A Cold Dark Night on the Side of Everest: How Expectations Shape Outcomes

Posted by on Jul 24, 2022 in Blog | 0 comments

white and brown mountain under blue sky

I recently enjoyed listening to psychologist Alia Crum speaking on the Hidden Brain podcast about reframing your reality. She recalled a crisis point during her time as a PhD student when she was working in the early hours of the morning in the basement at her University. Feeling overwhelmed by all that was required by her, she was surprised when a friend walked into the room and seeing the distressed look on her face, said simply, “ah. It’s a cold dark night on the side of Everest”, and left.

Crum said it took a while for the significance of what had been said to sink in, but that when it did, it dramatically changed her perspective. Getting a PhD is a little like climbing Everest. While I’m no mountaineer, I have a PhD and can confirm that it is a stretching undertaking. But as Crum asked, what had she expected? If you take on a tough challenge it is only natural that you will find it – tough. If you climb Everest, you don’t expect it to be a walk in the park. You anticipate “a cold dark night on the side of Everest”. It is part of what you signed up for. Said Crum, when it sank in that what she was experiencing was perfectly normal and to be expected, it no longer threw her. It was simply the price of doing something worthwhile but really difficult.

M.Scott Peck opens his book The Road Less Travelled with a similar claim, noting that “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.”

Is this an over claim? Perhaps, but it points in the right direction. When we recognise that the struggles we face are not because we have been singled out for cruel and sadistic treatment, but are part of every person’s journey, we feel less outraged and unfairly treated. In fact, we can settle into a more curious frame: “So these are the particular challenges I face. How can I work with them in a way which is life serving and constructive?” We don’t need to know the fine detail of other peoples struggles, and we certainly don’t need to get into a competition to determine whose lot is the worst. It is enough to know that facing struggle does not mean that life is out of control or terrible. Rather it means we are humans being invited to respond well – even in hard times.

This is a reminder worth noting. I know many people who want to do worthy and stretching things, but when the first obstacle comes up they throw it in.

What did they expect?

Jesus taught a similar thing in Luke 14:28 when he discusses a person who wants to build a tower but fails to calculate the cost in advance, and so has to abandon the project incomplete.

To state the obvious, unnecessary discouragement is unnecessary. If it’s a predictable part of the journey, dig deep, and keep going.

Many people I know are currently experiencing “a cold dark night on the side of Everest.” It’s OK. Actually, it’s more than OK. It is an opportunity to look out for the finger prints of God in even the most difficult of situations. And it gives us a chance to claim one of Jesus’ most stunning promises: “I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” That certainly includes “a cold dark night on the side of Everest.”

As always, nice chatting…

Photo by Roman Pohorecki on Pexels.com

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