Do you suffer from Summit Syndrome?

One of my lovely readers (hi Chris!) sent me a link to this article last week entitled You’ve strived … you’ve won … now what? Funnily enough, Ant had send me the link to the same article the day before.

The article describes something that is very common to compulsive strivers and over-achievers – they call it Summit Syndrome:

You’ve been working hard to master a new job or to perfect a new skill. You’ve put in the long hours and loads of effort and you’ve finally made it. You’ve hit the pinnacle. You’re at the summit. But … making it to the top doesn’t really feel how you expected it to feel. In fact, you feel a little, well, empty inside.

Ironically, if you’ve read Chapters 3 & 4 of my book (the most recently released chapters) you will see clearly the point in my triathlon life where I experience this very thing. The only problem is that it took me two years to realise I had reached the summit.

For most people though – they realise it straight away. In fact, if we go back to triathlon quickly, I can say that I used to witness it all the time in fellow athletes after a big race like a Half Ironman or an Ironman or a marathon. You spend months and months working towards the goal of finishing a big and challenging event. Then you experience the high of finishing said event – you party hard that night and celebrate your achievement. And then the next week … you crash and burn.

It’s because you are rudderless. You have no idea where to direct all the passion and drive that was previously being  funnelled into your training. And when passion has no outlet it dissipates very quickly leaving you feeling flat and even a little bit depressed.

What’s the cure? Well the article has a few ideas but from experience I can say only number four on their list comes close – Constantly set new challenges and activities that stretch you.

In short, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (especially for athletic challenges where injury or a very bad day can undo all those months of training pretty quickly). At any given point in time, you should have a few things that you are striving for. This means when you finish one thing (ie reach the pinnacle), you have a ready outlet waiting in the wings into which you can re-direct your energy.

One caveat here: ALWAYS make sure you take the time to pat yourself on the back for a job well done first … but then quickly focus your eyes on the new prize.

For example – a huge amount of my energy right now is going into writing my book, especially as I have accelerated things a bit because everyone has told me a chapter a month is too much of a tease. I am hoping to have the book done by mid-December and when I reach that point I am going to celebrate like it’s 1999. Then I am going to move on to the next thing. I have a few little projects that are waiting in the wings, just dying for the book writing to be over.

Now I can hear you all from here: Kelly, it doesn’t sound like you’re living a life less frantic if you’ve got projects lined up as far as the eye can see.  And to you I will say read this post.

I know that for me to enjoy life I need to be striving. But Summit Syndrome is the real deal and can be quite crippling. So I avoid Summit Syndrome by keeping my dance card nice and full of fun and exciting partners to tango with ;)

Are you the same as me? Have you ever suffered from Summit Syndrome? How long did it last and how did you cure it?!

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  1. says

    I think I went through this when I was training/running and had first lost 10kgs. I sort of thought “now what?” It wasn’t that I felt empty, but it was that I had no direction/motivation any more almost? I’m now looking into triathlons early next year and just today had my first dip back into swimming. It’s going to be a longer road than I thought! But it’s a challenge I am up for. I think! Ha! If we don’t have things to look forward to, to play/strive for, I think we end up wasting a lot of time sitting around doing nothing! Thanks for this timely reminder to keep looking ahead!

  2. says

    That, right there, was my biggest problem in the workforce. I’d set my eyes on a certain job in a certain industry and then work like crazy to reach it. Once I was there, within a year the novelty would wear off, and I’d be looking for the next cool job in a different section of the industry.

    On the flip side, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I now have a Resume that I’m extremely proud of and that impresses new employers.

    However, it’s time for me to stop skipping around like a toddler and settle into one job, I suppose.

    • says

      Ooh that sounds hard Chantelle!! I don’t know whether you *should* settle in one job unless it is continually stimulating or challenging you … maybe you need outside challenges as well? For when work gets boring.

      although … given work is 8 hours out of every day, maybe no amount of outside challenges (which I know you have) will make things better.

  3. says

    I don’t mean to come across all zen and Buddhist on you but I think it is important to put our focus in the moment. That way you’re experiencing every step of the journey and not merely concentrating on a summit which you will only be on for a fleeting moment anyways. Oh dear – I’m afraid I sound like a wanker but it works for me.

    • says

      I do agree … but I have tried this and it just doesn’t work for me! If I don’t have that ‘next thing’ already lined up I get really low really fast. It’s probably something I could work on to eliminate from my personality … but I actually don’t mind living this way!!

  4. says

    I totally get this Kelly. In everything I do I strive for the top and when I get there I am already looking for the next challenge. I think this is why I think I have found my peace with writing. You never actually reach the summit (unless you are JK Rowling or the likes) but for the most part it is a continual challenge with each project a new adventure and challenge to rise to.

    • says

      You know Jodes … I have found that with writing too. It is like constant striving because you can feel yourself getting better and better with every piece … and every piece is a new challenge!

  5. says

    I felt these feelings after my 1/2 Ironman this year. I worked so hard to achieve this goal and then I was like ‘right, that’s achieved, what next?’ I guess I am the type of person who needs to continually be chasing personal goals, I certainly do feel lost when I don’t have any in my sights. I think you are an amazing person, you are a true inspiration!!

    • says

      Oh you are lovely :)

      For people who don’t think like us … I am sure we sound a little nuts. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with acknowledging ‘this is the type of person I am and this is what makes me tick’! So I think as long as we take the time to pat ourselves on the back and celebrate achieving our big goals … then it is perfectly fine to be compulsive goal chasers. Because that ‘lost’ feeling is quite horrible as you know!

  6. says

    Ah the timing Kel – you’ve completely nailed me. I’ve been floundering after my marathon, especially as I have to sort an injury so I can do it all over again (yes, i know), I feel unfit and a bit of a fraud as everyone thinks I must be fabulously fit after the run (2+ months ago – the fitness disappears quickly). I see myself now scanning looking for a new fix, a new obsession… will it be crossfit, road riding, parkour? What can I do until I can start running again and transfer my need for focus and obsession back to marathon training again. I’m so transparent and a little worried about myself. How do you stop?

    • says

      Ah running sucks doesn’t it?! Running fitness evaporates so bloody quickly it sucks!

      And others might disagree Lise … but I don’t think there is any point fighting the urge. Find something to focus your energies on NOW. Otherwise you will just go mental!