You wish to hike up a hill with a breathtaking view from the top. The hill offers you two alternatives.
The first route is straight up its steep side, where you are required to climb a sheer, rocky surface to get to the top. The second route lies behind the hill – its slope is gentle and more long winding. It features climbs as well as drops, but eventually leads to the top.
Let’s say that this is your first hike – you have never done something like this before. Which route do you choose?
The first route has several merits – it is efficient and gets straight to the point. Nevertheless, once we glance up the sheer face, our mind is alert to the risks of this decision – of how one slip can mean broken limbs or even death.
In many ways, the longer route appears sub-optimal. It is winding and wasteful – ‘Why are we climbing down here? Aren’t we supposed to be going up?’ Yet, we are prudent in embracing the route’s ‘inefficiency’ and the extra steps that this entails.
Climbing hilltops is what our brains have evolved to do – we can rely on our instincts to make the right decision. However, with our more abstract pursuits, like our careers for instance, we are often lured into taking the straight but perilous path to the top without considering the pitfalls that hide beneath its promise.
The key to succeeding in a world where most achievements are abstract is to train one’s brain to embrace the arduous, non-linear path that behind the hill. Much like the hike itself, the key is not just to look forward to the view from the top, but to also enjoy every step along the way.