How to Have a Mountaintop Experience (Right Where You Are)

You aren’t here to be extraordinary, to accomplish the extraordinary, or to experience the extraordinary. You are simply here to be fully you, limitations and all. Ironically, when you embrace that, something extraordinary happens…

true self

Photo Credit: Bigstock (Eldar Nurkovic)

It’s the eve of our fifteenth wedding anniversary and tomorrow morning, in the dark hours before the dawn, my wife and I are supposed to drive up the side of a volcano to watch the sun rise on our sixteenth year. It sounds perfect. Romantic. Beautiful. Awesome and inspiring. Indeed, awe-inspiring.

But there’s a problem.

I’m terrified of heights. And open spaces. And dying. My wife is afraid of none of those things, so she is the designated driver when we drive up mountains. However, her night vision is exceptionally poor. The blind leading the blind up ten thousand feet, around thirty-two switchbacks, with no guardrails and no streetlights in the dark? Well, it seems like a bad idea.

So, instead, the first act of our sixteenth year is to Yelp a really good local breakfast joint.

This is the worst blog post ever, isn’t it? I mean, I write about courage and growth and loving fiercely and living fully and taking chances and trusting grace and redeeming the mess. I write to inspire us—myself included—to more beautiful things. I’m supposed to drive up that volcano, have the mountaintop experience, and tell you about it.

Except, that’s not really what I’m supposed to do. That’s not really what any of us are supposed to do. We’re not here to be more inspiring. We’re here to be more ourselves. We’re here to embrace what we are—all of it—and to live our way fully into it.

This includes our limitations.

Of course, we shouldn’t accept our limitations too quickly. Sometimes what feels at first like a limitation is a challenge to face, a hurdle to overcome, or an occasion to rise to. No, we have to be slow and wise about accepting our limitations. We have to seek trusted counsel. We have to grow slowly into our embrace of them.

On our fifteenth anniversary, the acceptance of our limitations is the fruit of seventeen years of togetherness. It is the fruit of countless panicky crossings of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge—and that one crazy, comical afternoon when I pulled over and we switched places so she could drive over the bridge, only to have her eyeglasses snap in half at its apex, her blindly pressing the accelerator, and me and my fear trying to steer from the passenger seat.

So, we choose breakfast over the volcano.

When we arrive at the hole-in-the-wall breakfast joint the next morning, there is a line out the door. Eventually, we climb to the front of the line and place our order.

It is worth the wait.

We share a locally-grown Papaya stuffed with yogurt and granola. My wife smiles. The waitress calls us “Honey.” And, for a moment, I love our limitations, because they confined us to this experience. Our limitations nudged us toward this particular mountaintop.

You see, there are mountaintops everywhere.

You don’t have to be a hero to climb them. You only have to honor who you are and pay attention to where that leads you. To the smell of a freshly washed baby. To the sight of a little girl feeding a goat from her hand. To the flicker of a Jack O’ Lantern. To the raspy sound of breeze in the trees. To the click-clack of bamboo stalks against each other in the tall forest. To a thousand years of running water carving beauty out of a landscape. To faithfulness and fidelity. To the right amount of seasoning. To a constellation at the edge of the sky. To the smallest act of love.

I suppose a cynic could write me off, accuse me of rationalizing the avoidance of my fears. And, I suppose, the cynic could be right. Still. The cynic wasn’t there for the papaya. It was the color of sunrise. And if sunrise has a flavor, I’m guessing it tasted like sunrise too.

During this week of gratitude, let’s be grateful that we’re not here to climb any specific mountaintop or see the beauty of any particular sunrise. Let’s be grateful that the most beautiful thing of all is becoming fully who we are, limitations and all. Then, perhaps, we’ll be free to see the truth:

We walk every day amongst the clouds.

We dance along the mountaintops.

It’s all sunrise waiting to happen.

No need to climb higher.

It’s all revelation.

Wake up.

