`You can't show the mountain your r'esum'e...'
In May, William Broyles, former editor of Newsweek, told the graduates of Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia a little about the nature of success. Then, in this excerpt, he revealed what he had learned from a remarkable mountain-climbing adventure.
THIS February I went down to the Andes and I climbed a mountain called Aconcagua, which is 23,036 feet high. It's the tallest mountain in this hemisphere and the tallest one in the world outside the Himalayas.
Now I had never climbed a mountain before. In fact, I'm afraid of heights. I have nightmares of falling, of going down. I can't look down on a ski lift. I don't look out the windows in airplanes. And that was one reason I did it.
And also I did it because I wanted to do something in which success was judged not by the standards of others, but by something objective. When you climb a high mountain, you have to climb it in stages. And you have to climb it one step at a time. No one can take those steps for you. Connections don't help. You can't show the mountain your r'esum'e or your BMW. You either get up it or you don't. Yes or no.
We began at 9,000 feet and went up the valley of the Horcones River, which was filled with wildflow-ers, pastures, horses, and the sound of bees and birds. And it was hot - almost as hot as it is here today. In the distance we could see mountains and high clouds and then I realized that the highest cloud wasn't a cloud at all - it was the mountain. It was where I was going. We stopped at our base camp, which was 14,500 feet above sea level, above the height of the tallest mountain in the continental United States. And from there we began....
We climbed from 14,500 feet to 18,000 feet, where we made another camp, then up to 19,000 feet. I was trying to keep up with climbers in their 20s, who ran marathons and triathlons, because I was competitive, and I wanted to stay with them. But the problem was I wanted to be young - they were young. And I realized that the battle, the struggle, was not between them and me but between the mountain and me. And if I tried to keep their pace, their path, I would never make it.
OUR last camp was at 19,000 feet. We had to get up at 5 o'clock on the morning we were going to try for the top. It was 20 degrees below zero; we had 4,000 feet to go. By the time we got to 20,000 feet I was taking eight breaths, deep breaths, for each step. I wanted to quit. I wanted to stop. My mind kept telling me, ``quit, stop,'' because your mind is rational, and it knows that if you're feeling pain and difficulty, the best thing to do is to end it. But I couldn't. I had something fixed in me that just said ``up.'' Always up.
I got to a place in the last thousand feet that's called the Canaleta. It's a basic gully of loose rock, like an avalanche about to happen. You take a step, and the foot you step with slides back. It's like going up a down escalator. So eight breaths, step, slide back. Eight more breaths. Three hours I was in that last thousand feet, clawing my way up, fingers, feet, always up, up. Finally there was no more up. I was on the top. At that moment I was probably higher than any other human being of the earth's 5 billion or so people.
I expected then, on the summit, that I would have some profound thoughts ... about the meaning of life. I only had one thought: ``Get me off here.''
I was on the summit less than five minutes. After the thoughts of up, up, up, I could think only down, down, down. Of the 16 of us who started the climb, six made it to the top. I was proud to be one of them, but having made it I realized that making it really didn't mean what I thought and wasn't really what mattered. The important thing wasn't the summit but the journey itself.
Now why would I do such a thing? - the obvious question. When George Mallory was asked, ``Why climb Everest?'' he replied, of course, ``Because it is there.'' That's not the answer I would give you. I climbed that mountain because I was there, for the same reason you will climb the mountains in your life, because we are here. We must do the difficult things in life and we must dare them. Everyone has mountains to climb - in your careers, in your personal lives, with your family - and only our fear keeps us from trying the journey. You've scaled your first mountain. You've made it through college. You'll have other mountains in your life - many others. And they're worth taking on not because they are easy, but because they are hard. And it's the hard journeys that are always the ones that matter.
Tomorrow: Barbara Jordan on values in common