My first major climb was Pikes Peak as a chubby 13-year-old Boy Scout. It seemed impossible, but I managed to do it… and somehow, climbing has become a lifelong passion. People ask me why I keep doing this, when at 52, the peaks seem even harder. What I’ve come to appreciate is that it isn’t the few minutes at the top (as amazing as they are), but rather the sense of accomplishment that keeps me going. Climbing to me is a metaphor. I see it all around in my work and in my personal life.
Imagine having a goal that seems impossible from a distance. But, with a bit of planning and a great deal of perseverance, you discover you can accomplish it. Climbing is largely mental—you have to start with the courage to try, and then break the challenge into comprehensible elements with intermediate goals. You keep an eye on the summit and the distance ahead without being overwhelmed, while also looking back periodically to appreciate the progress you’ve made. Sometimes it is mindless drudgery, simply putting one foot in front of the other. At other times it takes everything you have to get yourself out of a tight spot. And all the while you have to be acutely aware of the weather (far more people die from lightning and exposure than falling). Climbing is also largely about efficient use of limited resources—time, water and energy. Finally, it requires complete trust in your partners, but ultimately, you must remember that you are personally accountable. You are the only person who can get yourself up and down the mountain. You have to actively engage.
Metaphorically speaking, we all have mountains to climb. It could be delivering a very tough project, raising our design reputation, or winning a critical project. All of these great accomplishments are earned as a result of persistence, discipline, teamwork, being personally accountable, and daring to imagine possibilities. Given that the storm clouds seem to be around the architecture industry these days with an incredibly tough market, we need to think like mountaineers. We need to keep a clear focus on our goal, be nimble, move quicker than ever, and of course not lose our heads.