Taste.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Pre-Order LOVEABLE Now! You are enough. You are not alone. And you matter. These are the three fundamental truths of your existence. The problem is there is a voice inside each of us relentlessly calling them into question. And yet the answer to that voice can be found within each of us, as well. Click here to find out more about my new book—Loveable: Embracing What Is Truest About You, So You Can Truly Embrace Your Life.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jamie

    This is beautiful. I never leave comments on blogs, but, I needed every word of this post. I love your blog, thanks for being real. ❤️

    • Julianna

      I completely agree. I never miss reading one of your blogs and I always, always feel better for having done so. This one especially hits home. My husband and I who have been together for 24 years just decided to not do something really big and scary after trying for a whole year. We feel defeated. But we are also growing and embracing new parts of ourselves and each other. It is very sweet and I’m so proud of us. Thank you for always expressing what I’m experiencing.

      • Jamie and Julianna, thank you, and thanks for reading! Julianna, I love that you and your husband have gone through this thing, whatever it is, so closely connected. That is its own kind of bravery.

  • Doreen

    I want to fix/help everyone. When you say you are afraid of heights, of dying, I want to fix you. Tell you how to overcome it. A few days ago, I could tell my 16 years old daughter was troubled. I finally got out of her some problem she was having with a friend. I went right to my fix mode. She sighed, and said that was why she didn’t want to tell me. I try to fix everything. So I held my tongue and just listened, encouraging her with just questions, nods, and “wows.” By doing this she came full circle, and decided what she should do, which was very close to what I thought she should do. I didn’t tell her that tough. I just nodded and said her plan sounded good.

    I love the idea of enjoying the moment you’re in. So often we make a bigger deal out of anticipation, having the actual event fall flat. So we frequently choose to live in a world of anticipation.

    • Well done, Mom. Your daughter is lucky to have a mom who is practicing that kind of awareness, self-control, and patience. I increasingly trust the wisdom of people to “fix” themselves when given the space and the safety to work through it.

  • Mike Gates

    Happy Wednesday. Being who you are is enough? You’re going to set back the progress of Western Civilization with an attitude like that! I kid, I kid.
    Getting ok with limitations, with who you are has had the weird effect of somehow allowing me to become the best possible version of me I can. It isn’t limiting, quite the opposite. Thanks for sharing this; we need to hear a bit more of this message. We get enough of the “You gotta overcome by force of will” message

    • Ha! Yeah, it’s bad for the economy. You nailed it, Mike; it’s a paradox. It makes you realize how much of our “overcoming” is really a subtle form of self-rejection that never lets us tap into the power of self-acceptance.

  • Shel Llee Flexman-Evans

    There is a lot more inspiration in loving what you are doing—wholly, finely, wonderfully— both in the moment and in the memory of it than I would find in knowing you inauthentically dragged yourself up a volcano so your wife could be with the queasy, terrified, and wrecked shell of you at the top. There are a thousand opportunities to choose something that works instead of the Hollyweird Big Impact shot. And while most of us do choose what works, we don’t always bring our hearts along, so the gift of that middle road together can be really cheapened by the resentment or outright hostility of what we think we gave up.
    The wholehearted and joyful delight in being right where we’ve chosen to be takes my breath away, whether I see it in someone else like an amazing mountaintop view or feel in in myself as that post-climb high while my feet stand just here at standard elevation. Love the mountaintop you brought us today, Kelly.

    • Shel, you so perfectly captured what the experience would have been like if we’d tried it. And you capture the challenge of not trying it. Can we truly let it go and embrace what we’ve chosen. Thank you for that reminder and that gentle challenge.

  • margaret

    Thank you Dr. Kelly for always inspiring us. Thank you for inspiring me to be more . . . well just like me. And giving us permission to enjoy ouselves, limitations and all. Blessings!

  • Maryann Arsenijevic

    Thank you for this post. There is beauty in the small things, there is fulfillment in the simple things, there is love in the plain things. It doesn’t have to be an extraordinary event to create an extraordinary moment.

  • AV

    Love this! I have a 2 month old baby and there are no mountaintop experiences in my near future….just the ordinary experience of raising a newborn baby who, some how, is really good at pointing out my limitations! Yet within this ordinary experience is something that feels extraordinary to me!!

    • Seriously. Those little toes are each a little mountaintop of their own. Enjoy your little one and blessings to you both!

