Guest Column: Don't call it a setback, it's a switchback

By Guest Writer Rich Nicoloff:

Recently, I was thinking about my career as a fine art photographer, feeling like I should be much farther along and recognized in the architecture and design industry to which I market.

Then I started to do something that I think we all do at some point: I started to enumerate all of the setbacks that I have had over the years.

After very briefly wallowing in self-pity, I realized something. All of these so-called setbacks weren't really setbacks at all...They were really just switchbacks!

If you've ever been hiking or driving in the mountains then you have likely encountered a switchback. Switchbacks are those trails or roads that have 180 degree bends in them, continually winding back and forth. For the more urban reader, think of flights of stairs going up a multistory building.

When we are on switchbacks they can seem like setbacks:

  • We feel like we are expending a fair amount of effort, but not really getting anywhere.
  • The view up the path is usually pretty short and our destination is nowhere in sight.
  • As we come to each bend we hope that we'll arrive at your destination, but most likely all we see is another short section of trail that looks back the direction we just came.

Switchbacks, though, are very useful pieces of engineering. It may not seem like it when we are on one, but switchbacks actually make it easier to climb steep grades. While, scientifically, the total amount of work may be the same as going straight up, we are spreading that work over a longer period of time.

What can we learn from this?

  • The taller the mountain, the more switchbacks there are going to be. This means that the larger/higher our goals, the more switchbacks we are likely to encounter. We need to remember to not get discouraged, but instead remember that though we may not see it, we are making progress with each step we take. It may look like we are heading the way we just came, but we gradually moving upward.
  • There is a lot to see, enjoy, and learn from along each switchback. While at first glance each switchback may look like the previous, there are many different wildflowers, wildlife, and views to be seen. Each switchback has it own lessons to be learned that make us more enlightened people and hone our skills that enable us to make the most of our success.
  • Even though it may take a bit more time to reach the summit via switchbacks, the gradual climb keeps us from being exhausted & burned out when we finally reach the top and more able to enjoy what we find there. Success is much more enjoyable when we don't burn ourselves out to achieve it!

I know that I am much better person, artist, and businessman because of all of the many switchbacks that I've encountered along my journey. While I still hope that success is waiting around the next corner, I'll no longer think negatively if I see another switchback.

(BTW- Anyone who heard LL Cool J rapping the 1st part of the post's title, raise your hands!)

Editor's note: Hand raised...

Rich Nicoloff is owner and operator of Travelers Rest-based Journey Fine Art. Read more from Rich on his blog here.