Stop Climbing, Start Dancing

For the vast majority of my life, I walked around with a metaphorical pickaxe in my hand—seeking out the next career mountain to climb, the next challenge to conquer, the next summit to reach.

This approach allowed me to collect a nice bag of trophies, awards, and random tchotchkes with my name on them.

But it was also exhausting.

The pickaxe approach caused me to constantly—and, at times, obsessively—search for the next peak. What account could I win? What recognition could I earn? What client could I impress? To say that this approach made me a restless human being would be a ridiculous understatement. Because I never rested. Ever.

I was never comfortable with “what was.” I was hanging on to the side of a mountain with white knuckles, constantly scrambling, and clawing my way to the top.  And when I scored an accomplishment, I never stopped to enjoy the view or look below me to recognize all the hard work that had gotten me there. 

Each accomplishment was just a stepping-stone to the next.

Thanks to lots of therapy (and Oprah episodes), I now have the wisdom to see why I was carrying the pickaxe in the first place, as well as what was wrong with my approach. Some people might carry a pickaxe because they actually enjoy climbing. And that’s fantastic. But not me. 

I was constantly climbing, because I wanted to impress others. I didn’t have the confidence to follow what I thought was the “right” path for my life, so I climbed my way into the hearts and souls of others, based on the direction that they thought my life should take. 

My accomplishments were my way of saying to the world, “Look, I’m worthy!”

There are lots of problems with living like this. One of the biggest being my quest for achievement and validation never seemed to end.

After decades of climbing, I decided to take a different approach. A revolutionary one that has changed my life and everything associated with it.

Rather than climb to the next plateau, I’ve decided to dance on the one I’m already on.

I run a company that’s reached impressive, sustainable revenue, and I’m no longer interested in taking it to the next level. I’d rather dance on the plateau we’re on right now. I’m soaking up every minute of our success. Being content as-is gives me the freedom to be successful and live a well-rounded life at the same time. And to remain head over heels in love with the team that’s on the plateau with me.

This picture is of our team, taken when we decided to cut out of work early to drink wine at a local museum. We were celebrating a major milestone (submitting my book proposal) and also each other’s company.

Shortly after taking on this POV, I was in Arizona for a women’s leadership retreat and purposefully arrived at the resort a day before the seminar began, so I could relax. What came as a shock—remember: the plateau mindset was still new—was how I spent my downtime.

In my previous, pickaxe-driven life, I would have face-planted next to the pool, because that was my former self’s way to relax. I was that tired, that exhausted, and it was the only way I knew to recoup my energy and keep up the climb.

However, on this trip, because I wasn’t exhausted, I decided to take advantage of where I was and hike Camelback Mountain, which was just a mile away.

I’d never climbed an actual mountain. I’ve climbed stairs. I’ve climbed into my car. And, yes, I had climbed the career ladder. But never a mountain.

It was a magical experience for me. I saw Mother Nature in all her beauty, instead of the inside of my eyelids while sleeping beside the pool. I wiped the sweat off my forehead instead of the drool off my chin.

On my way up the mountain, I found the perfect plateau. It was nestled on the side of the most amazing hiking trail I’ve ever seen. It was an ideal spot to catch my breath and revel in what I had just accomplished.

So I decided to dance on it.

I didn’t care who was watching or what the avid hikers and climbers thought about me and my hardly-ever-worn tennis shoes, or even my lack of proper hiking clothes and equipment. I had reached a beautiful plateau and decided to celebrate by dancing. I shook my hips and grooved to Tina Turner like Tina herself. That plateau became my stage. 

This is something the old me couldn’t have done, because you can’t dance when you’re climbing with a pickaxe; you can only hold on for dear life.

Katherine Wintsch