I haven’t published anything since early April, which feels strange because extraordinary things have occurred since then. Within two weeks of my being laid off (see in progress… ), I enthusiastically accepted another job offer. Then I luxuriated in the abundance that gave me time to write, take long walks, and edit the manuscript that has long been sitting on my laptop. And no doubt these peak experiences have altered my trajectory in untold ways.
Yet inspiration hasn’t been flowing as readily as it did in the weeks surrounding those highs last month. Old habits being what they are, I’ve been tempted to lament this lull as an impenetrable block. But I’ve been here before. And while it feels somewhat uncertain, this time I know it’s just the other side of the mountain.
If you are new to these parts, this is the place where, having landed a new job, launched a new venture, completed a creative project, or leaped beyond fear and old beliefs, we begin to doubt if we’re actually ready, if we’re really enough. Those bigger shoes we wanted to fill—and for a moment did fill at the top of the mountain—don’t quite seem to fit…yet. It’s where we question the support the universe provided on the way to the peak. And it’s the place where despair can creep in, if we let it.
I’ll admit that in the past, not understanding the necessity of this part of the journey, I’ve despaired, thrown temper tantrums, questioned my path, and mourned my broken illusions. Thankfully, I now know a thing or two about navigating safely over here.
If getting to the peak required a leap of faith in ourselves and the generosity of the universe, this new venue invites us to be in that new and expansive place. And this unfamiliar territory can feel weird and uncomfortable—and at times even scary. The desire for certainty tempts us to build bunkers and look to old illusions for cold comfort. Capitulating to despair, doubt, and self-doubt makes this place both lonely and bleak.
On prior trips, I’ve made this back-half of the journey far more difficult and much longer than it needed to be. The truth is, however, that following every climb to the summit, I’ve survived the inevitable and vital descent.
Everything feels different here because we are different. We’re figuring out who we are having reached a new peak. And we need to give ourselves some room to catch up…with ourselves. Fortunately, this other side provides us not only with new perspective, but also with plenty of space to shed old rules, habits, and beliefs that no longer fit who we’re becoming.
And I’ll let you on a secret that changes everything: you don’t actually have to reach the bottom—or hit bottom—to begin the journey to the next peak. But you can’t rush this part of the process either. If despair over here feels like pure hell, rushing the descent is its own special torture.
After hiking to the top of a 7,000-foot mountain a couple of years ago, I attempted to return down a treacherously steep gravel trail that ran straight up the mountain. Ten minutes into my descent, with my left knee screaming, I turned around and crawled back up the mountain while gasping for air. At the top, I found a welcome contrast to my gravel nightmare: a wooded trail with gentle switchbacks down the mountain—and frankly far better views.
The journey down is only the completion of the arc from our latest leap, the corresponding trough of the same wave. And it’s why growth is best described as a spiral: three steps forward, and then seemingly two steps back. This may seem like abstract theory, until you catch a glimpse of your own courage, creativity, or bigness—and then seem to lose it.
This isn’t abstraction; it’s just the other side of the mountain. There’s no training manual for what to do here, probably because there’s not much we can do. Even the most enlightened masters can only advise us to simultaneously hold on and let go—and presumably not to think too much about that irritating paradox.
In the short-term, we can easily lose sight of a reassuring and brilliant fact: it’s really, really good to find ourselves on the other side of the mountain. It means we’ve leaped, expanded, acted courageously, released our fears, played bigger…. Sure, if we never made the climb, we wouldn’t have to explore this uncertain ground. But the descent is where energy begins to reorganize—and where momentum builds again to inspire us toward new and higher peaks.
There’s a lot to see on this side of the mountain—and some extraordinary people too, which means we aren’t alone. And knowing that, on this pass through, I have a strong sense I won’t linger here long. It’s not force of will that makes that statement true, but faith that the universe has my back not only on the way up, but also on the way down. Yours too.