Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Mountain Is You

"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." 
-Sir Edmund Hillary
It was a Tuesday afternoon late last May, and I was running one of my favorite trails, a meandering 3-mile loop at Boulder Valley Ranch, a rural open space just north of town. The trail started dusty and flat, winding its way through the valley for about three quarters of a mile. Vast expanses of sagebrush and yucca dotted the red earth, a modest mesa obscuring the mountains in a way that made the cloudless cerulean sky feel close enough to reach out and touch with my hand. The sun shone fiery and unfiltered on my skin, its heat melding with my own rising body temperature. I remember wishing I had brought more water with me.

As the trail took a sudden and sharp incline up the mesa, my thoughts turned to the previous week, during which I'd completed a grueling series of interviews for a fantastic job opportunity. The position seemed uncannily tailored to my strengths, and by Friday afternoon of that week--after multiple meetings with various members of the team--I wanted that job almost as much as anything I've wanted anything in my life. All day Saturday and Sunday, I fretted over whether I'd receive an offer. When Monday came and passed without any communication, I began steeling myself for a "no." Tuesday afternoon's trail run run, then, was therapy: an attempt to cope with the impending rejection I anticipated as inevitable.

I struggled up the steep slope of the hill, each step met with loose gravelly rock, the kind that gives way underfoot and makes you feel like you're putting forth immense effort yet getting nowhere. I felt the prickle of tears mix with the sweat already stinging my eyes. Keep going. Keep going. The familiar refrain. And then, something else:

You are stronger than you think. 

The revelation seemed to come from nowhere; or perhaps from somewhere very deep within, beyond the depths of my consciousness. With my lungs screaming and my muscles quaking from the exertion, I summoned a primal shot of momentum that carried me over the crest, revealing a stunning mountain vista gleaming gold in the late afternoon sun. Awed, I paused for a few seconds to take in the view.

You are stronger than you think. There it was again.

The sheer beauty of my surroundings--the sudden force of perspective--nearly brought me to my (already shaking) knees, and I knew suddenly and with startling clarity that I would be fine. With or without the job, I would be fine. The rejection would be disappointing, but there was a whole wonderful world to explore, so many ways to the summit and so many paths that would take me there. I am stronger than I think. The phrase continued on repeat in my mind, an impromptu mantra that stilled my thoughts, bringing me slowly back to equilibrium.

As I pulled out my phone to take a photo of the breathtaking scenery that lay before me, I saw that I had a new voicemail:

"...just wanted to let you know we're putting together an offer for you, and you can expect to receive it by the end of today..."

The rest of the run is a blur, but those few minutes remain in sharp relief. The point is not that I got and accepted the job, my dream job no less. The point is that I would have been okay if I didn't and that I knew it. That specific knowledge is as strong--and more important I think--as the jubilation I felt at getting the offer.

Tonight, I ran that same 3-mile loop with my husband. There was a point, just before the mesa incline, at which he turned to me. "Ready for the uphill?" he asked.

I was. And I will be. Not because I'm stronger than I think, but because I know how strong I am.