Climbing Lessons


I climb high mountains. I’d like to offer you a lesson I’ve learned: a climbing lesson, if you will.

Now, you’re probably wondering why a site that offers career advice to young women would serve up climbing tips.  I’ve discovered over the years that there are many “mountains” in life. These lessons can be applied liberally. Here is lesson number one.

There are many paths that lead to the top.

As you set off up any of these mountain of life, you’ll discover that there are thousands of possible footpaths:  That twisty little trail over scree; up along the boulders just past the ravine; the well-marked fire road littered with empties. There’s no one “right” way. Don’t let the fear of the unknown, the unseeable, paralyze you. You can choose any one of them.  Just be sure the choice is yours alone.

When I first came out of college, I hadn’t the faintest clue who I was.  I’d taken up the study of chemistry simply to impress some guy. I failed to take into account that I possessed no scientific curiosity and that I hated math. Poised to go out into the work world, to take a laboratory job I knew I would hate, I was desperate to find an out. an alternative.

I believed then that there was only one correct path and that I lacked the capacity to find it.  Worse, I was convinced that I had no map. And would never find one.   One false move, and I’d pitch over some ledge.  I needed to latch onto someone—anyone, other than me— who would lead me through the fog.  I wanted someone to rescue me.

My older, Iranian boyfriend seemed to know exactly where to go.  He impressed me as a knowledgeable travel guide, one who could show a lost girl like me around. So sure of himself. So comfortable in his own skin. So confident in his opinions. His essence seemed an elixir to the rudderless girl I was. I saw him as my perfect antidote, my own North Star.

Shortly after he conceded to marrying me, we moved to Iran.  What started off as the perfect escape for an aimless girl, living in a place where no one expected much from her because she could barely speak the language, or navigate the culture, a place where she could act like a baby with very few responsibilities, turned into a bad Middle Eastern sitcom.  I discovered that the price I had to pay for a tour guide was way too steep. If I wanted to end up in a crevasse on a distant mountainside, I could have found it on my own.

Choose your own path up the mountain of your life.  There are so many exciting possibilities, so many ways to express your own true self.  Each of us is born with our own GPS unit. Trust your instincts.  Someone else’s map—I promise—will be wrong for you.


Ann Sheybani, 48, is a high altitude mountaineer, ultra-distance runner, and blue water sailor. She is a speaker, coach and author of the popular blog, Things Mama Never Taught Me.  Visit her at © 2011 Ann Sheybani

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