MGU 13 | The Highest Possible Level

 

Literally and figuratively, so many people have become so desperate to get to the highest possible level that they are willing to risk their lives. While there is a commendable aspect to pushing yourself to become incredible uncomfortable just to reach your goals, it also begs a reflection of the human psyche that can be deemed negative. Going so far as to risk almost everything says so much about the ego involved. In this episode, Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen uncovers the layers of the motivations behind how far people can go—whether it is for the ‘gram or to reach the apex of the achievement mindset. They dive deep on the ways we seek approval from others and the need to feel worthy. Contrastingly, they also explore the point-of-view where we judge others who don’t strive to achieve. Look forward to an insightful discussion on striving in this day and age.

Listen to the podcast here:

Why Have We Become Desperate To Reach The Highest Possible Level?

I read a little blurb based on some news and I found it a fascinating element of human psychology. It is about people that climb Mount Everest. There are so many people that are climbing it that traffic jams of people have started to develop. These jams may be contributing to some deaths. In fact, two mountaineers passed away on their way back from the summit or one person died on the way back from the summit and another died fainting from high altitude sickness while descending. One climber, a separate from those two that passed away, posted a photo of the human traffic on Mount Everest. They estimated that there are about 320 people in line waiting to stand on the summit in an area of Mount Everest called the Death Zone. Overall, more than 200 climbers have died on the peak since 1922 and this is just a little side fact. Most bodies are believed to still be buried under glaciers or snow. I’m getting all of this from CNN.

I read this and then looked at this photo of this line of people and it looks like something that you would see outside of a popular restaurant in New York City. It looks like something at a festival. Maybe you could glance at this photo and think, “It’s no big deal. It’s another line of humans.” When you examine it and you step back and think, this is a line of over 300 people who are waiting to get to a point of Everest that knows the Death Zone. It’s almost like they’re waiting in line to enter the Death Zone quite literally. They’re not expecting to die. It’s called the Death Zone because this area is most commonly responsible or is the area in which many people pass away, even though the two people that passed away were descending. They’re on their way back from it.

Aside from the point, I think that they’re speculating that because there are so many people now that are climbing Mount Everest, it’s causing these traffic jams and it’s taking longer to get back. That might be responsible for high altitude sickness. I am not an expert in this, but from my vague understanding, I think the longer that you’re up there, the more you’re exposed to high altitude and they’re perhaps more at risk. I also imagine that the crowds probably lead to a lot of things. It’s harder to keep track of people because there’s more people. There’s likely less people paying attention to what’s going on. Maybe you’re getting less care from the Sherpas, assuming that’s the case with Mount Everest.

This photo blew my mind because Jason and I had this brief discussion that it’s like people are so desperate to reach the pinnacle of this mountain. Mount Everest seems like above and beyond. I’ve never even seen Mount Everest. It’s like my view of a mountain is like a dwarf compared to Mount Everest. It seems like it’s in a class of its own. You look at this picture, which I encourage people to check out. This photo is fascinating. It’s beautiful because it’s something that you don’t get to see very often, especially taken by a person. A lot of times, I feel like it’s taken by a nature photographer. This almost could be like a picture from somebody’s iPhone. Who knows? It’s a beautiful photo. When you examine it and see all these people. First of all, being in a line of 300 people is miserable. I think about waiting in line to go on a roller coaster and you’re there for hours. Can you imagine being at the top of Mount Everest waiting in line?

I think that was where this inspiration to talk about this came from is that you’re already so high up, why do you need to go to the highest point? The crux of this conversation is that people are so desperate to get to the highest possible level, in this case, literally on Mount Everest, but in general that they’re willing to risk their lives. They’re willing to be incredibly uncomfortable. There is part of it that thinks, “This is quite the achievement.” If you want something badly enough, you’ll risk it. I don’t think that that there’s anything wrong with this concept of perhaps risking your life to get to the highest level. I also think there’s this element of ego involved. I would rather chance death than choose safety because it’s so important to me that I get to the highest point.

