Step Off Your (Metaphoric) Mountain

It’s easy to say “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” but sometimes, my problems feel gigantic. They’re anything but small in my mind.

It’s hard to deal with a mountain of a problem when you can’t see the top, the peak of success. All too often, the molehill-sized problems in our lives look like mountains. But we’re simply viewing them from the bottom, and from the bottom, it’s hard to get perspective.

I think it’s similar to the way in which after you’ve faced a Difficult Life Challenge, some mountain of life’s issues, you emerge stronger. Admittedly, sometimes you’re not even scaling the problem, not even moving forward — it’s all you can do to just hang on, knuckles clenched, gasping for breath and praying that you’ll get through this. Those times are hard, but on the mountain, they’re just one small part of the bigger picture.

But for me, during those moments, it sometimes feels like time stops. It’s like the world is frozen in place. Anxiety and worries can weigh you down from catapulting over this monster of a mountain.

If only I could ditch these heavy worries, you think. Then I could finally scale the mountain. And if you ditch a worry or two, sure, you feel better immediately — but you still feel the need to cling to this mountain. Even if you optimize your environment to be as worry-free as possible, there is still something there. You’re not quite free.

Now, hold up a second.

What if I told you to just step off the mountain? You know, the one that’s practically running your life because it’s so ginormous?

You’d think I was crazy, right? Like, there’s no way in hell I’m stepping off a freaking mountain. I must hold on and grip it until my fingers ache deep into my bones. I must have it become the focus of my life — because without it, I would not exist. I would fail — I would fall off the mountain. How else can I succeed at this challenge if I don’t think about it constantly? (This is my train of thought more than I care to admit, but here I am, admitting it, because I think it is really important to talk about worry and anxiety in a way that’s accessible. In a way that feels real. This blog is not a psychological self-help book. I’m not qualified to do any of that. But I do hope you can read this, and think of yourself – or a loved one, or a friend – and try to understand where these thoughts are rooted and how to acknowledge and move past them.)

This is how it feels when people tell me to stop worrying about whatever challenge I’m facing. It’s not that I believe worrying will help me (I do recognize, on some level, that it is detrimental to my goals and my health.) It’s just — at the time, it is the center of my life. The mountain feels like the pillar of me. In a way, it feels like a part of me, a foundation.

Here’s the kicker: I see the mountain as the Challenge. I see clinging to the Challenge as a way to survive, as a way to hang on to the hope that I will scale it.

But the mountain is not the Challenge. The mountain is only the Worry.

Wait, what?!

It took me a long time to realize that I was not clinging to the Challenge. I was actually clinging to the Worry. When I faced an exam, I thought the insurmountable height of the Challenge was paralyzing me. But I had prepared, studied my butt off, and worked hard. It wasn’t the Challenge that gave me anxiety — it was the Worry, perceived as the Challenge. It’s not that I can’t do it — I’m just perceiving my worries as part of the problem I need to take on.

And this is hardly ever true. I’m more than qualified to tackle anything life throws at me, and I’ve proven this again and again academically, socially and in my career. But this separation between what I need to overcome to succeed (the Challenge) and what I need to overcome in smaller increments (the Worry) is crucial. You don’t need to do both things at once. You don’t even have to think about both things. Success in both will come eventually. You just need to step off your mountain and realize the worry is a separate entity from the challenges in your life.

It’s only now that I’m slowly realizing this shift in perspective is so integral to my life. Relabeling what I struggle with — hardly ever the actual Challenge — as struggling with the Worry instead is a huge step. It’s not easy. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes you might screw up a little.

But it’s okay. You can climb mountains.

Day 2 Mantra: Scale back your perspective.

Will this matter a week from now? Will this matter a year from now? Are you looking at the mountain as the Challenge? Jump off from your worries. Breathe.

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