How You Climb A Mountain Is More Important Than Reaching The Top

Two examples from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s book,Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman, demonstrating that process is more important than results.

Focus on the movements, not the goal.

I’ve been a student of Zen philosophy for many years. In Zen archery, for example, you forget about the goal — hitting the bull’s-eye — and instead focus on all the individual movements involved in shooting an arrow. You practice instead your stance, reaching back and smoothly pulling an arrow out of the quiver, notching it on the string, controlling your breathing, and letting the arrow release itself. If you’ve perfected all the elements, you can’t help but hit the center of the target. The same philosophy is true for climbing mountains. If you focus on the process of climbing, you’ll end up on the summit. As it turns out, the perfect place I’ve found to apply this Zen philosophy is in the business world.

How you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top.

Climbing mountains is another process that serves as an example for both business and life. Many people don’t understand that how you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top. You can solo climb Everest without using oxygen, or you can pay guides and Sherpas to carry your loads, put ladders across crevasses, lay in six thousand feet of fixed ropes, and have one Sherpa pulling and one pushing you. You just dial “10,000 Feet” on your oxygen bottle, and up you go.

Typical high-powered, rich plastic surgeons and CEOs who attempt to climb Everest this way are so fixated on the target, the summit, that they compromise on the process. The goal of climbing big, dangerous mountains should be to attain some sort of spiritual and personal growth, but this won’t happen if you compromise away the entire process.

Chouinard is not the only one who thinks this. In Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl wrote on success:

Don’t aim at success — the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run—in the long run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.

Robert Pirsig also commented on this. In Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he said:

Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. … To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountains which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. … But, of course, without the top you can’t have any sides. It’s the top that defines the sides.

In an interview, astronaut Chris Hadfield (author of An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth) says:

If you view crossing the finish line as the measure of your life, you’re setting yourself up for a personal disaster. … You need to honor the highs and the peaks in the moments — you need to prepare your life for them — but recognize the fact that the preparation for those moments is your life and, in fact, that’s the richness of your life. … The challenge that we set for each other, and the way that we shape ourselves to rise to that challenge, is life.