When was the last time you had read one of those inspirational self help books end to end? I remember reading Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull and imagined myself doing things which were not the prescribed standards and reaching for greater heights and glory. And I think I was in eighth grade when I read that book and remember reading it a few times then.
Since then, I have started on many such books but never had completed one. Most of these books just preach. Be good, be true, be honest, be this, be that and are pretentious at best. If I need that kind of preaching, I have a book which is much older and goes 'Thou shalt not steal', 'Thou shalt not murder'and so on. Or they try to take a bunch of random events and try to interpret them for you. There is no way you can have a one-size-fits-all interpretation and it is precisely there these books fail. I have never been able to relate to what the author says as the events described do not appeal to me nor can I make the techniques suggested work in my case. Rarely are such books inspiring. I have never gone back to read Jonathan Livingston Seagull ever again, as I did not want the magic it created then to evaporate now.
I recently attended an internal meeting of our company where the leaders of my team walked us through what their goals where and how we fit in the larger scheme of things. In the welcome kit was a book - Beyond The Summit by Todd Skinner. And the blurb on the cover was a kitschy 'Setting and Surpassing Extraordinary Business Goals'. It happened so that the leader of our team is a hiking / backpacking aficionado and was impressed by the words of this author, a world class mountain climber. This resulted in the theme of the meeting being about surpassing summits and this book finding its way into the welcome kit.
How can a guy like me, with barely any physical activity in my lifestyle, relate to a book on climbing mountains? Never to pass on an opportunity to read I started, albeit with much trepidation. But I was pleasantly surprised. The book is about one particular climb of the author - The conquest of a vertical wall of a mountain called the Trango Tower in the Himalayas.
In typical movie style, the book begins when the team is almost near the summit but facing so much trouble that they may not make it to the top. Todd Skinner, then takes a pause and rewinds to talk about his early experiences in climbing mountains, a few lessons that he learnt along the way before he started off on this journey of his to be on top of Trango Tower.
The story, and that is what it is a story with no preaching in between, begins with describing the need for climbing the tower, a need for reaching out to a greater goal than what has been accomplished by him so far. He goes on to talk about his preparations, the strategies he adopted at various times, the hardships he faced, how he was driven to almost giving it up and ultimately how he triumphs in his quest. Along the way, he summarizes his actions into a pile of about forty points which serve as places where you pause and ponder about what he is doing and why.
Simple statements such as "The specter of the mountain might loom larger than the mountain itself" or "If you are not afraid, you have chosen too easy a mountain" or "Don't ask if reaching the summit is possible; ask if it is impossible" or "If you can take one step, you can take one more" take a profound meaning when read in context with what Todd was experiencing at that time. Some of these relate very well to some stuff I am doing and so I could appreciate very well from a personal point of view.
The best part about the book is that Todd does not interpret his actions to your situation or any business situation at all. He just lays down his set of variables and what he interpreted them as to make his plans. This gives you the room to think of the current mountain you are climbing and what you are facing in that climb. The mountain differs for each reader or at different times even for the same reader. It just sets you off to think what would Todd do in such a situation and what would I have to do. This is what I found as the best part of the book.
The book is about mountain climbing. Of course, there is terminology I don't understand. I did not know that climbing involved setting up bases and climbing DOWN to them every day. I do not understand what belaying means. I do not understand the concept of dividing a climb into pitches or what the difference is between a pitch with a value of 5.12 and another with 5.13. But I can understand pitch means a subdivision and that a 5.13 pitch is harder than a 5.12. These special terms do not affect the flow of the story. You can still go along Todd in his quest to reach the summit. And it is a good read.
This book is not going to make me take up mountain climbing or even make me believe that I am going to surpass every mountain that I will face in my life. It gives me a good set of things that we need to consider while planning for anything and how to fine tune the plans as and when things change. At work, it does gives me the confidence that I can tell this team "This is my Trango Tower" and be understood. That is a good start.
Title of the Book : Beyond the Summit
Author : Todd Skinner
Published by : Portfolio, A Penguin Group Company
ISBN : 1-59184-004-X