“One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals.” Michael KordaI climbed 100 summits last year. Mountain type summits. Some were big. Some were small. Some I climbed during a punishing winter backcountry ski mountaineering adventure, others on the way back from grabbing some groceries. Why? The 100th Anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge was April 9th, 2017. My two grandfathers served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during WW1 as infantrymen, and both were present on the Vimy Ridge battlefield; a fact about which I am unashamedly proud.
I therefore decided to reach 100 summits during the Vimy Centennial Year to recognize their contribution to this most famous ‘uphill battle’ in Canadian history. Concurrently, and more selfishly, I also hoped to increase my fitness levels in line with my passion for mountaineering.
I did it mostly alone, which sounds lonely but really wasn’t as I felt that I was being cheered on by a host of supporters, virtual, and otherwise. But the fact that I was going solo most of the time amazed some. This got me thinking about goals, and motivation, and what I could learn and share about this experience in a way that others could benefit.Here are five things I learned about goals from my 100 summit year: 1. A Cause is a Great Butt KickerIf I had chosen to not bag a summit every time the weather was bad, time was tight, or I otherwise didn’t feel like it, I would not have been successful. Higher level principles like ‘honouring the sacrifice of others during a global conflict’ and ‘be healthier to live a longer and better life’ were great motivators for me, and helped me to adopt a no excuses policy. Of the two, I found that the most motivating were the ones that were more distanced from my personal experience, or extrinsic. When considering personal motivations it’s easier to let things slide. When you are doing something difficult in the service of others in some way, by being a servant leader in other words, it’s always easier to put aside your own petty issues for something that you believe serves the greater good.2. Goals are Rule BasedWhen I shared details about my pilgrimage with others, a few came out of the gate with a ‘that’s great!’ or something similar, which was gratifying. Many, however, brought out their invisible rule book about what defined a summit, or mentally calculated how many summits I’d have to reach per month to be successful, accompanied by various warnings. It seems therefore that, to many, a ‘goal’ is embedded in a host of formal and informal rules and regulations, some of which are punitive. For me, my goal was clear: honour my grandfathers and stay fit. Using those two basic rules, I was able to achieve my goal through personally defining what a ‘summit’ is: any respectable natural mountain, or mountain-like feature. It didn’t have to be Mt Everest, but I couldn’t get away with just climbing a set of stairs either. In addition, to honour the Infantry, I made sure that I carried a pack on all my summits, which weighed about 20lbs on for a day hike, to ‘10 year old boy heavy’ for the multi-day trips. Whew.3. Goals are PersonalThe most meaningful goals are the ones you set for yourself. If someone else had told me to climb 100 summits in a year for something that I didn’t particularly care about, I would have never reached their goal. The fact that I had conceived and launched on this particular goal as a result of some personal reflection, understanding, and commitment was crucial to helping me to align my life’s travels in a way that better supported goal achievement. Largely, then, it’s about choice, and I found that because I had made a personal commitment to these goals, making the choice to climb was easier.4. It Takes a Community to Achieve Challenging GoalsI did most of my summits alone as it’s difficult to coordinate with others who have equally busy lives, but I wasn’t really lonely. Regardless, I had a lot of support along the way from friends, family and colleagues. Some shared personal stories of relatives who fought and died in WW1. Others suggested good trips for me to try. Knowing that I was on a mountain climbing mission helped inspire others to pursue similar goals, which I found gratifying, and ‘how may have you climbed so far?’ is always a good conversation starter. And it was fun. I climbed summits in Hawaii with my family during a spring vacations, and retraced trips I had done years ago, like re-climbing the Black Tusk and the three Stawamus Chief peaks in the Garibaldi region. I also managed to climb Vimy Peak, in Waterton Park, which was obviously a big milestone for me. Sharing these trips helped build a community of like-minded people around my quest and, tangentially, helped to build a richer, more compelling story that helped spur me on.5. Achieving Goals is a Gateway Drug for MoreReaching 100 summits in a year isn’t impossible, it just seems like it until you actually start the process of ticking them off. Once you match your normal work and other life rhythms to the demands of the challenge you’ve undertaken, it just becomes part of what you do. Nevertheless, finally achieving what at first seemed impossible can be quite exhilarating, and validates the momentum I built up to help me along. Leveraging this personal momentum, my new goal is 150 summits before July 1st, 2018; the day that Canada turns 151 years old. As I write this, in the first week of January 2018, I’ve reached 109. Wouldn’t it be great to summit Mt Logan, the highest in Canada at 19,551ft, before then?.........
About the Author
Richard Eaton is a co-founder of Berlineaton a management consulting firm that specializes in continuous improvement, strategy & execution, and leader development. If you are interested in finding out how your organization can improve its effectiveness, please contact Richard at 250-472-3767,firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.berlineaton.com/practice-areas/continuous-improvement
A version of this post was first published here.