On a recent cross country flight I looked out over the Rocky
Mountains from 30,000 feet and saw hundreds of paths sort of
heading towards the summits of the various peaks.
I write “sort of” because looking at these zigzagging paths
made it very clear why they are called switchbacks. Those
switchbacks occupied my thinking for most of the rest of the
flight to Oakland and have been on my mind often since.
It occurred to me that those switchback paths are much like
the paths we often take towards our largest, most important
goals. We’re definitely on a path, but it doesn’t always
seem direct or in a straight line.
Through my reflection I have found five messages about goal
setting – and goal attainment – in the switchback paths.
1. The need for a clearly defined goal. If you are on a
mountain path, the goal is pretty clear. You are there
because you want to get to the top. In your daily routine
how often do you strive to make your goals that clear and
From the 30,000 perspective you probably can see yourself
progressing towards your goal, but sometimes on the path
it’s hard to see. Keeping your goal clearly in front of you
is critical to your attitude and aids in maintaining your
persistence and belief.
2. Switchbacks allow you to get started. Have you ever faced
a mountain of a goal and the steps towards it seemed hard,
steep and full of risks? While boldness is important, often
at the beginning of a journey, you just need to get started;
to build some momentum and confidence.
Taking a winding path may not be the most direct route, but
it’s one of the best ways to insure a successful start, and
3. Keep your head up. Not only do you need to clearly define
your goal, but you must always keep it in sight as well. In
any journey, whether walking or moving towards a goal, you
must keep your head up – to be alert to dangers and
diversions and to keep the goal in sight. Even if the
switchbacks make it seem – even momentarily – as if you are
moving away from it.
4. Switchbacks allow for ongoing progress. I’ve hinted at
this already, but it bears repeating – the path of the
switchback allows for ongoing progress. The path allows for
steady consistent progress – which is critical to reaching
any goal of importance.
5. Watch for shortcuts. The well worn path is a valuable one
to have, but there may be opportunities to skip a
switchback. The serious hiker and goal achiever is always
looking for a short cut – a path that might be a bit more
difficult, but may cut significant time off of the journey.
Yes, moving towards your goals is a journey, but you must
always have the destination in mind. If someone dropped a
rope from a helicopter, and your goal was to get to the top
of the mountain, be willing to grab on!
We must keep moving forward, but always be looking for the
big opportunity to shorten our path and reach our goals more
Obviously, this is written from the perspective of reaching
individual goals, and hopefully that perspective has been
valuable. However, thinking of these five points is just as
important (if not more important) for you as a leader or as
part of a team that is trying to reach important and perhaps
Keeping your focus and enthusiasm for goals as an individual
is hard, but keeping a team or organization on track and
excited often presents an even larger challenge. Keep these
lessons in mind and put them to use for yourself or your
team and they will aid you on your path.
by Kevin Eikenberry