Life is like a mountain. It’s big, beautiful, and hiding all sorts of wonderful surprises. It can also be treacherous. There are rocks, ravines, mud, weather, and all sorts of unexpected obstacles to overcome. For me, the secret to success is not just appreciating the mountain, but mastering it.
But how does one conquer a mountain? I asked Master Sergeant Jared Smith, an Army warfare instructor specializing in alpine environments. Smith spent his childhood hunting, fishing, trapping, and generally surviving in the Maine woods. He then joined the military and served for 36 years. Now, he teaches people how to traverse mountains for days at a time in harsh environments—some days, the high temperature is 15 below.
But here’s the interesting part: Smith’s advice applies to conquering your metaphorical mountains too. Here are three of Smith’s most powerful lessons:
Lesson #1: Embrace Every Challenge Enthusiastically
The only way to grow as a human is to present yourself with new and interesting challenges. If you feel stuck with some aspect of your life and don’t know how to make a change, the best thing to do is mix it up. Change your exposure. At the Army Mountain Warfare School, for instance, you’re out there in sub-zero temperatures with hardly any equipment, and it’s pretty much do or die. If you’re like most people, that’s not your normal situation. So you develop new skills that help you not only survive, but thrive.
When I’m stuck in a difficult situation, I alter the conditions of my life and expose myself to something completely different, so I’m forced to learn new skills and push past boundaries that I never thought I’d cross. Suddenly, I’m strong and knowledgeable enough to navigate my way through whatever was holding me back.
Lesson #2: Don’t Prejudge Other People—or Yourself
We all do this. People show up at Spartan and they’re overweight and out of shape and I think, “This guy will be quitting in the first hour.” Then he surprises me, sticks it out, and changes his life. Honestly, I love being wrong about this. I’ve learned that if I give them half a chance they can blow my mind—and their own. After all, that’s what Spartan is all about.
Over time, I’ve learned that I can’t look at something daunting and say, “No way. I’ll never pull that off.” Instead, I need to acquire the tools to make it happen, one at a time. Then, when I give it a shot, I tend to succeed. That’s an incredible feeling. And suddenly I’m ready to tackle the next impossible task. I’ve conquered a lot of pretty gnarly endurance races because I tossed out my preconceived notions about what I can and can’t do.
Lesson #3: Great Teachers Make Great Leaders
The role of a leader is to help people help themselves. As they say, give a man a fish. But even more helpful than a fish: tools they can use to succeed and the instructions for using each one. (Plus, if necessary, a push.) This is how they learn what it feels like to succeed. Only then are they ready for, and excited about, learning and mastering the next tool. Success breeds success.
I’m lucky because I’ve had teachers and mentors over the years that understood this. They didn’t just hand me the whole toolbox all at once and say, “Here you go, kid—have at it.”
Smith takes the same approach. He understands that we can’t master the mountain until we’ve mastered the campfire, the compass, the tent, and all the other little tasks that keep us alive. Once we’ve got all the tools we need and the knowledge how to use them, we can make it on our own, often surpassing our (and everyone else’s) expectations.
Want to get on the road to the mountaintop? Download The Mountain Series Training Plan as your blueprint. #noexcuses