A few weeks ago, my roommate passed along an inspiring commencement speech that British author Neil Gaiman recently gave at the University of the Arts. The clip I’d like to highlight is from 3:22 to 4:40.
If you can’t watch the video clip (at work? Preach), I’ll summarize. Gaiman discusses his somewhat unorthodox path to success and he credits a mantra he adopted as a young writer. Think of who you want to be—an accomplished celloist, a published author, an award-winning filmmaker—and envision it as a mountain on the horizon. Each time you’re faced with a tough life decision, ask yourself:
“Will X bring me closer to my mountain or further away from it?” X can be any number of life decisions, depending on your specific mountain: a promotion at work, a marriage proposal, enrolling in grad school, moving cross-country, to name just a handful.
Toward your mountain, or away. Brilliantly simple.
The hardest task may be choosing a goal to be your mountain, or guiding north star. I bet some people have a handful of mountains, based on different facets of their lives, such as family, relationships, and work. But I think it’s important to have one overarching goal that takes precedence over the rest.
Do you want to lose 100 lbs? Write novels for a living? Buy a vacation home in North Carolina? Find the love of your life? Have 8 kids? Retire by 50? Whatever it is, according to Gaiman, make it your mountain and never lose sight of it.
He goes onto deliver more insightful advice in his 20-minute speech, but I’m stuck firmly on this whole mountain shebang.
Because, in my opinion, when you make decisions with your mountain in mind, you eliminate the human tendency toward “drifting.”
A flashy buzzword for a centuries-old concept, drifting was introduced into our lexicon by social psychologist Gretchen Rubin in her book The Happiness Project. Drifting describes a life created by a series of indecisions, or inaction, rather than conscious decisions. (Click here to take Rubin’s “Are You Drifting” quiz.)
Drifting is often the culprit behind the anxiety you experience when you feel as if you’re not living your “right” life. Only you can decide what that “rightness” entails. But if you awake one morning and think, “Is this really my life? How did I get here?”, that panicky feeling likely means you’ve drifted, or strayed from your intended course—whether it was into a mediocre relationship, a dead-end job, or an ill-fitting city. That’s drift, and according to Rubin, it’s a huge happiness suck.
Which is why I’ve latched onto Neil Gaiman’s pearl of wisdom. I think the mountain metaphor acts as an antidote to drift. Set your course toward your personal mountain—and strong head winds, obstacles, and detours be damned—you just might get there.
“I knew that as long as I kept walking toward the mountain, I’d be alright.” – Neil Gaiman