It was the end of a long run of 12 – 14 hour days. I was dragging home around sunset, earlier than I’d made it lately. As is my tendency, I’d been going hard at a work goal. The final pieces were turning over in my mind. Driving was automatic, I was almost a biological autopilot. Then, I happened to glance up above the traffic line.
There was a %$&@# mountain right in front of me!
Towering over the highway. Dominating the landscape. Glowing like it was on fire.
To be clear, I knew the mountain was there. I just hadn’t noticed it recently. I live on the edge of a metro area near multiple mountains. Every day, I drive almost directly at this one on my commute home.
Tonight, it was impossible to miss despite my inattention. The sun was fading behind me, and lighting the mountain perfectly so it glowed like a surreal painting or image from some fantasy landscape.
I’d been so focused on my work goals, I hadn’t noticed it for the first two thirds of the drive. And, it’s beautiful every day. When I bother to see it.
I can be single-minded when pursuing a goal. I think it’s mostly a benefit, but it can also be harmful. I realized there had been countless days where I hadn’t even thought about the natural beauty and inspiring scale of the scenery around me. That’s not okay.
We all need to look up once in awhile. To lift our heads and notice the world around us. Especially those of us pursuing financial independence.
“There’s a %!&@$ mountain there!” is now a refrain and a reminder for me. I find it helpful in four distinct ways.
Note: I actually speak the profanity of course. I’ve chosen to use the %$&@$ symbols here. I’m glad I did because I learned something new. Did you know that substituting symbols for profanity is called a grawlix or obscenicon? Now you do!
Enjoy the Journey
For me, the phrase is primarily a reminder to enjoy the journey and notice the beauty around me.
I’m just not built to do anything slowly or halfway. That includes the pursuit of financial independence. (Sorry Slow FIers, I won’t be joining your club no matter how much sense it makes.)
The pursuit of a worthy goal with intensity, focus, and high effort is fulfilling to me. It can even be energizing. I consider my work of improving public education a rewarding and lifelong mission.
Similarly, I consider our pursuit of FIOR (financial independence optional retirement) a worthy goal. Having the freedom to pursue whatever we choose without the need for income will be incredibly freeing.
Yet, that driven pursuit can be consuming. It’s easy to forget to observe the good around me. Or, when we miss a short-term goal or slip up I might fail to remember how extremely fortunate we are in the grand scheme of things.
Failing to recognize those things doesn’t increase the chance of reaching the goal or make the pursuit more effective. But it can impact happiness. Or the ability to stay engaged and reach the long term goal.
So, while I will continue to push hard toward my goals, I also work to notice the giant glowing mountain right in front of me.
My obsession with mountains isn’t exactly a new thing. One of the ways I’ve always managed tough mental puzzles is by long distance cycling.
Where we live it’s impossible to ride without climbing. (Remember the giant mountain!) Climbing hills on a bike is great training both physically and mentally. When you’re turning the pedals at maximum effort and barely covering any ground, your mind will give out before your legs do.
My favorite shirt looks like this:
It’s important to recognize that there will always be barriers in front of us. It’s equally important to cultivate a mindset that we can overcome those barriers.
The struggle is part of the journey. It can be exhausting, but persistence will get you through it.
It’s just a mountain. Get over it.
Be Aware of Danger
This one’s obvious. Think flying a plane. If you aren’t paying attention to the world around you, you can fly right into a mountain.
Personally, I’m usually hyper-aware of risks. There are times where I feel like those crazy squirrel memes. In general, I struggle more against adjusting course too often (thanks bias for action.)
Yet, we all need to make sure we’re checking in front of us sometimes. We’ve all had that moment of making great progress and settling into cruise when suddenly there’s an obstacle in our path. It’s important to see it early enough.
There’s a %!&@$ mountain right there and the sooner you notice it, the sooner you can get around or over it.
This one isn’t as intuitive, but it may be the most important.
For those driving towards financial independence, and especially those who have already reached it, we must remember others are having a different experience.
“I did it so everyone else can too” is a tempting belief. Yet, if you don’t even notice a mountain right in front of you, how likely is it you’ve noticed the struggles of others? Perhaps they hit an obstacle you didn’t, or weren’t as lucky at one point.
Looking around a bit and noticing the rest of the world can expand your understanding and help you empathize with someone who may not be where you are. Maybe it will enable you to provide better support.
There’s a mountain right there, and it may look bigger to others than to you.
There’s a %!&@$ Mountain There!
I’ll continue to pursue my goals with a focused intensity. I’ll also try to remember there’s a mountain there.
I’ll use it to appreciate the journey, embrace the challenge, and remind myself to check for danger from time to time. I’ll work to pay attention to others, recognize my advantages, and empathize along the way.
Do you have a phrase or action that reminds you to look around? Have you built an intentional practice of doing so? If so, I’m interested in hearing what works for you. Share in the comments.
Your phrase might be different, but remember to look up once in awhile too.