Whose Mountain are You Climbing?

"You need to think about how much further you want to go". Andy had a kind face framed with thick black rimmed glasses, as always he was smiling, but his voice was serious. "You need to decide how much of your life you are willing to sacrifice to career", he finished. He scooped up his beer with thick workmans hands.

Andy started his career at 16 on the tools in the North sea, he was the youngest guy to take charge of a platform for Shell and now in his early 50s was Global Ops Director. He plucked me out of the operating business age 35 and gave me my first job in head office. Now, only a year later, I was already hungry for the next step. So this wasn't what I wanted to hear!

Sixteen years earlier I repeated my second year of university because I was distracted by parties and basketball, It's the second most shameful moment of my life. I felt sick to my stomach standing in the study, shifting from one foot to another telling my father what I'd done.

Dad grew up in a small town called Grangemouth, a few factories, some shops and a handful of pubs in the shadow of a BP refinery. His father was a foreman on the refinery and his mother worked two cleaning jobs. At the weekend he played football with his friends and she would throw his lunch of jam sandwiches to him from the balcony of their third floor flat. Sometimes at the end of the month, there was no jam and it was a sugar sandwich. He worked his whole life to make sure our childhood was a million miles away from that. Dad is my hero and at that moment I couldn't look him in the eye.

I sat in that Copenhagen bar finishing my beer after Andy left and joined the dots. The feeling of having let down my father and the need to achieve after that. With every promotion or accolade the first excited phone call was always to him. Now the top of the mountain was in sight but this wasn't my mountain and I wasn't willing to pay the price of climbing it. I felt trapped, I didn't know what to do, so I kept climbing...

A few years later dad took me to Grangemouth. I never met his parents, I'd seen the black and white pictures of them standing proudly next to him as a small boy. We walked side by side through the narrow streets lined with dated cars. He showed me the balcony his mother threw sandwiches from. We stood quietly and looked up at the window of the small room his father lived in after his mother passed away.

She had felt ill for months before she went to the doctor, she wasn't the type to make a fuss. By the time the surgeon cut her open and saw how bad the cancer was all he could do for her was stitch her back up and break the news gently. She didn't tell dad, instead she gave him the money for his first car, a faded blue Morris Oxford with a set of windscreen wipers that worked occasionally, he drove it to Wales and a new life as a Chemical Engineer. She knew he wouldn't have left if he had known she was ill. She wanted her son to have the opportunity to live his own life.

My father had told me that story before but this time I understood it. We sat quietly in the car on the way back to Edinburgh. I didn't feel trapped anymore.

This story is deeply personal to me and to my family, the realisation that came with it was an inflection point, a pivotal moment in my life. What I really hope to offer with it is an opportunity to reflect, to take a moment of pause on whatever your journey is. What do you think of the view from where you are and what does the path ahead look like? Is this your mountain? If not whose is it and what assumptions are you making about what they really want, for themselves and for you? After all this is the perfect time of the year for a moment of reflection.

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