People often compare life to a roller coaster. It brings to mind that there are highs and lows in life, but I find that the simile ends there. The most unfortunate part of the simile is that a roller coaster is never as high as the first peak. If life were really like a roller coaster then we wouldn’t have much to look forward to.
A more apt simile might be that life is like a hike in the mountains. For those of you with little experience in mountain hiking, very few trails go up constantly, and those are the most difficult ones. In mountain hiking you generally have a goal in mind and it’s usually higher than you start. There are periods of going up and periods of going down. The scenery is always changing (for better or worse) and by the end you feel a sense of accomplishment.
That feeling of accomplishment is not for the easy parts, but for the hardest ones. Those hard parts in life are the transitions, and are where we earn that feeling. Hard things are like going through university, building strong relationships, and practicing until perfect. The award you earn for a good performance is like reaching a summit. All the hard work you’ve done is symbolized by that award (or the view from the summit). Participation trophies don’t bring that sense of accomplishment, no matter how shiny.
Without an award to symbolize that accomplishment it gets a little more subtle. When I first got the job title Vice President of Engineering it wasn’t the same as reaching the summit. It was more like finding the trailhead; the start of a transition instead of the end. I had done a lot of work to prepare for that hike and I thought I was ready. Then I started filling the role of VP and had an upward climb.
I’ve found that the transition period for me is typically 3 to 4 months. I think that’s the tolerance I have for metaphorically walking up the trail before I need to level off, get my bearings, and enjoy the new scenery. I’m grateful for the things I’ve had to learn at those stressful moments of my life, and that I can choose to take it easier and enjoy the view. I’m also grateful that life isn’t like a rollercoaster: short, scary, and always looking down.