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.
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