The Ladder You're On
Updated: Sep 1
When people believe in something deep to their core, they can do some harsh, horrible, and even unthinkable things to protect and advance it.
Life is a lot like climbing a ladder.
You've been doing so your entire life. The direction of this ladder and the height to which it brings you has always been gratifying -- if not to one, to others. If not to anyone, to you.
A few smart pivots and steady climbing have earned you self-confidence and social status. After all, you're higher up than others are, and the people above you?
Well, they might've received more help than you ever did finding the right direction -- perhaps from family member encouragement or the investments from others.
They might've had an unseen advantage or a big break -- and skipped some rungs.
They might've simply had more time to advance.
Whatever the case, if they're headed in the right direction (yours), they could be mentors and allies.
With your direction locked-in and your progress steady, you begin to witness other people and other climbers. Surprisingly, these ladders jut off into tons of different directions.
Some ladders become obstacles for you on your climb. Other ladders lay in perpendicular relationship with yours, which makes little logistical sense. "How can they be so lost?," you ask yourself, as you find ways to step around and over them to proceed with your noble advance.
At first, these alternative ladders simply distracted and confused you, but over time, they began to directly oppose you -- to become a real obstruction to you, both logistically and emotionally.
Their lack of upward progress mystifies you.
Their boldness in doing so irks you.
And what's worst is when they accept -- even celebrate -- the major differences between their directions and speeds. There is one right direction and a few proper speed (starting with "efficient" and going faster from there).
As your confidence and climbing cohort strengthens, you begin punishing any ladder that challenges the trajectory of yours. You give them a kick as you pass by. You sometimes even take the time to leverage the sturdiness of your ladder to twist and bend them, cracking their pillars to cripple their integrity. And when you're very offended by one, you'll even set it ablaze -- after all, their direction is wrong, and others need to see the implications of such flawed directions.
And when you do these things, you're celebrated.
Those who you look up to nod at these efforts. Their work is legitimized and protected by your bold, courageous acts. You're shock full of potential!
Those who follow you also applaud these advances. Their goals are clarified and spirits emboldened by your leadership. You're a rock-star worth emulating.
Let me ask you three questions that we all must continually ask ourselves:
What does your ladder look like?
What direction is it taking you, and why?
What makes that direction impenetrably right?
A couple lessons I’ve learned about climbing ladders and assessing those of others:
1. Just because you’ve had your path and station celebrated or rewarded by others doesn’t make it the “right” one. Perhaps you’ve been lucky. Perhaps you’re pathetic, and there are enough pathetic people out in the world to applaud you so that they too feel less pathetic.
2. Climbing in the "right" direction can never constitute performing wrong actions. The moment it does is the moment it no longer becomes "right."
3. You can do more by working across ladders than only working your own. This is how we grow, as we get new perspective by hearing others’ stories, working alongside them to achieve aims you both believe in, and modifying your ladder based on real-world data.
In general, we must all stop pretending that we have it all figured out. The ones who think they do are dangerously ignorant. The ones who know they don’t, seek to do what is right, even if it conflicts with their climb.