Nine Out of Ten

I won’t ever climb Mt. Everest.

After reading Jon Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” the account of the ill-fated 1996 Everest expedition that left more than a dozen experienced climbers for dead on the world’s largest mountain, I knew for certain that I’d never climb that monolith in this lifetime.

Not that I’ve been planning an imminent trip to Nepal. But like countless others before me, Everest looms as the ultimate goal that few have attained. Goal setting is a universal pursuit; we all make resolutions and promises to ourselves and to others, some of which are fulfilled and many of which are broken.

As a young person, I made a list of 10 lifetime goals, nine of which I’ve attained to some recognizable degree: graduate college, be a VISTA volunteer, have a family, own a home, get a Masters degree, travel the world, serve as a board member, learn to quilt, publish an award-winning novel (my debut novel, Eliza Waite, is the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award winner and finalist in four other literary contests).

The last goal on that long-ago list—to climb Mt. Rainier in Washington State—is now outside the realm of possibility. Time, physical limitations, and other constraints have precluded reaching this aim.

What to do with this?

I can live with gazing upon Mt. Rainier—and that one unmet goal—from afar.

On a philosophical level, perhaps we can accept that we have not attained every goal on our youthful lists. In the end, it’s not how many goals we’ve attained, but how many we’ve attained well.

Which means I’m at nine out of 10. Back in my teaching days, that ratio equaled an A-. Not a bad report card of a life, considering. But who says life is over once you’ve conquered the list you created in your 20s? Why not start from scratch and create a new list?

In his retirement, my father, the novelist Gerald F. Sweeney, wrote a seven-book series titled The Columbiad, a loosely disguised autobiography that follows a bright young man through the 20th century. With one novel published, a second (Answer Creek) due out in May, a third underway, and a fourth in the hopper, I’m on my dad’s tail to publish a slew of novels over the next 30 years.

Other new goals? Be the best grandmother in history. Live in the sun. Learn to do mosaic art. Make a difference every single day.

Give your dreams all you’ve got, and don’t give up easily. But this comes with a caveat: if the climb is too steep, or too treacherous, or costs you everything—perhaps even your life—it may be time to consider laying down your ice axe, your crampons, and your headlamp and realize that much of what you value is right where you are.