Time spent on a good second is time thrown away

One of my favorite quotes is a lesson I was able to live out.

Time spent on a good second is time thrown away

What is ‘ a good second’?  A compromise you didn't intend on making?  A 2nd place?  An award for a lifetime of service instead of accomplishments reached?  Or is it in the thought “yeah good enough for me”?  Or a “You’ll get them next time”?  

A good second is the end result of our complacency, and in being so accustomed to mediocrity that you are satisfied with ‘closer finish lines’ than “the true summit”.  

Several years ago my wife and I set a goal of climbing Longs Peak in Colorado.  It's a Fourteener, and if you don't know that just means it has a summit over 14 thousand feet.  This is important only because of the lack of oxygen and difficulties that arise at altitudes that high.  By no means a walk in the park.  So we did our due diligence and researched all we could on the climb, read as much as possible about best times of year, most successful approaches, what to bring - what to leave behind, what to do if things go wrong, etc.  And as we prepared I couldn't help but make the comparison to life in general; how education is so important to reaching your goals, how preparedness takes time, how you have to really sacrifice other things you want to do while you prepare for the ‘bigger’ things you want to do, how you always have to asses your own life and think “what to keep and what to leave behind”.  

It was a great time for my wife and I, working out together, going over stories we found about the climb, thinking about life; and asking some big questions to each other:  what if we die - who takes care of our 3 year old daughter?  So much planning and so much effort was required just for a summit to be touched.  

The day came for our hike, we woke early, and got a great start.  By early morning we were well above the tree line and saw the sun rise over Denver.  Then the lack of oxygen began; muscles hurt, short rests began to get harder to start again,  and the path increased in difficulty more and more every few feet.  We reached a section of the trail where most turn back called the ‘The Through’; well past the Boulder Field.  Made up of loose dirt and 6 foot tall rock scrambles; this section was demoralizing at best.  I remember my lungs were so on fire I couldn't talk to my wife in full sentences.  Instead of asking her “hey can I have some water” all that came out of me was “heh waters”.  Tough.  

After 5 or 6 breaks just to cross 100 feet of mountain; I looked at my wife and said “Does it count if we make this our summit?”.  My wife as out of breath as I was; looked up at the rest of the climb, turned to me and just shook her head no.  

I felt disappointment in even asking. Why did I want to give up?  Why did I want to just forget all the planning, the mapping, the research, the nights at the gym training?  What was it in me that said “I'm done, and I want to be ok with that”?   Where did this desire for compromise come from?

It's a little embarrassing now to even tell this story, I was so hungry for that goal that I couldn't even say ‘let's stop’;  I had to say ‘Let's still call this a win and turn back’.  How sad is that! I was so afraid of failure and hurting my own ego that I didn't even have the integrity to say “this beat me”.   

Looking back I learned exactly what “ A Good Second” is then and there.  

A good second is denying yourself your summit; because what you want more in that moment, requires less of you.  

We did summit, it was the most strenuous thing I think I've ever put my body through.  And it was one of the most amazing moments of my life reaching the top while holding my wife's hand. And to be extremely honest - If I would have gone alone, or gone with even a best friend - I know I would have turned back.  I guess that's a side lesson;  you can't reach your goals without someone dedicated to the same goals as you - if not more so.  And to be a little more romantic about it, no goal is worth standing on alone. Summits are better when you hold the hand of the one you love, the one who’s been through it with you. 

We spend most of our lives, years, months, days thinking “where will I end up?”  “what will happen?”  “will I meet my goals?” “will I get what I’m trying to get?”.   

Ultimately I think this is what leads us to discontentment. This way of thinking only perpetuates the difficulty and the desire for us to settle for “a Good Second” when the road gets too tough.   Allowing ourselves to settle for a lesser version of what we seek is rooted in asking questions about our goals instead of working hard to reach them.  Dont stop, dont pause, work - move.   

Whether it's a tangible thing we seek, or personal goal; the lesson is to never confuse a summit with a half way point.  Yes your summit will require more of you, yes your summit will be more sacrificial on your part than you thought, yes your summit demands the most of you; but if the alternative is only ‘a good second’ why would you even stop to question it. 

Time spent on good second is time thrown away.