(Reading time: Under four minutes)
The sky has inspired us for ages. We envy the birds, wonder at the stars, and dream in the clouds. In all that upward awe, something profound happens at the realization that some of those clouds off in the distance are actually mountains. When the rocky precipices become distinguished from the flowing outline of the clouds, a piece of that sky that we once so impossibly yearned for suddenly becomes accessible.
Over the past month while visiting my home town in Northwestern Washington, nestled between the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, I had an epiphany about mountains. Early one morning while looking out on a distant purple range it dawned on me that simply existing in a mountainous region can be beneficial for cultivating a sense of ambition.
When I look upon a distant mountain, that ethereal territory between the earth and the stars suddenly becomes real, passable terrain. When I see a mountain I am reminded that my feet could climb to the top of that spot in the sky and I could stand above the birds and the clouds. I know that I could wake up there if I really wanted, and when I opened my eyes and looked out at where I came from I would see for miles, a thousand times further than I could from the comfort of flat ground. When gazing upon a distant peak protruding from the clouds, though it may be far, far away and high, high above, deep down inside I know that it *is* reachable.
All it takes is some suffering.
It’s nearly impossible to climb a mountain without suffering in some way or another. The sweat, soreness, and sheer psychological intimidation of it all is often enough to deter most people from ever even making an attempt. Looming on the horizon, a mountain can serve as a constant reminder that the opportunity exists to stand above clouds and see through the eyes of birds. The opportunity for greatness is ever-present on the horizon.
All it takes is some suffering.
Simply having such monolithic shapes in the distance serves as a constant reminder that great accomplishment is within my reach, if only I am willing to stretch myself through the process of getting there. I think just about everyone would like to stand atop a mountain at some point, but only a fraction of that population would be willing to suffer for it. When I commit myself to climbing a mountain, I’m not committing to the panoramic view and the new profile-pic selfie. Those things are byproducts, afterthoughts. I have learned that when I commit to accomplishing a large or long-term goal, what I am actually committing to is the sweat, struggle, and strife it will take for me to accomplish it. This can seem a bit of a backwards perspective, focusing on the suffering it takes to achieve something instead of focusing on the achievement itself, but the suffering is where the true development happens. It is in the fire that strong steel forged.
Sure, there will be those that find a shortcut to the top through a gondola or a helicopter. Though this approach will still produce that selfie, it will not produce the strengthened sense of self accompanied by feelings of accomplishment.
Recently at the Northwest Folklife Festival I ran into Joe, a middle-aged lawyer I met at a music festival a few years ago. This was the third consecutive year that he’d brought his family out to see me perform at Folklife, and we always spend a few minutes after the show catching up and talking about my upcoming summer travel plans.
I explained to him that over the winter I’d grown too comfortable in New Orleans, working minimal hours and enjoying my abundance of free time while focusing on other projects. He laughed and said something to the effect of “That has got to be the first time I’ve ever heard of a *street performer* getting too comfortable”. But it’s true — I was essentially living the American Dream, steady work and a comfortable lifestyle.
I recognize, though, that this comfort zone is not the space that will produce the best possible version of myself. Playing it safe will not improve my risk-taking abilities, and it can actually have the opposite affect — by not exposing myself to new challenges, I risk losing the very ambition that inspired me to push myself out of my comfort zone in the first place. A mentor once told me “Go towards the suffering”. The older I get, the more I understand what he meant, and the more I learn to embrace pain and discomfort. The shit you go through in life can often be the fertilizer from which an improved version of yourself sprouts, and the rain that feels like it’s going to drown you can end up being what causes your true colors to blossom and flourish. The trick seems to be in identifying what kind of shit you prefer to withstand the most, what kind of sweat and suffering you dislike the least. No matter what you do, it ain’t gonna be all sunshine and rainbows. The worse-case scenario is that you find rain you can at least feel neutral about, but if you’re lucky, you might find rain you can dance in.
Tomorrow I will ride my motorcycle from New Orleans, Louisiana to Toronto, Ontario to catch a flight out to London for another summer of performing abroad. It has been over two years since my last motorcycle tour, and I’m excited to tell tales of what joys and sorrows await me.
Thanks for reading <3