My wife and I love hiking. Having lived in Arizona for a number of years, and traveling to different countries and states with beautiful landscapes, it has become one of our favorite pastimes. When most people go on vacation, they look up area attractions, restaurants, maybe theme parks or beaches. For Carrie and I, we like to look up the best hiking trails in the area.
Given our love for hiking, I was somewhat surprised to come across a term I’d never heard before, and it got me thinking about an interesting analogy as it relates to financial planning. The term is: “False Summit”.
A false summit, also known as a false peak, is a term used to describe a point on the trail that appears to be the mountain peak. However, once that peak has been reached, you realize there is another peak on the mountain higher than you. You couldn’t actually see the real peak until you reached the false summit.
Wikipedia says “False peaks can have significant effects on climbers' psychological states by inducing feelings of dashed hopes or even failure.”
This was fascinating to me.
As a hiker, you live for that moment you reach the summit. When you can look out over the valley below you and feel that sense of accomplishment. The challenge set before you has been conquered, and it feels amazing.
But what happens if you reach a point where you think you’ve made it to the top, you think you've tackled your goal, only to realize it is still a ways off?
The retirement you thought was only a few short years away -- One day you go into work, only to find out you've unexpectedly lost your job, your healthcare benefits, your pension you were only months from being eligible for. Suddenly you realize retirement is quite a bit further away than you originally thought.
Your education you fought so hard to obtain -- You’re in your final semester and you fail the final exam. Now you have at least another semester in front of you.
The promotion you were working so hard for -- You get the interview and a few days later receive a phone call you think is going to be good news, only to find out, they gave the position to someone else.
Year 1 of retirement -- you have years of plans in front of you, plans that include traveling, spending time with your children, golfing. Then you get a doctor’s report back and you find out you have a health battle to fight before you can think about those plans.
False summits, setbacks as we might refer to them, can be extremely difficult to mentally process. When you have a goal and you spend a good amount of time, money, and physical and mental energy on it and then you reach it, it feels amazing. But realizing it is a false summit can be even more draining than if you hadn’t reached it in the first place.
There are really just two responses to reaching a false summit. Those who say “this is good enough” and give up, and those who say “I’m going to continue to press on”. The former may or may not admit it, but they are extremely disappointed, and will likely live with regret. The latter have a mental strength that will drive them towards success, no matter the cost.
What type of person are you?
Are you going to pick up the pieces, accept the reality in front of you and continue to press on toward your goal? Or are you going to allow the disappointment prevent you from doing what you originally set out to do.
Today, I challenge you to define what you’re chasing. Sit down and write down 5 personal or professional goals you are trying to reach. What does the summit look like for you? What will it take to get there? Most importantly, if you are faced with a false summit along the way in those 5 areas, how will you respond?