Mountains beyond Mountains
This is a phrase I use often in conversations to describe the series of challenges an entrepreneur faces when building a business. I first came across this phrase many years ago. It was the title of a book by Tracy Kidder on the life of Paul Farmer. One of Tracy Kidder’s previous books, “The Soul of a New Machine”, had won a Pulitzer Prize. The book, published in 1981, told the story of a team at Data General that was building a next-generation computer. “Mountains beyond Mountains” was published in 2003. It chronicles the life of Farmer, who was fighting tuberculosis in Haiti and other countries. The title comes from a Haitian proverb: “Beyond mountains, there are mountains.” It means that as you solve one problem, another will present itself.
From an enotes answer on the book’s title: “The mountains could metaphorically represent obstacles, and this proverb could be read in a negative way to mean that there are always more obstacles in your way. However, it’s also possible to read the proverb in a more positive light if we interpret the mountains to metaphorically represent opportunities. A mountain, after all, represents an opportunity for self-betterment and an opportunity to achieve something significant by reaching the summit. Reaching the summit, or overcoming the problem, is a cause for celebration.” Another answer adds: “The proverb gives us the sense that as soon as an obstacle is overcome or a problem is solved, another one is waiting.”
The life of an entrepreneur is very much that of climbing one mountain only to see another higher one waiting. The second mountain was perhaps obscured by the mountain in the front, so it only comes into sight after the first has been climbed. And so it goes. One problem after another, one challenge after another. Day after day.
Building a business is not like walking down a straight road. Climbing a mountain requires courage, determination and stamina – and some luck. One misstep and the consequences could be disastrous – getting lost, a fall, or even death (failure). The journey is never finished – because once one problem has been solved, another one awaits to be tackled.
So, why do entrepreneurs do it? Why do they stake it all for the hard life? For the entrepreneur, it is not always about money. Of course, the financial rewards are an important motivator. But there is much more. Just like Paul Farmer dedicated his life to conquering disease and making the world a better place, so too does the entrepreneur – risking everything to improve something seen as inefficient. It is this belief that things can be made better that provides the energy to wake up every morning and climb higher, fall a little, and start all over again. And once one peak has been reached, it is onward to the next one. Mountains beyond Mountains.
Tomorrow: Part 65
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I heard a rendition of this phrase in 2002 as verbalised by the founder of an old British company which was a FTSE 25 at that time. The connotation was : “Only when you climb a mountain, will you be able to see the next mountain”…
He was implying that unless you complete a task / do a business / achieve one milestone, you will not be able to see/visualise the next big opportunity that opens up as you have now qualified for that BIGGER space !!… This phrase has stuck with me as a philosophy since then.
On another note, while I have seen this phrase coming true year after year in the life of companies I have been associated with or even in personal life, the one manifestation that I can never forget is when I first saw Kanchenjunga….It was a car ride from Bagdogra airport to Gangtok into the hills literally tracing the Teesta river upwards…The ride was at a significant altitude and ONLY when we reached a particular height, we could see the magnificence of Kanchenjunga in front of us…MAGICAL !!… Just to see a peak, we had to climb significant vertical altitude …Looking at the supreme peak in front, the one phrase that was whistling in the breeze….”Only when you climb a mountain, will you be able to see the next MAGNIFICENT mountain”…
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