The Peak

by Keith Savage · 21 comments

Post image for The Peak

In the course of any stint at a job, perhaps it’s rare to experience the ultimate test of your abilities, to face a reckoning so demanding and monumental that every possible accomplishment thereafter would pale in comparison. Such a test invariably burns the very youth from your bones and eyes, runs roughshod over work/life boundaries, and hums along in the shadows while you grab snippets of sleep. In this crucible, failing to recognize the moment as the act of summiting is forgivable. Failing to consider the implications after time has provided perspective, however, is not.

Late last month, I returned from a short vacation in northern Wisconsin, as mentioned in a recent State of the Savage, to find myself face to face with a mountain of a project. I knew I was in for a tough hike when I received a call as I drove home that Tuesday night, but I had no idea it would be the equivalent of scaling Everest without stopping at base camps.

I’m a writer. In my seven years of professional experience, I’ve moved from technical writing to sales writing to managing writers and all possible combinations between. There have been busy times. There have been slow times. But until last month I had never worked a 100-hour week. You might laugh at this lucky break, but I simply chalk it up to being on the freakish side of efficiency. And I’m thankful that it was a first; writers are often cursed with delicate, artsy constitutions.

Sumiting the Mountain

This project was the biggest potential sale in my company’s history (no small feat), and, due to various untimely outages, the responsibility of writing a response fell on my shoulders. Not only was the project’s timeline tightly compressed, I was hip deep in what would be my maiden voyage in a new style of writing. I spent the next nine days brainstorming, outlining, writing, rewriting, re-rewriting, ad nauseum with nary a moment to think of anything else. Some of that’s my fault: when I need to complete something it dominates my mind until it’s finished. And we did finish it. The nightmarish week ended and I immediately recognized the silver lining.

“To live under constraint is a misfortune, but there is no constraint to live under constraint.” -Seneca

Not too long ago I wrote a post about the precipice, which is the moment when your current path ends and a decision must be made. You can choose to roll the dice and jump or stand still and naively hope for some previously unseen path to appear. The decision on the precipice is a gamble because for all you know (and want to hope) things could get better or evolve in some satisfactory way.

The peak leaves no such room for interpretation. While the project nearly broke my spirit, at the end of it I realized that I had summited my job. There would be no greater accomplishment, no more important position a writer could be in. The view from the peak’s heights is pure and simple, black and white. Vision and perspective – the meta – are made whole and you know if what you’re doing is all right or wrong (this, in fact, seems like exactly the sort of thing your lizard brain would hate). And knowing this, there’s no turning back. There’s no further climb to the top. In that sense, reaching the peak in whatever you’re doing can be scary. But it is also a blessing. Instead of a years-long melee against both uncertainty and inaction, you need only best the rusty gears of inertia.

I apologize if this sounds boastful – that is not my intention; I only mean to convey the facts of my situation. I reached the peak long after I decided to jump from the precipice, but summiting my job only served to reinforce my decision. I realize that many spend their careers on this climb, and many fail to reach the peak. I count it a welcome mercy. I was forced to reach the peak, and, though I might be a bit grayer around the temples for it, doing so has dissolved all my second thoughts about stoking the fires of Traveling Savage.

Have you reached the peak? What did you learn about yourself having been there?

Listening to: David Gray – Silver Lining
Drinking: Lagunitas IPA

Original photos by Molas and Xevi V, respectively, via Flickr under Creative Commons

Trans-Americas JourneyNo Gravatar September 22, 2010 at 5:45 PM

Another insightful post from Keith…the metaphorical climb to the summit of a career.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 22, 2010 at 7:28 PM

Thanks guys, glad you enjoyed it.

EricaNo Gravatar September 13, 2010 at 10:54 PM

Congratulations on the peak!

