When I was in high school, I did a program called Outward Bound where we hiked across Colorado for two weeks. On one of the mountains we were hiking, I could see the peak as we were going up. Every few steps I'd look up to see how close we were to reaching the top. Finally, we came to the top of the peak, only to realize it was a false summit. The top of the mountain was actually behind that peak we just climbed. Our instructor explained that a false summit is when it looks like you're reaching the top, but when you get there, you realize you still have longer to go.
That was my first false summit, and I've had many more. Not in terms of mountains, but in my everyday life. Every time I have a goal in mind and reach it, I realize there's a greater mountain. There's always "more" you could be doing, so you never get the feeling of being on the top.
For example, my company just got picked up by Hallmark in select locations. Before I could even celebrate getting into Hallmark, I was already set on figuring out how we can get into all Hallmark locations. Or when I was in college and reached my goal for a shout out in Forbes, which led to a greater goal of wanting to get on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Or when I was so excited to give a TEDx talk but now I want to give a TED talk.
Or even false summits on a personal level like when I wanted to move to an apartment downtown. When I got there, I realized I wanted to buy and stop renting. Or at CrossFit when I finally mastered the handstand, I immediately focus on the next progression to a handstand pushup. False summits.
On one hand, false summits can be a good thing. My company gives headbands to kids with cancer for every headband sold. My original idea was to help restore confidence in cancer patients, but now I want to help cure cancer entirely. Last year, we celebrated donating headbands to every children's hospital in America. Now, we want to donate headbands to every children's hospital in the world. Those are positive false summits.
Negative false summits occur when the hike stops being meaningful or purposeful to you. A negative false summit happens when your intrinsic motivation is fueled by wanting more, not by wanting meaning. It becomes more of an internal competition rather than a positive mission.
But what makes us so eager for more the second we attain what we want? The higher you climb, the higher you can see. The more you can see, the more you want. The more you want, the more you work for it. I've reached a lot of milestones in my business because of wanting more. But when you're climbing a series of false summits, there's still always that element of disappointment when you realize you're not there, which dissipates any kind of feeling of accomplishment or satisfaction.
Life might be a series of summits with no clear point of celebration or no hard finish line. There might not be a flag stuck in the ground or a finishers medal, but we need to not wait for those signs. Give yourself time to celebrate the little things, even if you're inspired to do more. Recognize when you've digressed from your initial mission or purpose and are just reaching for summits because you know they're there.
There's always going to be more in your reach. But decide what summits align with your passions and not just the ones you can see.