Ernest Hemmingway said “What is true at first light is a lie by noon”. There is no map, no specific path, and no series of steps that will deliver your highest endeavors. Success is never a guarantee but rather a culmination of hard work, determination, and a willingness to climb mountains that others have not.

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Unclimbed mountains are the ultimate challenge fraught with uncertainty and risk while demanding courage and a focused, clear mind. Yet, rewards of a first ascent of a mountain are the most satisfying and incredible experiences we can have in the mountains.

A slight shift in perspective yielded a first ascent.

Last fall I parked my car at the side of the road in the North Cascades National Park, :30 minutes from my home. I had driven past this same mountain hundreds of times and for the first time that morning noticed a line to the top I hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was the shift in the autumn light or my own new perspective, but a clear and visible line appeared to me that morning. My partner and I changed our plans, packed our gear, and started into the woods making our way to the peak. Upon reaching the rock, we followed our intuition and ascended previously unclimbed cracks and corners to the summit. It was a crisp and glorious fall day and we were rewarded with an amazing blue sky view of the entire mountain range. A slight shift in perspective yielded a first ascent.

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Embracing challenge with innovation and determination are prime examples of climbing first ascents. The mountains represent our professional obstacles and the climbing of them is our ability to navigate and overcome these obstacles. Climbing uncharted territory may be the most difficult but rewarding adventure one can embark on. With patience, planning and determination climbing the unclimbed can lead to your success and the attainment of your highest professional goals…

“Expect the best, prepare for the worst, capitalize on what comes” – Zig Zigler 

In essence, Zig Zigler is telling us that when embarking on an adventure, we should plan for and expect the best while being flexible and preparing for the worst. What we are left with then is a plan that is not rigid, but allows for changes as we come across them. A plan that doesn’t allow for any deviation is an ineffective plan, because everything changes in the field. Our original plan is not likely the best plan, and it will more as we encounter new information in the field.

A plan that is not rigid, but allows for change.

It is important to recognize that a plan is not dogma; it is not set in stone. You must be flexible and nimble, embracing uncertain outcomes. Willingness to change direction and reassess based on new information is paramount to making the climb. Hold both the image of the mountain from a distance, your original plan before you started the expedition, and see the mountain as you climb it, up close and personal. Hold both images simultaneously and make appropriate decisions as new challenges arise. Your plan will change as you progress, and it should.

Don’t think that because the plan is flexible, it is unnecessary. Your plan is your map, it keeps you focused towards what you are trying to achieve. It is a fluid concept, and changes with new information, but it is your compass through the mountains.

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Believe

Not only is having a plan necessary, but believing in your plan, and yourself is also essential to your climb. If you lack the confidence to move forward, you will question yourself at every bump and turn on the path. Have the confidence in your abilities to navigate and make the appropriate decisions when the time comes.

Belief is the single most important factor in engaging with uncertainty. Not belief that you know the way, but belief that you are willing and prepared to find the way. This ability to see the forest through the trees propels you through those questioning and scary moments.

All the planning in the world, questioning and what ifs cannot substitute for learning in the moment, in the field. The key to success lies in being flexible and nimble to shift direction and strategy based on new information – always towards the original goal, the summit.

Analysis Paralysis

Analysis paralysis occurs when one overanalyzes to the extent that it delays the initiation of or progression of a project. The biggest danger in the preparation process is the tendency to postpone, delay, and never start the expedition until every possibility and question is answered. Every possible scenario will never be mapped out nor will every question be answered. No matter how prepared you are, how skilled you are, how experienced, you can’t climb the mountain if you never get to it and begin climbing. Don’t fall a victim to analysis paralysis. Identify your goal, develop a flexible plan and get started. You can’t win if you don’t try.

Embarking on Your Journey

Beginning your first ascent can be scary, but with a goal in mind and belief in yourself it is absolutely attainable. Develop a plan, without spending so much time that you delay the initiation of your adventure. Be nimble, allowing for the field to mold your plan. Learn from your experiences and never lose your determination. Believe in yourself and persist. You will make it to the top of your mountain and will continue onto the next and the next. Success comes to those who believe, work hard, and persist despite the challenges they encounter.

Consider your highest endeavor, your unclimbed mountain. What do you need to do to properly prepare and begin your first ascent into the unknown? Share your thoughts below, forward this onto a friend or colleague, or just get off the blank page and begin drawing your own map.

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