In order to achieve success, it often seems like we must learn to defy the laws of physics.
We work to “climb the ladder”, struggle to “scale new heights”, “spread our wings”. Success is symbolized by soaring, a superhuman achievement of “rising above” the challenges that “drag us down”. Book covers and magazine articles about success picture mountains and other lofty terrain, illustrating achievement as a vertical ascent.
No wonder we continue to build pedestals.
Up is good. Down is bad. We “rise up” from adversity after being “pulled down” by the weight of challenges and fear. We must “pick ourselves up” after “falling down”. Not only must we fight this war against gravity, we become bruised and battered from both the fall and the climb. Sometimes we can see the staircase and smugly saunter up the hill to success, and other times the escalator is broken and the smallest incline looks like Everest from below.
Why is success a climb, a way up? Why is failure, by consequence, such a hard fall?
Spending time up on a pedestal of my own making, only to come crashing down (hard) when the bricks and mortar were pulled out from under me (by my own doing), I’ve spent time examining my bruises and taking a hard look at the dust and dirt that settled around me after what was, I see now, quite the crash. It is amazing and heartbreaking that we continue to climb steadily upward, placing ourselves and others in harms way. The pedestals we create at these supposed lofty heights are narrow and unstable. It doesn’t take much to tear them down, yet we doggedly work to build them back up, afraid, it seems, of combing through the wreckage. We don’t want to be ‘kicked when we’re down’, we want to ‘rise up’ like so many of the success stories we are bombarded with. Up is good; down, and staying down, is out of the question.
What if, just for a minute, we stopped building up and started looking forward? What if, instead of looking up to someone, we started walking with them?
There are many kind, intelligent, hilarious, and authentic people I have the pleasure and privilege of sharing this adventure we call life with. They challenge me, support me, and make me laugh.
They also scare the crap out of me.
I, like most I imagine, admire and revere these people. Yes, we are friends, but they are automatically raised above me. I want to be like them. I want to be better for them. I place them on pedestals as a goal, a motivator for positive change. I climb the tower built of my own inadequacies, fears, shame, and expectations toward an ideal, I now realize, I will never meet. I am not them, nor should I be.
Instead, I’ve started building paths. It isn’t easy, rooting through the wreckage of your pedestals when your ego is bruised and your feelings are hurt. Stones of self-confidence and courage are much heavier to lift, and it’s hard to build out instead of up when you can’t see the light hope can shine on your journey. However, I have begun to notice how inspiring and reassuring these paths can be.
When I walk with someone, I invite them into my story. I ask them to share in my journey, and to act as a voice of reason as I wander. Some paths are good, some are dead ends, and some I need to travel to learn a lesson someone else already knows and can see coming.
Sometimes, these people walk right beside me. They share in my struggles because they are their struggles too. They lean on me as I lean on them. We’re in this together.
Sometimes, they walk behind me. I am honoured to light a way for them, fuelling the lamp with past experiences and hard earned lessons that smooth their path.
Other times, these people walk ahead of me. I watch them leap gracefully over molehills that look like mountains to me. I see them knock down walls that the first pig built of straw, while I butt up against a wall that industrious third pig made of bricks. Do I get jealous? Absolutely. Does it frustrate me? You bet. But just as one can look ahead while walking a path, you can also look behind. I know where I’ve come from, and I can see the flattened hills and broken walls that haven’t defeated me. More importantly, I look ahead and see those seemingly infallible superheros I call my friends nursing their own wounds after, finally, making it up their own Everest.
I also see them standing, waiting, pausing at their own point on their journey, smiling and holding out a hand. They beckon me forward, and don’t get impatient when I have to crawl to where they are. They also cheer me on when I break my own land speed records and dash forward, fuelled by their love and compassion. I might trip and stumble, yes, but the fall is not from a great height, and they don’t have to reach down too far to pick me up.
The universe has shown me recently how powerful and important having a board of directors is. Now, when I picture them all together, they are not sitting on elaborate thrones atop their too tall pedestals. Instead, I imagine them walking my path with me. Some run ahead, some lag behind, some walk beside me – and this can change from moment to moment, from experience to experience, from exciting success to crushing defeat. What I love most, though, is that we all walk together.
So the next time we talk, or the next time you want to learn more about me, don’t ask who I look up to. I won’t have an answer. Ask me who I walk with. I’ll show you so many people I am honoured to know and love.