Some goals are very hard to reach. That is why climbing is often used as an inspirational metaphor. Imagine yourself wanting to reach the top of a very high mountain. You know that it is going to be hard and maybe even long. You can prepare yourself for some of the paths you will need to take to reach the top of the mountain, but for others, you cannot.
It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.
– Edmund Hillary
In life coaching, we say that we can only work on the things we can prepare for. Why? Because “we don’t know what we don’t know”, so we cannot prepare for it. We are not fortunetellers. Often we are able to think of a few challenges we might encounter on the road to wherever we are going, but we never know exactly what we will face. We cannot carry absolutely everything we might need for any possible unforeseen event.
Every mountain requires a climb. Sometimes the hill is steep and sometimes it is moderate. Some people have smaller legs and they need more steps, while others have giant legs and require less energy. Sometimes, you are physically strong, have lots of muscles and can run up the hill. Sometimes, you are a bit weaker and must rest every 2 meters. Regardless of your circumstances, climbing requires effort. The thing that determines if we make it to the top is whether we believe we can. Because as the saying goes, “if you believe you can or believe you can’t, you are right”.
The first challenge most people face is a limiting belief about their ability. They are not sure whether they deserve to get there, whether it is worth the effort and what it means if they do get there. Life coaching is a great way to sort this out.
The second challenge, believe it or not, is the influence of those around us. There is a beautiful saying that anytime you climb a ladder, you need someone to hold it for you. If you have supportive friends and family holding the ladder and reassuring you that they will hold tight no matter what happens, you will probably climb more confidently. In comparison, those who have family and friends who hold on but keep telling them it is a stupid attempt, might climb a little less surely. Those whose holders refuse to hold and do everything within their power to prevent them from even thinking of climbing often feel so unsure they give up.
Never measure the height of a mountain until you have reached the top. Then you will see how low it was.
– Dag Hammarskjold
I have discovered it is hard when people think they cannot make it. It is even harder still if others tell them they cannot make it. Sometimes, I wonder why anyone would say such a thing. But in fact, we have people like this in our daily lives – our kids, our partners, our parents, our friends. These are the people who feel close enough to say such things, and they think their relationship with us requires that we take their input into consideration.
Having a support group is essential for every climb. Very few people can isolate themselves completely, leaving their life behind, saying goodbye to everyone they know and living in a cave in the desert. These people have to find the strength to climb their mountains on their own. This is why every challenge we have is much easier to manage when we have loving and supportive people around us, who keep reminding us that we are much stronger than we think we are. Unfortunately, most people have the other kind of ‘support’. People who are an obstacle between us and our desired mountain top. Their words take the little bit of hope we have and shatter it into tiny pieces, so that we have to dedicate our remaining energy to picking ourselves up and dreaming again.
Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.
– Theodore Roethke
Look at this list and try to find out if you have heard these words from those around you about making a change, about wanting something or about having a dream or a goal.
- Your mountain is stupid
- Unrealistic desire
- No one has ever done it
- You do not know how to climb it
- You do not have the muscles to climb it
- You do not have time to do it
- It will take you too long to climb it
- You have tried in the past and failed
- How many times do you have to fail before you understand?
- You have never succeeded in climbing anywhere
- Climbing is hard work
- If you are not born at the top of the mountain (or a climber), you will never get there
- I will tell you which mountain to climb
- I will only support the mountains I want you to climb
- I will only support the mountains I can climb
- If you want my support, it gives me the right to tell you what to do
- If you want my support, that means you cannot climb on your own and you are weak
- Climbing means you are betraying me and leaving me behind
- Climbing means you are giving up on me
- You have to choose between me and climbing
- Why bother?
Unfortunately, when I did this exercise myself, I realized I had heard all of these sentiments, even from those who were very close to me. Over the last 4 years, I have worked with over 20,000 students. I have had the opportunity to share with them how, in my parents’ home, my siblings squashed many of my dreams of being normal. As a kid, I had a polyp on my vocal chords and I had problems speaking (not to mention singing). Speaking was so hard and painful that I avoided speaking in class, which got me into lots more problems. In order to speak, I had to take a deep breath before every sentence. Most of the time, when I did not have enough air, I would strain my voice in order to finish the sentence. My older siblings, who were very musical, used to play the guitar and sing. We had many situations when they played and all the siblings sang together. My dream was just to join them. Nothing more. Every time we sang, they would make fun of me. They told me that I was not in tune, that I ruined their singing time, that they would rather sing without me and even (the most painful of all) “Shut up. If you sing, it will start raining”.
I cried a lot. When I was 18, I went through surgery to remove the polyp. I had to wait to do this until I was 18, because then I had the right to make my own medical decisions. My mom was so afraid of surgeries she would not allow me to do it. When I woke up on the morning after the surgery and spoke for the first time, I could not recognize my voice. When I talked to my childhood friend on the phone, he said, “Ronit, the words are yours, but the voice is someone else’s”.
20 years later, when I was 38, I took Eden to private singing lessons. Since Eden was so young, I sat in the room while she learned to sing. The teacher told her, “Everyone can sing. If you do what I tell you, you will be able to sing”. When I was in the car, all by myself, I practiced the homework she gave Eden. Those were my first attempts at singing, but only in private, in the car, making sure the volume was high enough so I would not hear the voices of my siblings in my head, talking about the rain.
When I was 43, Tsoof started to sing and I dared join Gal and the kids in their singing. It was the first time in my life someone had even said to my, “You have a beautiful voice”. Only then did I start to pick up the pieces of my dreams of singing. Nothing special, just to sing with everyone and feel normal.
Do not get me wrong, I do not blame my siblings for saying any of the things they have said. Anyone who says one of the things on the list above is afraid and lacks love and confidence. Those who do not have enough for themselves, cannot give to others. When we were young, my siblings and I were not kind to each other and I did and said similar things to them.
Join me next time for the next chapter when I describe two ways to manage people who say any of the things on the list. One by getting inspiration from a frog and the other from a parrot.