The mountaineer and the explorer: two approaches to the purpose quest

The mountaineer and the explorer: two approaches to the purpose quest

Detail from 1566 map of North America (source Wikipedia)

Detail from 1566 map of North America (source Wikipedia)

A short thought investigating the idea that the purpose journey contains two types of quest: exploring (the challenge of finding a path) and mountaineering (the challenge of following one).

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN— and here is the essence of all I’ve said— you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.
— Hunter S. Thompson, as recorded in Letters of Note
  • An explorer steps into unknown terrritory to look for something, though it is not always clear what.

  • They don’t know what’s out there but do know they don’t want to stay here.

  • Explorers turn the unknown into the known by making maps. They do this by observing and recording what’s around them.

  • Some maps can only be read by other explorers

  • The explorer fears that the unknown contains nothing new or useful

  • Marie Curie was an explorer.

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: what is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen.”
— Rene Daumal: Mount Analogue

The journey of the mountaineer is different (and similar). I’m reminded of the divergent and convergent processes in creative problem solving here. If exploring is identifying the problem (or opportunity), then mountaineering is figuring out what to do with it.

  • A mountaineer is not someone who is primarily searching, but someone who is primarily climbing 

  • A mountaineer has identified a destination and now has to work out how to get there

  • The way may not be clear, but the direction of travel is

  • Mountaineers turn the known into the unknown by looking ahead and plotting a route

  • The mountaineer fears seeing the summit but not being able to reach it

  • Serena Williams (on her quest for a 24th Grand Slam) is a mountaineer 

Two parts of a whole

As we explore it is likely that we will discover mountains. And the elevated position afforded by climbing even part-way up a mountain can be an aid to exploration. I suspect that each of our purpose journeys can contain exploring and mountaineering in different proportions, but never just one or the other. Rather than being stages on the journey, I wonder if the explorer and the mountaineer could actually be mindsets through which we can view our challenge landscape (as described in Emily’s post on the subject). As ever, a topic which provokes further questions.

Extra thought

Both the Explorer and the Mountaineer are travelling. I think that there may be another component that I have missed, which is more about nurturing and building in the place where you are. The Gardener perhaps?


The gardener and the philosopher: two more approaches to the purpose quest

The gardener and the philosopher: two more approaches to the purpose quest

Five lessons on finding a sense of purpose in life and work

Five lessons on finding a sense of purpose in life and work