of the person in front of you” and to not veer left or right, but to simply “follow directly behind them step by step.” It wasn’t until climbing down in daylight the next day that I understood why it was so important to follow the person in front of you, step by step. During the day, I could see if had veered left or right I would have fallen off the rocky mountain.

Whatever your mountain is in life, create a step by step plan, resembling a pathway, and follow it. Stay focused on your next step and do not allow yourself to veer right or left. In life, many times we lose track and we go off course, actions that ultimately prevent us from ever reaching the top of the mountain. Take a moment now to see where you have gone off course in life and reset to carve a new path. You might even consider getting a coach or a spiritual guide who will hold you accountable to staying on course.

During our expedition, I also learned that darkness can be a good thing too. Let the truth be said: if I had seen the last leg of the climb in daylight—which was a 50 degree steep incline and 400 feet long—I would never have done it. Fear would have gotten the best of me and would have turned me around to head back to where I came from.

I see this often happens to many people in life. They see the mountain (or the large abstract obstacle) and freak out. They allow negative chatter to fill their heads and convince them to turn back and give up. But, if you are approaching a large mountain in life, before turning around and giving up, try closing your eyes and breathing deep. Visualize the destination and ask yourself what is one small thing you can do to reach it. Allow the rest of the climb to stay dark, just focus on the next step, one baby step at a time. Sometimes, life is about taking baby steps.

The final 400 feet of hiking Half Dome is where baby steps really translated into leaps and bounds, allowing us to reach our destination safely. Just like in life, focus on taking one baby step forward at a time. As you keep moving forward, make adjustments as needed in order to take the next step.

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