You look at this photo and this person is already almost at the top, but being almost at the top is not enough for the ego. Your ego wants this so badly, it’s willing to wait in line. Maybe that’s just me projecting onto all of these similarities that I pointed out. I think about people waiting in line to take photos. If you go to a festival or even in Los Angeles, we have certain walls around the city where people will take photos. There’s this one in particular called the Pink wall. It’s at Melrose Avenue and every time I drive by there, there is a group of people taking their photos in front of this pink wall. It’s been going on for years, I think.

It's incredibly challenging to stay self-motivated and not let the desires, whims, expectations, and perspectives of others influence you. Click To Tweet

At least eight years.

It’s been that long?

Yes, because I remember back in 2011, 2012.

I feel like I didn’t notice it. I knew it was there conceptually, but I didn’t notice the groups, the people, and so these people literally wait in line to take a photo, which has become very cliché in front of this pink wall. Every time I drive by, I think, “That is so fascinating that people want a photo in front of this pink wall so badly.” It could be any wall but the fact that it’s pink, the fact that it’s popular, people will wait in line for it. In our society right now with social media, it makes some sense, but I just wonder, when I look at this photo of Mount Everest, which is very different than a pink wall. It’s this idea of almost like I’m wondering if these people are driven to prove something. They want to come back and tell the story that they got to the top. Maybe their ego is so connected to that experience that they would feel embarrassed or they wouldn’t feel like they pushed themselves hard enough if they went down having not reached the very top.

I think a good question though is what is motivating that desire? You talked about ego, but a layer deeper. Is it the sense of deep, lifelong lasting accomplishment? Is it the sense of significance that your family and friends and followers will see that you’ve done it therefore boosting your sense of purpose, boosting your sense of importance? Is it the significance and importance that people want? Is that the layers under the ego? Examining this, it’s interesting you brought this up, Whitney. I can’t remember if I sent you this article but OutsideOnline.com, the digital version of Outside Magazine, published an article about selfie deaths being on the rise. There’s this phenomenon now of people putting themselves into extreme and sometimes not so extreme situations in nature to get the shot for their Instagram or their social media.

Statistically, we are seeing that there has been an upswing in selfie-related deaths. It was specifically talking about certain influencers or Instagram stars that have died. One in particular was a woman who made a habit of ascending certain mountain peaks and certain high elevation places and posing in bikinis and doing it for her Instagram feed and she fell to her death. There was another person that they were at a zoo posing next to the tiger cage and the tiger mauled this person. It goes on and on. Most of these things, most of the stories in this article, it was great talking about this idea that we need to constantly top ourselves in that.

MGU 13 | The Highest Possible Level

The Highest Possible Level: In this age we live in, you can’t do it in a vacuum on a certain level in any profession. There’s going to be eyeballs on you.

 

For travel bloggers and people who are extreme athletes and people who are doing things like going to Mount Everest, there’s this sense of, “I’ve got to constantly top myself.” They’re doing more and more extreme dangerous things to stay relevant and stay significant by posting videos and photos of them in these types of situations. Some of them are dying. We’re talking about death here. We’re not talking about dismemberment, we’re not talking about a broken back. We’re talking about death. I know I’ve shared this during Wellness Warrior training and probably other times, but one of my favorite quotes is from the tennis great Martina Navratilova. My favorite quote of her is, “The moment of victory is too short to live for that and nothing else.”

This idea that I need to get to the peak of Everest, I need to go to this cliff side and dangle from the very edge of the cliff, which there was that article too, talking about these people that go to these high rise buildings. They appear to be dangling off the edge and get the shot for their Instagram and some of them have fallen off the top of a building. For your Instagram feed? For real? I’m reading this article and to be honest, part of me was shaking my head. I’m like, “Have we reached the nadir of narcissism in our society where people are literally dying for photos for their Instagram feed?” It broke my heart to read this because it’s like people feel that they need to constantly do more and be better and achieve and I think there’s this weird apex.

