Peaks and Valleys – Bound Wisdom For All

April 10, 2009

I got up early last Saturday with the intention of dropping by Barnes and Noble to grab a cup of coffee and finish my latest issue of Portfolio magazine.  Michelle called to tell me she had picked up a copy of Peaks and Valleys, the latest Spencer Johnson book, the day before; so I thought I’d take a closer look at her purchase while I was at the book store. 

Just a couple hours later the remnants of my coffee were cold and I had consumed all of Peaks and Valleys.  What’s more, the book was so fantastic I bought it (even though I had just read every word from cover to cover).

I hesitate blogging about the book because just last month I had written a raving review for Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.  I don’t want to dilute my recommendation by appearing as though every book I read is a gem.  That couldn’t be further from the truth. However in the case of Peaks and Valleys (and Outliers) – you will simply have to take my word for it – I hit the jackpot twice. 

Author Spencer Johnson, M.D. is the writer of the bestselling book Who Moved my Cheese? His latest, Peaks and Valleys, is written using a parable that begins with a young man’s desire to leave the beautiful valley he lives in and discover how life is different at the "peak of the mountain".  No, it has nothing to do with "the grass isn’t always greener on the other side".  Yet, as simplistic as the message in Peaks and Valleys is, you will discover the complexity lies in comparing your personal story to the young man’s journey. 

"Peaks" are the celebration of good times and "valleys" are the lessons (truths) we must learn in order to evolve past the low times.  I use to have a magnet on my refrigerator that I thought was funny.  It read:  If you’re going through hell keep on going!  But Johnson’s approach is more like – If you’re going through hell open your eyes to see where you’re headed!  Let me explain…
Envision a mountain peak.  If you climb to the top the air is fresh and the view is breathtaking, right?  Now envision the valley you have to climb out of to make it to the peak – there are rivers to cross and rocks to scale.  Nonetheless, if you recognize the lesson within the valley, it’s not so bad to have to trek through.  The streams can actually be refreshing.  Stop and fish, bird watch, eat wild berries and enjoy all the journey-through-the-valley has to offer while you’re learning your lesson. Have you ever come through a difficult time period and wished you were cognizant/wise enough to have been a better person while in the midst of it?
 
My favorite part of the book is the lessons it teaches about extending your peaks.  I’ve often heard people say, "Things are going so great right now, it can’t last forever".  That’s one of the worst attitudes to adopt during a peak, because your focus begins to shift downward toward fictional boogymen that don’t exist, but CAN if given enough attention.  When all is going well Spencer says to do MORE OF WHAT GOT YOU THERE.  This type of energy, placed on what is right, is what extends the peak. 
 
I’m in a valley, how do I get to a peak?
According to Peaks and Valleys you must master the "truth" or lesson in your valley so that you can move up again.  Life presents us all with challenges, not because it’s entertaining, but rather what purpose are we here for if not to evolve and be the best we can be(?)  Or as news commentator Keith Olbermann once said, "If you’re 44 years old and you’re not smarter than you were when you were at 35 years old or 25 years old, just stay in your room."  What lessons do you need to learn in order to become a better person:  Gratitude? Courage? Selflessness? Unconditional love? Forgiveness? Discipline?

But my life really is mundane!
I have no peaks or valleys, just a heaping pile of same-old-same-old, as barren as a backyard in the Arizona desert.  Johnson describes the mundane as a plateau.  Plateaus are nice.  I mean, as nice as flat green grass can be – no breathtaking views but also no rocks or streams (i.e. challenges).  There can be lessons within plateaus.  Perhaps that truth is "courage".  The courage to dream, desire  and begin taking steps in the direction of what you envision. Johnson encourages you to envision your peak.  Who’s there with you? What does it look like?  What does it feel like?  Once you begin to envision you will naturally begin taking steps in that direction.
 

Johnson spent more than 20 years writing this book.  As a writer you have to respect that.  It’s got the 10,000 hour stuff Malcolm Gladwell refers to in Outliers.  Anytime anyone (especially a writer) puts that kind of time into something, stand up and take notice.  My guess is you will either love Peaks and Valleys or be completely unmoved by its simplicity.  I loved it and highly recommend.

 

 

Source: Musayari mountain pic  

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