There it is.
After grinding it out for years…
After hustling every minute of every day….
After putting 100% of everything you’ve got into reaching your goal…
You see the top. It’s within reach.
You take a knee to pause and reflect…
It’s been a long time coming.
When you began, the wins were easy: beginners' luck is on the side of every person starting a new adventure.
Everyone supports you. You feel invincible. Even the Gatekeepers tip their hats, opening the gate for you to walk through. Some of your peers, so inspired by your enthusiasm, follow right behind you…
But once outside the ramparts of Median City, the easy wins vanish. Trials and challenges take their place, testing your intellect, passion, and resolve.
The shock to your system reverberates down to your soul.
You want to turn back and return to the safety of the ramparts; to the masses you left behind. Your peers do just that, and now they’re sitting at the town tavern regaling stories of their heroism for stepping outside the walls, and of their adventures that ended too soon, but they had bills to pay, you see, and they didn't have time for a fanciful adventure to chase some ephemeral dream…
Your heart sinks. You see the logic and reason in their choice to turn back…but the thought doesn’t comfort you; it boils you to the core. Your feet stay frozen, planted to the ground, not wanting to concede an inch to that coward known as fear.
Yet here you are, all alone, refusing to go back. In the midst of uncertainty, you take a step forward. The fear subsides and you feel…free. A weight has been lifted. It's as if you were carrying their packs, and them, all along. No longer.
You set off on your own, your burden is less heavy, your mind more clear with every step.
Days, weeks, and months pass…
With full conviction and complete commitment, you keep marching.
You conquer the Army of Bad Habits, navigate your way through Conundrum Forest, dodge and weave your way through Hater Swamp, and muscle your way up the testing Cliffs of Insanity…
At the top, you look around; all the progress you’ve made? A drop in the bucket compared to what lies ahead.
You keep marching.
Every day you learn something new. Each day, you become better: your skills expand, your strength (emotional and physical) improves, and your instincts become more refined. You handle your sword and shield effortlessly as if the heavy steal is made of feathers - as if these tools are a part of you now. When the path diverges in the woods or stops dead in its tracks, you don’t wait for someone else to tell you where to go or what to do – instead, your heart tells you left or right and you go – no hesitation.
But there’s a side-effect to improvement: every increase in strength, intellect, and resolve brings with it a new path, a new obstacle, a new challenge that would have forced you to turn back just weeks or even days ago, but now it's within your ability to overcome, conquer, or complete.
Your skills have improved. So have the challenges.
And with each new lesson learned comes a painful realization: how much you still don’t know. It’s as if for every step up the jagged, rocky slope of Tribulation Mountain, another mile of the perilous journey appears before your eyes.
Each day you think you're there but it's another false summit.
You keep marching.
More than a few times you want to quit; to throw in the towel and head back. Yet with each renewal of commitment to stick it out no matter what, providence provides you what you need; a new friend who walks the path with you for a while, access to new tools and resources to help you along the way, an easy win you didn’t expect (even the smallest win in times of desolation can change everything).
You keep marching.
Through the wastelands, deserts, and valleys, you keep marching.
After so many tests, so many obstacles, so many struggles, you’re within reach.
You rise and make your way to the top.
You grab your prize – the goal that was just an ephemeral vision so many years ago, but here it is, in your hands, made manifest. As you enjoy a few brief moments of unfiltered gratitude and pride, you look around. Behind you, you can see the foggy silhouette of Median City. It sure would be nice to go back now and share your stories with old friends…
But then you spot something on the horizon, opposite the way you came. A distant light that glimmers in the fading sunlight. The whisper of light vanishes as quickly as it came into view, but the vision…the vision sticks with you. You don’t know what it was, but your heart does.
You make your way down the mountain.
Do you turn back or keep moving forward?
That’s an easy one.
You answered that question a long time ago.
You keep marching...
I originally created this image to go along with the article:
Got a lot of positive feedback on it, even though I made it in PowerPoint (I got skillz). So I decided to update the image with proper artistry, which I then printed on metal and now hang in my office. It's great when you need to ponder something deeply:
Let me know what you think in the comments below.