What comes up for me with in this discussion is this apex of achievement mindset and narcissism meeting to the point where people are literally giving their lives to try and get the shot or get the video. There’s something intrinsically broken in the human psyche about you are willing to go to that level. We’re not talking about saving a drowning child. I’m not talking about saving your dog from a burning building. We’re talking about you getting a shot for social media here. This is not a life or death situation, but people are giving their lives, hundreds of people. This article goes into such interesting detail about the lengths people are going to get these pictures in these videos. It blows my mind that, are we at a point culturally where people are so desperate for significance and achievement, they’re willing to do anything to do it?

This also reminds me of contrast because this is an interesting thing and it could be either side. It’s hard to know because I think it’s a case by case basis. First of all, I pulled up the Instagram account for the guy that took that photo that I’m describing. His name is Nirmal Purja. He has a brand called Power of Possible. I don’t know how old he is. I don’t know anything about him but his photo, he posts the photos, the caption says, “On May 22nd, I summited Everest despite the heavy traffic, roughly 320 people. I have arrived at the base camp.” There’s a picture of him at the top. That was what I was curious to see. Do people take photos? Is that what they’re waiting for? Are they waiting in line to get up there or are they waiting in line to get photos or both? I guess we can’t judge it because I don’t know if all 320 people went up there to get a photo, but he did. He’s the one that has that picture that you can see. You can examine it. He talks about his supporters and sponsors and all of that, and it looks like his whole career is based upon things like this. He looks like a fairly young guy.

When I look at his photos, without having much context for the work that he’s doing, it looks like he has a whole project about climbing to the peak of different mountains in a certain amount of time. If we looked at him, to me, my feeling at this first glance, my first impression is, in my head, as judgmental as this might seem, it’s different than a girl in her bikini taking a picture and risking her life because she knows that sex sells and she wants to use her body to get attention and validation. I think that’s part of the judgment that’s there or even men. It’s not gender-specific. There’s plenty of men that are posing with their shirts off or they’re doing various things to get that attention, validation, the likes, the comments, the engagement, the money from the sponsors and all that stuff that may come across a little vapid. This guy, normal. My impression is that he has a deep passion for climbing and he reminds me more of the star of the documentary, Free Solo. Have you seen that yet?

No.

Look at how insatiable the ego can be that we constantly feel the need to top ourselves. Click To Tweet

I found that movie so incredibly well-done. It is one of the literal edges of your seat. I don’t want to say anything about why because I am not going to spoil it for sure, but it is such an incredible documentary. It won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2019. It won a lot of awards and was nominated for many as well. The reason I bring that up is that the movie is about a professional rock climber who attempts to conquer the first free solo climb of El Capitan, which is a 900-meter vertical rock face at Yosemite.

For me, since I’m not an expert and climbing at all. You might read that description and think, “Interesting.” When you watch the documentary, what makes it incredible is that nobody’s ever done that before because he’s literally climbing without any support. He’s climbing with his hands and his feet. He doesn’t have equipment on him, which is what most rock climbers do is they have the ropes, the chains and all that stuff. He’s pulling himself up with his body and supporting themselves, and he’s using his hands to put them in the right cracks and to grip things. It is unbelievable.

Part of what’s fascinating about the movie is the psychology of why this man wants to do this virtually impossible thing. He knows that he’s risking his life. That’s why this movie is so incredible is that you’re watching somebody attempt something. I won’t tell you what happens and if he accomplishes it or not, but you’re watching this thinking there’s a very high probability of this man falling to his death. There’s also a probability that he’s going to give up. You’re watching this not knowing what’s going to happen. The filmmakers are asking him, “Why are you doing this?”

From my perception of this man named Alex, he’s not doing it for the selfie or Instagram. I don’t even think that he brought anything along to document it aside from the filmmakers. There’s also a point in the movie where he starts to question whether he even wants anybody to capture this because of the pressure of it being documented. The other element of the movie that’s crazy is that the filmmakers themselves start to think that they might be interfering with his abilities because of that pressure of being on camera.