  • THIS is like a cool drink of water on a dusty road. I’m “afraid” that more people aren’t going to read this because it’s the day before Thanksgiving..and that’s SO too bad. I particularly appreciated your point about seeking trusted counsel with the things we have a tendency to go down into ourselves with. The older I get the more I realize the value of laying down my pride and asking for that counsel. It’s almost always another cool drink in a sometimes parched “land”. Thank you for this post..It starts my Thanksgiving holiday with more peace..and more thanksgiving! Blessings to you and your wife on your anniversary!

    • Donna, I’m glad this gets your holiday off on the right foot. There’s a lot of pressure to have amazing experiences over the holidays, when we all know they are much more complicated and ordinary than that. May you find a mountaintop right where you’re at.

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  • Thank you again, Kelly, for a beautiful post. It is so nice to know that we are wonderful in our ordinariness and not always be seeking the mountaintop experiences. Actually, it’s the ordinariness of the every day that allows us to savor the mountaintop experiences of the some times and the every day ones. It’s in the savoring that we can relish the beauty. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and may you savor all those wonderful moments!

    • Jenny, when I read our comment, I realize how much I’ve come to cherish the word ordinary and what it represents. Thank you for capturing that.

  • Sheree Serna McLean

    I seriously thought I was the only one who was this terrified of driving along cliffs, switchbacks or over bridges. My husband is terrified of flying ANYWHERE. Thank you for making us feel “okay” about not making ourselves experience things we think we SHOULD be experiencing for bragging right purposes 🙂

    • Great observation, Sheree! Sometimes we force ourselves into things because we “should” be doing them. It’s nice to accept that I don’t like bridges, never will, and I don’t have to “fix” anything about that. 🙂

  • Scout

    I’ve read your blog for a while now and never comment on your page. I comment to my friends and family about you honest and inspiring blog. Thank you for writing and putting yourself out there to all of us. It’s brave. It’s courageous, it’s getting out of the boat and stepping forward in faith and maybe a little fear.

  • Carlene Bronner

    This blog really spoke to me. I have brain cancer which I am coping fine with (with all that that entails, it is possible to be fine!) but there are loads of time when I think, man I need to make this time count, I should be living life to the fullest, even conquering my worst fears ( what’s the worst that can happen? Death?), but most days I just don’t have the energy or desire to be awesome or do awesome things. And your words gave me reassurance that life doesn’t have to have firework moments of huge magnitude to be special. Helps take the pressure off! Thank you!

  • kruidigMeisje

    Yeah, Combine can do-must do-enjoy it as much as possible. Try as many combinations of this as you can.
    Challenges are fine – if they are in reachable length outside your comfort zone, depending on your energy, skills etc. A victory is sweet. But life is more than challenges, and life can be enjoyed all the time.
    For me that is cycling wherever I go, as much as I can. I even bought a bike to accomodate this specific idea. Now I enjoy commute time: hear birds singing, seeeing a sunrise, smelling leaves. Even rain (drizzle)is sometimes a good ride (I have a good rain coats – that does help). Saying hello to everybody on the way – and see them smile. Getting home with a fresh, non frustrated head, able to smile at hubbie. Getting home with a good appetite to appreciate a farmer’s food meal.
    So life can be enjoyed so often and so much, that should be our goal. Not gadgets, not high earnings, not even perfect love – however perfect our life would be with them. Life will never be completetly perfect, and it would be boring if it was, and let’s enjoy it on the way.

  • Shayne Wheeler

    My exact feelings about New Years Eve and sometimes my birthday! Once I quit looking for the huge, TV show happiness/party, I enjoyed these days so much better.
    (Sometimes I feel good simply telling everyone I meet that day that “it’s my birthday today!” Ha! I’m 42!!)

  • Brian Shimer

    Thank you dear brother! I read this after Thanksgiving — I was too busy enjoying precious 1.5 Theo and 4 Antonia to open a computer that week. They are both bundles of joy, incredibly precious, and delightfully inquisitive. I got to build and decorate a Gingerbread house with Antonia, and dance enthusiastically with Theo – who delights at all and every variety of music, laughing with joy. Talk about mountaintops.
    Thank you for how you write, and allow me into your own places of journey and life. I have spent a day mostly in tears just processing the feelings of the end of a mountaintop in my own life, the grief, the release continues. But you give me permission to be me, and that’s incredible. It is something in this life that we don’t often give others. So thank you, dear brother and I am so thankful that rather than just seeing a sunrise you got to eat one!