I had to leave my job recently because I kept climbing and climbing and no one would let me reach the peak, even though I had the potential. What a great thing to give inspiration to your upcoming trip!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 13, 2010 at 11:01 PM

Hey Erica – sorry to hear that. Are you enjoying life after work? I was forced up the mountain so it’s kind of the opposite of your old situation. Perhaps equally not fun.

EricaNo Gravatar September 13, 2010 at 11:05 PM

I am enjoying life after work! I’ve actually been quite busy with volunteering quite a bite and trying to get my photography gig under way!

Either way Keith, I think what you did is quite the accomplishment. This is one time you shouldn’t be modest!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 16, 2010 at 2:20 PM

Good luck on your new venture, Erica!

By the way, very kind of you to say that.

AdamNo Gravatar September 12, 2010 at 7:55 PM

I had a similar experience at my last “job”. Though I don’t want to repeat that often, there was a satisfaction in deciding to go all in and work the hell out of it. Getting the payout from all the work is definitely gratifying but seeing that I could do it is worth more in the long run.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 12, 2010 at 9:37 PM

Exactly. While it was more difficult than anything I’d done before, I learned a lot about my abilities as a result. It made me believe I can do what I’m planning here.

LauraNo Gravatar September 12, 2010 at 6:35 AM

Wow! The Peak… uh, it doesn’t sound boastful, just breathtaking. My uncle would evey you more than you can ever imagine.

Jose (Oviedo, España)No Gravatar September 10, 2010 at 5:43 PM

Hola: Que picos tan maravillosos !!!. Te envío la dirección de mi blog de montaña esperando pueda interesarte. En el narro, evidentemente de forma subjetiva, las ascensiones que realizo a diversas cumbres de la Cordillera Cantábrica situada en el norte de España. Estas montañas, tan lejanas de tu pais, tienen un encanto especial que quizás pueda trasmitiros desde este blog. Si es de vuestro agrado, me gustaría lo difundiéseis entre tus amigos como una forma de dar a conocerlas.
Atentamente: Jose Vallina

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 11, 2010 at 12:42 PM

Hi Jose, my Spanish is not as good as it should be at this point, but if I’m interpreting this correctly you’re describing a beautiful mountain range in northern Spain. I’ve yet to make it to that part of Spain, but consider me interested. Thanks!

SuzyNo Gravatar September 10, 2010 at 4:49 PM

I can completely relate to this post. When you write all day for a living it can be difficult to muster up something for you own site, at least it is for me. However, for some reason, my personal writings and travels never seem to reach that “peak moment” as with other writing jobs. Congratulations on reaching”the peak” and looking down the other side of the mountain.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 11, 2010 at 12:41 PM

If I could have avoided this project, I would have. This was no glorious moment nor am I that proud of my work on it. I staggered through to the conclusion, giving everything I had simply because my personal sense of responsibility forced me to. The silver lining is apparent when looking back at the project. I’m just thankful it’s over and it made me feel, again, that I’m doing the right thing.

I Feel BadNo Gravatar September 10, 2010 at 3:37 PM

Very interesting post Keith ! I am impress your way of writing. I admire your work. Thanks for sharing this wonderful post with us.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 11, 2010 at 12:35 PM

Thanks for reading!

GrayNo Gravatar September 10, 2010 at 8:51 AM

The fact that you can work such an insane work week and still be able to produce such quality content here at your blog is a feat to be admired. And I do, Keith. And I do.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 11, 2010 at 12:35 PM

Thanks Gray, but to be honest I didn’t post during that week 🙂

GrayNo Gravatar September 11, 2010 at 2:05 PM

Nevertheless, had it been me, I’d have been tempted to phone my next couple of blog posts in, you know?

KenNo Gravatar September 10, 2010 at 7:27 AM

Great post, Keith. I’m glad that your resolve to pursue your dreams remains strong. Lagunitas IPA. Ahhh. A suitable potion for a writer. It feeds the muse.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 11, 2010 at 12:34 PM

It remains strong, though it has been tested often. I feel a bit like Boromir at the end of Fellowship of the Ring.

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