The term Summit Syndrome was coined by George D. Parsons and Richard T. Pascale in their 2007 HBR article Crisis at the Summit.

In it they describe the feeling of emptiness that can immediately follow the attainment of a hard-won goal – a success – particularly in terms of career progression, promotion and getting to the top of the ladder.

This experience is widespread in the corporate world, if not in magnitude (we’re not all CEOs), certainly in character – it can just as easily apply to the successful completion of a project. It may also lie behind the difficulties some top sports stars experience after winning everything in sight, but ultimately being faced with the prospect of never winning again.

In work, it is all too easy to divert one’s attention from the lack of meaning derived from a particular initiative by immediately embarking on another. The problem is, this strategy is not sustainable – sooner or later the individual will have to come to terms with their deferral. Some only do this when it’s too late.

“The term Summit Syndrome was coined by George D. Parsons and Richard T. Pascale in their 2007 HBR article Crisis at the Summit”.

So here are 3 ways to help us pre-empt this debilitating syndrome, replacing it with a healthy sense of meaning and fulfilment.

1. Get Real About Your Purpose

Your purpose is not to climb the ladder, earn a living, get famous, be the best parent, or anything that gets judged by an external frame of reference. They will all enslave you, firmly and unrelentingly, to the activity required to achieve them. And they all have a sell-by date, beyond which they become meaningless.

Instead, acknowledging that the purpose of life is to live – as vacuous as that may sound – at least brings one’s attention to the present moment, the only point in time with any and all life in it. Even the idea that there is no purpose at all can achieve the same, providing it doesn’t equate with the far more destructive idea that life isn’t worth living.

For supporting evidence, just watch children at play and observe where their attention is and what they are aware of. Regrettably, most of us have this presence knocked out of us early on as Philip Larkin describes in This Be The Verse.

2. Beat Summit Syndrome by Doing What You Want

What else can you do? The challenge is to get clarity on what you really want – not in a sex, drugs and rock n’ roll’ way, but in a way that aligns with your integrity (wholeness), your skills, wisdom and environment.

When you are true to that inner guidance, meaning is not constrained to an outcome – it is found in each moment of life. So life becomes an experience in its own right, not a means to a vainglorious end. It also protects against the seductive allure of acting according to other’s wants, if only to avoid conflict or criticism.

In fact, fear is the greatest inhibitor to doing what you truly want as you confront the spectres of poverty, opposition, failure and derision.

The intention behind Do what you want is not to be confused with that of a similar dictum – Do what thou wilt – that has been appropriated by various groups to justify suspect activities.

3. In Order to Beat Summit Syndrome – Deliver Your Value

In terms of one’s mundane purpose, whatever that is, by far and away the best strategy is to get out there and deliver it. Most of us pay too much attention to how it will be received, or what we will get in return – something we have no control over. Consequently, many of us have suppressed this value to the point of forgetting it, as J.K. Simmons discovers in Up In The Air:

We have far more discretion over what we put out, and that is exactly the best focus for our efforts.

Delivering what we naturally gravitate to, what we love to do and what enlivens us, is the only sure-fire way to fill our lives with meaning, purpose and achievement. Then, and only then, does the path we take become an integral part of our lives, not just a means to reaching another goal.

So, in summary, clarifying your purpose, doing what you love and getting that out to the world will ensure that the path that you take is as worthwhile as the destination – in fact, much more worthwhile than any summit.