I'm sure you've all heard the question, "Why does somebody climb a mountain?" The response is usually, "Because it's there." Well, I don't buy that crap for one minute.
Maybe in the sense that the mountain is there and it presents the ultimate challenge; in that context, I can buy it. But I still don't think it's as simple as that. For me, I think the question comes down to this: Why do some people need to challenge themselves?
Some people need to challenge themselves more than others. In sports, this is often a characteristic which divides the greats from the ones who just love to play the game and happen to be good at it. It's not like the others are lazy; they work as hard as the next guy, but they don't have that drive to go climb a mountain.
But I think it goes deeper still. I don't think it's as simple as some people feeling the need to challenge themselves more than the average person does.
I've read interviews with players who attribute their drive for success to their fear of losing. Their fear of failure is so strong that they will do anything in their power to make sure it doesn't happen.
So should we conclude that the finest athletes in history were really just so insecure that they had to become world-class athletes and win championships just so they didn't have to deal with losing? Michael Jordan is an interesting example. He hated to lose. At anything. He was said to be almost addicted to competition. He was even rumored to cheat at meaningless games. It makes a person wonder, why do some people hate losing so much that it drives them to great heights?
Everyone has their challenges in life. For some, it is a challenge just to get through every day. We all tend to respond to our personal challenges differently. I usually choose to crumble, cower and procrastinate, for example, but that's a story for another day. Others need to find more challenges, new barriers, new ways to fulfill that need to succeed.
For some, this struggle to fulfill the need to succeed can manifest itself in different ways. The thrill of victory, after all, comes in many shapes and sizes: holding a trophy that says you are the best in your field, if only for a year; standing at the top of a mountain, looking down on the rest of the world, knowing you have reached the pinnacle; winning an Academy Award, or a Pulitzer Prize. Or it can be the feeling you get when you win a bet. When you think of it in terms of compensating for failures you've had in your life, it's easy to see how someone can end up in the quicksand of gambling addiction.
The last example is a central theme in my book, The Little Red Boat. Two young men find themselves unable to break the cycle, mostly because at the time, they didn't know why they kept finding themselves compelled to chase after a magic elixir that was going to make their lives feel complete.
My next challenge in life is to write another book. The first part of that challenge is deciding what story I want to pursue next. I have two stories in mind. The first option is a story that has heart: a story about a woman whose father falls ill. She suddenly realizes how far away she is from her father, physically and emotionally, as she halts her life to travel back home to be with him. The second option is a dark comic thriller about a man who fantasizes about murdering his wife. He knows he will never actually do it, but the fantasy of her being out of his life is what keeps him going. He's living his life in an abyss of regret and failure, which his wife is more than happy to remind him of on a daily basis. The story twists and turns its way into a bad place as we learn the dark, sordid secrets of our hero and villain, not really knowing which is which.
While I am certain that both stories will eventually be written, I am opting to start with the former. That, of course, leads us to the next challenge: how to tell the story.
The story begins with our hero, Annie getting a phone call letting her know her father is in the hospital. Anything that happened before that point is revealed either by flashback or simply given as backstory. The easier way to tell the story would be to maintain this timeline, telling the story in the present. While I will still use this method for revealing much of the back story, I thought it might be better to tell the story on multiple timelines; to actually go back to certain places in her history and tell different parts of the story in that manner. It would definitely be more of a challenge, but the payoff would probably be greater if I can do it.
Am I creating a more daunting task for the sake of challenging myself? I doubt it. Do I feel a need to make this book better than the previous one because of feelings of inadequacy? Hmmm. Good question.
Of course, being a writer creates a whole ‘nother layer of intrigue. As a writer, we get to take all of these feelings of inadequacy, all these feelings of regret and self-doubt and fill our characters up with all of our problems, possibly transferring all of those problems into the world of make believe so our lives can now be that much better.
I think many writers create the wonderful books they do for the same reasons that drove Sir Edmund Hillary to reach the summit of Everest, or the same reasons that compelled Michael Jordan to cheat at a meaningless game of cards ... and, of course, become one of the greatest athletes of all time and win six NBA championships.
Perhaps the reason we all do the things we do is not so much that we are striving to reach great heights, but rather we are running away from something in our lives that we don’t want to deal with. After all, how much further away from your demons can you get than the top of a mountain?
So now that I've decided which mountain I plan to climb next, I guess I had better start climbing.