Once, there was a young hiker who set out to climb a mountain. He lived in a beautiful part of the world, so he had plenty of mountains to choose from.
“Maybe I should climb this one, no this one rather, or what about that one”, he thought to himself.
After finally choosing a peak to summit, he kept on second-guessing his decision. Was this the right mountain to climb from all those available to him? Would it be challenging enough? Were the views going to be stunning enough? Would he meet interesting travellers along the route?
All the while, he trudged on silently looking at other peaks in the distance and missed the views, people, and intricacies of his own route.
Choosing abundance over regret
For a long time, I had doubts about my career path.
While studying actuarial science, I kept on wondering whether this was the right degree for me. The course material was interesting and the exams were challenging (which is why I got into it in the first place - the prestige of doing something hard), but the work never really got me fired up. So I kept doubting my decision. Maybe I should have followed in my dad’s footsteps and studied medicine. Or what about engineering or coding? These degrees looked exciting from the outside.
I considered the peak I was climbing to be boring and constrictive. I felt like I had messed up the biggest decision of my life. I carried this view into my first job. I trudged along, doing things half-heartedly, constantly drooling over other people’s big, shiny careers.
Until, one day, I considered whether this 'regret thinking' mindset was serving me. Could I move forward by constantly looking over my shoulder?
I took a good, hard look at my mountain. The career I had chosen had some benefits. It gave me skills that I could apply elsewhere. It gave me opportunities to do interesting things in the world. I could build things, I could manage people, and I could have an impact in my field.
Shifting the way I looked at my past choices changed my perspective from one of regret to one of abundance.
Sure, there were certain peaks I could no longer climb (some paths were blacked out), but many paths remained open to me (the green lines of my future).
At any point in time, we have the opportunity to begin again, to reinvent ourselves. Don't tell yourself you've wasted your 'one' shot.
Committing after reflecting
We can also click one level deeper by zooming into a slither of the image above.
Each node on the tree indicates a crossroads. A decision to make.
The crossroad allows us to reflect, look back and learn lessons from the past before deciding on a course of action.
Having decided on a path, however, the time for second-guessing is over. You can’t commit fully when you are still reflecting on the best course of action.
To borrow an analogy from writing, this is like editing your draft while you write it.
Writing is an act of commitment. Editing is an act of reflection. They activate two different sides of the brain. Task switching between these two processes (doing them at the same time) requires a serious and exhausting mental load.
[sorry to break the 4th wall here, but I’m having major trouble not editing while writing this piece…]
Anne Lamott describes this beautifully in Bird by Bird:
“Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.”
This same is true for life.
We live in a world abundant with opportunity. The possibilities for what to eat, what to watch, what work to do and who to date are endless. This abundance of choice can be overwhelming. With so many options available, what mountain should we choose? Which peak should we summit knowing that our decision will rule out other options? We move into a state of constant reflection without full commitment.
For a long time, I was reflecting on whether I studied the right thing instead of committing to the career I had chosen. This not only hurt my confidence, but it hurt my career initially - my discontent was sensed by my colleagues. Nobody likes working with someone who doesn't want to be there.
By committing to the mountain I had chosen, I achieved two things.
Firstly, I was kinder to myself. I realized I made the best decision with the (imperfect) information I had available when I was 18 years old.
Secondly, it allowed me to own my narrative. I was no longer the victim of my past decisions, but a victor with abundant opportunities in front of him. Committing to the green line of my life made me realize the beauty and intricacies of my path.
Reflect before choosing the right peak, but commit to your mountain once you’ve chosen it.
Thanks to Rik van den Berge for reading drafts of this essay.
Originally published at https://johnnic.substack.com/p/committing-to-your-mountain-45 on June 4, 2023.