Most People Die on The Climb Down
Quitting on Time May Seem like You’ve Quit too Early. And That’s Okay
Most people die on the climb down.
(I was searching the free images for Black people climbing mountains, but I couldn’t find any. Imagine that. So as I give you this illustration, you’ll just have to imagine one of us on this mountain)
When it comes to both setting goals and climbing mountains, most of us misunderstand the assignment. We tend to define success by the described activity not the desired outcome. Don’t believe me? Just think about it. If someone says their goal is to climb Mount Everest, what would be the ultimate win?
Making it to the top! Right?
Making it to the top is success if (and only if) you focus on the described activity, not the most desirable outcome. We think reaching the highest heights is the goal because we’re focusing on the action verb (climbing). We think making it to the top is the goal because we live in a world that celebrates grit and perseverance and sticking with it at any cost. We think making it to the top is the goal because books and movies are written about those who do. Their names are memorialized and immortalized. Those who don’t are forgotten.
What if I told you the goal of mountain climbing isn’t reaching the top, but arriving back at the bottom.
Oh yeah, that part does seem pretty important now that I mention it.
Last week I read a book by Annie Duke called, Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away. Basically, when you’re climbing a mountain (if that’s the sort of thing you do), you’ve got to set a turnaround time. What’s that? It’s a point at which you’ll quit, regardless of how far you’ve come. Why?? So you don’t die on the way down.
Annie puts it like this, “A turnaround time is, simply put, the time at which climbers are to stop their ascent, even if they haven’t yet reached their destination, and return to camp. Turnaround times are meant to protect climbers from putting themselves in danger on the descent, which requires more skill than ascending the mountain.”
What Annie’s trying to say is this. If you’re climbing a mountain and you get close to the top and you only have a little ways left to go and that alarm buzzes to tell you to turn back, you’ve got a couple of choices.
You can squeak the little energy you have left to meet your goal. OR
You can use the remaining energy you have to make the climb back down.
Again, we live in a world that pressures us to “persevere”. You’re almost there. Don’t quit yet. Don’t give up. There’s more to be done. Just a little more perseverance and you’ll be remembered as a hero.
The only problem with living like this (as an unbreakable rule of life) is that you have a limited amount of energy. If you use it all on the climb up, you won’t have any left for the climb back down. Which is often harder than the climb up. You can’t just free fall off the top of the mountain. In other words, Uber don’t come up this way and ain’t nobody gonna come and carry you back down.
Most people die on the climb down.
Quitting on time won’t make you famous. It’ll likely make you infamous. Quitting on time; however, will likely save your family—namely by ensuring that your spouses and kids don’t prematurely become orphans and widows.
Most people die on the climb down BECAUSE THEY FORGET climbing down requires more energy. And the amount you have is limited.
My Climb Down
If you’ve kept up with anything I’ve done over the past few years, you already know where I’m going with this. Over the past 8 years, December 31st has meant a lot to me. Two momentous resignations have taken place eight years apart.
December 31st 2014. December 31st 2022.
On December 31st, 2014 I stopped trying to save my hairline and decided to go bald. On December 31st, 2022 I resigned from the pastorate. In both instances, I was greeted with similar responses.
Are you sure you want to do that? I think you still had a little more in you.
To which I replied..Maybe.
Maybe I could have rocked a low Caesar to hide the fact my eyebrows and hairline were experiencing irreconcilable differences and had been growing apart for most of my twenties. Maybe I could have pastored for a little while longer and ascended to greater heights that before.
But at what cost and for what benefit?
Saving myself from the frustration of having speaking engagements cancel on me because my abrupt (to them) departure felt like it was too soon and I must be hiding something?
Calming suspicion that I was running away from something or someone?
Sacrificing my call of giving my primary attention to my wife and daughter in this season?
All to maintain credibility with people who aren’t stakeholders in my life?
You know what? Maybe I had some more time and energy left.
That’s a real possibility. But it’s just that—a possibility.
The only thing I knew with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY was the climb down takes energy. And I wanted to make sure when I went to withdraw the energy needed for the climb down, I didn’t overdraft. I wanted to make it back down the mountain.
So on this Tuesday, at 4am, I’m happy and content. I’m scaling down to the bottom of the mountain and it’s harder than I thought. My identity was tethered to pastoring and untying that knot is tough. I haven’t been gone long, but I miss parts of it. I see things I wish I would have done and things I currently want to accomplish and change. And I was so close to being able to do it all. But those things aren’t the most important. Do you know what it is?
My wife still loves me and our relationship has been better than ever. My daughter is praying on her own before bedtime and still LOVES going to church. Cornerstone is growing in attendance each week (without me). And I’m at peace. Enjoying every bit of it.
I didn’t want to freefall off the top of the mountain.
The goal is to come down. Alive. And I’m repelling. And I’m still breathing.
(Even though I may be considering this hair restoration journey. I hear it’s come a long way since LeBron’s last crack at it!)
Where in your life do you need to quit while you’re ahead to reserve some energy for the climb down?