The prize at the top of the waterfall

This past week, I was fortunate to be able to travel to the Berkshires and visit with great friends. Actually, they're more like sisters. As one of the inscriptions reads in my book, sometimes friends are as family, and these ladies are it. We met during Amy Oscar's Soul Caller retreat last year, and we've kept in touch since then. We spent a few days re-connecting, learning, laughing, crying, and generally showing support for one another - which is what good friends and family do in my mind.

At one point, we made a trek to a nearby waterfall - the Umpachene Falls, to be exact.

Umpachene Falls, New Marlborough, Massachusetts
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Here's a photo one of my companions (Nicole Navratil) took while we were trekking. The beauty of the photo pales compared to the beauty of the experience at the falls. Imagine coming into a quiet little town park, green grass, lots of trees, and a small cache of playground equipment. Then imagine coming around a bend and seeing massive grey rocks with cool, clear water cascading in and around them.

Stunning doesn't begin to describe it.

As I climbed, I reached a point where the only way to go higher was to either move away from the water and go inland, or cross the water to get to the other side. I considered my options and, because I was more afraid of what I couldn't see in the trees (and because my companions were all waterside), I figured my best bet was to cross the water. At least if I fell, my friends would be there to collect me.

The higher I went, the more exhilarated I was. When I turned back, I could see everyone down below. I could even see the handful of brave souls that decided to climb higher. Then, as I turned forward to see what lay ahead, I saw something that couldn't be natural. Something I really wanted to look at more closely.

A stack of standing stones, called a cairn (or a duck - as in get your ducks in a row), had been erected on a stone jutting out into the water. From where I was standing I could barely see it, so I know no one below on the falls could see it.

I crossed again over the water to get closer to the cairn. Jagged, standing in the middle of the river like a monument to anyone that climbed that high. I wanted to shout to everyone to come take a look at what I had discovered, but I knew that they couldn't hear me.

Looking downstream, I saw one of my friends, Ivy,  coming up. She had crossed the river as I had and was making her way toward me. Just when I thought she was in earshot - just when I had a chance to tell someone about these cool rocks - they fell.

I don't know if I bumped them, or if it was a divine intervention, but they had all fallen into the water, no longer to be seen.

I met up with Ivy, and we chatted about the river for a minute before turning back downstream. We made the journey back down the mountainside together, and it was a fun, enjoyable trek. When we reached the group below, we had both collected a few stones and pebbles to share as conversation pieces and reminders of our time on the hill.

I didn't get a picture of the cairn, but the image is forever in my memory.

For me, as you might expect, this was not only a physical journey, but a metaphorical one as well. As we piled into our cars and headed back to our house for the evening, several things dawned on me:

Anyone can start a climb, but not everyone will have the same destination.

There were about a dozen of us on that trip. I was the only one that ventured to the top of the falls. One of use ventured inland through the trees, and a few folks played on the swings. Many folks stayed in a single group near the lower middle of the falls. A nice wide space perfect for congregating that was high enough to say you'd climbed, but low enough that you could easily get back down.

We all enjoyed the trip to the falls, but for different reasons. While we all went to the same place, we all had different "destinations".

"The Top" is relative.

Everyone gets to define success on their own terms. I really wanted to see how high I could go and what would be waiting for me when I got there. There's nothing wrong with wanting to climb to the top - just as there's nothing wrong with wanting to stay at a different altitude. The trouble comes when someone else wants you to be on some level that you know isn't right for you.

Get clear on what really matters to you and live your life according to that definition. Course correct as needed.

You can get there faster on your own, but it's gonna be a little lonely.

I could have slowed my climb and invited a few people to hike with me, but the thought never even crossed my mind. At least, it didn't until I was at the top, looking back, and wishing I could share my cairn discovery with someone else. The success journey (which isn't really a journey, after all) doesn't usually feel lonely during the doing phase - there's lots to keep you busy. But once you've attained your success, if there aren't others around to celebrate with you, it can feel pretty lonely.

At least, it does for me.

It was easier to just climb by myself. It was faster to just climb by myself. I didn't care about making sure people didn't fall behind. I could focus on my own footing, and not worry about someone else slipping into the water. I didn't need to plan ahead and figure out if the path I was taking would work for everyone else.

I only needed to worry about me. I do that a lot in my work. It makes for a lonely destination sometimes. It's also ironic, since I spend way too much time worrying about everyone else in other respects (kids, family, household, clients, etc), and don't give enough time to making sure I've got companionship for my own journey.

Which, I guess, isn't really ironic at all, since self-care is one of those "back burner" things for me from time to time.

Some people will always choose the safety of the group.

That's not good or bad, it just is what it is. We need all kinds of people in this world. The risk takers, the do-ers, the homebodies, the creatives, the misfits, the safety seekers - we're all important. Some people are quite content to never climb a mountain or be first at anything.

We all have a gift to share. Love people for who they are, not what you want them to be. (Tweet this)

Reaching the top often comes with a reward.

Sometimes you get to share it, and sometimes it's just meant for you. Often, it's meant just for you - because it's your "top". It's your definition of success. Maybe Ivy wouldn't have been impressed with a standing clump of rocks in the middle of a river. But I was. It was like God left it there for me - and only me - to find.

Patience can be a reward, too.

If you wait long enough, someone will join you at the top - maybe a few someones. Someone else will watch what you've done, and emulate you - maybe even find a better or more effective way. You get to choose to celebrate those folks or try to "out do" them. Neither answer is right or wrong, but one will probably serve you better than the other at any given moment in time. I had just as much fun climbing down the mountain with Ivy as I did going up by myself.

I'm sure there'll be other epiphanies over the next few days - you might even have had a few yourself as you read this. What comes up for you? What experiences have you had that gave you some seemingly unrelated insights? I'd love to hear them! Please share in the comments below.


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