I heard this story once and it gave me pause.
On the side of a mountain in the Swiss Alps, exactly halfway to the summit, sits a cozy, quaint café and gift shop affectionately named The Halfway House. Every day that the weather allows, tourists meet at the base of the mountain and start the 8-hour trek toward the summit. The air is crisp and the scenery indescribably majestic; climbers see snowcapped mountains for miles and the only building in sight is The Halfway House.
Some climbers join guides for their expedition, while others simply go it alone. The climb to the summit does not take a heroic effort, but there is no doubt that the climber’s legs will be tired by the end of the journey. It seems every climber in the parking lot chats about the amazing pictures that he/she will take at the summit. You can hear bets being made about who will assent to the top first. As the journeys start for hundreds of climbers, it seems everyone offers at least one comment of their personal vision of reaching the summit and their personal reason for doing so.
Groups of people form at the trailhead and organize their thoughts and teams before they begin. You can hear the hired guides and the do-it-yourselfers making sure everyone has water, snacks, extra socks and clothing, a camera, and other gear needed for the day. One will also witness some “kamikaze” climbers who do not have full appreciation for preparation, but nevertheless are excited for the challenge as they take off.
By lunchtime, many of the climbers grow a bit tired and cranky. The high anticipation of the start has long worn off. At this point, the climbers are four hours into their journey and are nearly halfway to the summit. Their stomachs start to growl with hunger and their legs begin to feel heavy as they continue toward the top of the mountain. You can hear periodic words of encouragement that are shared by the more motivated climbers, the ones who seem to have a clear purpose for reaching the summit.
On one such trek, a mother promised her sons that she would take a panoramic picture with her phone as soon as she reached the top so she could share when she returned home. Another climber, a battle-tested Marine, promised a mother that he would spread her son’s ashes at the top of the mountain. The warrior was killed in combat and one of the items on his “bucket list” was to snowboard in the Swiss Alps. Everyone seemed to have a different reason for reaching the top, but as each hour passes, it becomes apparent that the levels of commitment vary among the individual climbers.
At last the climbers arrive at the mid-point, The Halfway House. The quaint café is a welcome sight for hikers as it is perfectly positioned on the side of the mountain with large, welcoming doors, The teams are able to come inside, grab a hot meal, and cozy up next to one of the two fireplaces. The café visitors can look out of the tall, picture window at the majestic views of white-capped mountains all around. The images seem like endless Christmas cards just waiting to be printed.
Groups of climbers randomly gather inside of the building and share their stories of the adventure thus far. Some laugh, smile, and joke about their fears and accomplishment of having reached the halfway-point, while others express their newfound indifference to reach the summit or their regret to have agreed to the challenge in the first place. At the start of the journey, there were no discussions about the potential failure of reaching the top, but the sounds of defeat and weakened commitment are now a part of the white noise surrounding the climbers.
With their stomachs full and bodies warm, the climbers are more comfortable and relaxed. But it is easy to sense the division between the committed and non-committed. After an hour, the guides and do-it-yourself team leaders rally their groups to head back into the cold and continue their assent in order to make it back down by dark.
Some climbers are eager to accomplish their goal of reaching the top, while others cannot wait to get off the mountain. After a few minutes of discussing, considering, and some yelling amongst particular teams; the division among teams is clear. Only half of the climbers reenter the cold and head up the mountain while the rest remain in the café, sipping on warm drinks, soaking up the heat from the fire as they watch the climbers through the large windows.
As each minute passes, the climbers become smaller and smaller as they continue up the mountainside. Just five minutes after the climbers left The Halfway House to continue their journey, a small group of people had a change of heart and decided to continue the challenge. After a few minutes of reconsideration, their fears of regret for not finishing what they started outweigh the threat of mediocrity.
Several hours later, the first wave of climbers make it back to The Halfway House and are reunited with their families and friends. The climbers who completed the assent are full of excitement and a strong sense of accomplishment. Their enthusiasm cannot be contained. The spectators who stayed at the cafe, though, have a visible look of regret and despair.
The climbers who had successfully reached the summit share visions of the awesome cloud formations that filled the sky on the opposite side of the mountain range, but the spectators cannot relate because it is a scene that they did not witness with their own eyes. As the mass of people traverse down the mountain toward their cars, the divided feelings of great accomplishment and deep despair also travel with the climbers. The regrettable utterances of “should’ve, could’ve, and would’ve” fill the air during the descent. For now, the opportunity has passed. The “should’ve, could’ve and would’ve” thinkers are not going to get a second chance. They can only continue forward and reflect on their decision and learn from it. When the next opportunity presents itself to stay committed to a challenge, the decision to continue will be made as opposed to a resigned choice of mediocrity. Ironically, mediocre means “halfway up the mountain” in Latin.
We all relate to different parts of that story at different parts of our lives. Let me know in the comments what struck you the most.
I hope you got something from today’s Marketing Minutes with Mike. But whether you did or didn’t, leave a comment and let me know. Just please be nice, my mom reads these too. Cheers!