At a certain point, I think he says he would just much rather do it on his own. He doesn’t need it to be documented. He’s doing it for himself. He’s not doing it for the documentary. I don’t think the idea had anything to do with the documentary. Maybe they explained this in the film, how it even happened. Maybe the filmmakers maybe convinced him or whatever else happened. You see the conflict. The directors on camera at certain points feeling conflicted about it. That’s part of what makes that movie feel so pure to me is that it’s not like, “I’m going to impress the world by attempting this thing and documenting.” This man to me did not feel like he has an ego tied into it for validation.

His motivation for doing this is about his internal motivation, his internal drive, his desire, where he feels like his entire life is leading up to this moment. He’s spent all of these years practicing something and attempting and you get to witness everything that it’s taking and how it’s the culmination of his entire life. That’s how I feel like there’s a difference here. Having this first impression of this man, Nirmal, for Mount Everest, it seems to me maybe leaning more towards that Alex Free Solo experience where maybe Nirmal’s in that because it’s a drive. He happens to be documenting it on Instagram. Maybe he’s doing it to show other people that they can accomplish whatever they want.

MGU 13 | The Highest Possible Level

The Highest Possible Level: It is about finding our own piece and try not to judge other people for them finding their piece.

 

That’s very different than somebody that takes photos simply because they want the validation of others and are they risking their lives because they want to prove something to themselves or other people? I think that that’s is a very fine line. Maybe this man, Alex Honnold, that is in the movie, Free Solo, maybe he does have something to prove, but it’s for himself. Maybe he feels like if he doesn’t achieve this, then he’s not a good climber or he’s not worthy or whatever else the drive is there. Is that similar to a drive to prove yourself to other people? Is it that you need the approval for other people to feel like you’re worthy as a human being? Is that the same thing as needing the self-approval to feel worthy?

It’s a super fine line. Because if we extrapolate this to any industry, when someone invests years of training and experience and hard work and faith and blood and sweat and all of the things that go into any profession, certainly if you look at sports since we are talking about climbing here. In any industry it’s winning the championship. For most probably athletes, it’s this idea that you want to compete for a championship and ultimately win that because it’s some level of I’ve reached the pinnacle of the thing that I’ve been training my entire life to do. In this age we live in, you can’t do it in a vacuum. On a certain level in any profession, there are going to be eyeballs on you. There’s going to be expectation and there are going to be lots of money involved.

If you look at the arts or athletics or whatever it is, you scale your abilities to a certain point and you put it out in the public eye. It’s incredibly challenging to stay self-motivated and not let the desires, whims expectations and perspectives of other influence you. We live in an age of Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. I don’t follow a ton of whatever celebrity accounts on my feeds, but I have few people that I respect as artists. The sheer number of comments they get on every single post is unbelievable. You think about that much energy being bombarded at you as a public figure, no matter what your profession is, that’s got to be incredibly challenging to say like, “What is my actual motivation or am I doing this to try and fulfill the expectations of others? Is this I’m trying to prove my legacy?”

Two of my favorite things are basketball and music. Two of my great passions and it’s a very similar thing. If I think about when Freddie Mercury, for example, went and started his solo career. Musicians will do that. They’ll be in a band and they’ll have a disagreement or a fight. The band will break up for a little while and one of the band members will go and start a solo career. Often you hear in interviews, and Freddie’s just one example of like, “I had to prove I could do it on my own. I didn’t need these guys.” Often those albums are not as good as the band, because there was a certain chemistry.

Athletics and I think other things, art collectives are the same. It’s like we’re part of this group, but there’s this idea that I need to prove I can do it on my own right and go off and like prove my legacy independent of this group. Is it possible that we can do anything ego less in this world? I don’t know if that’s possible. I think about this all the time of are any of my motivations not tied to ego or is there some level of identity? I think about the things I’m passionate about, music and cooking and public speaking and comedy and all that. There’s definitely a part of for me, especially growing up the way I did, of always feeling like I needed to prove myself. It’s been very hard for me to unravel as an adult because that’s still there. I’m going to prove to you how good I am. I’m going to prove to the world that I’m the best at this.

Most of us as human beings experience something in our lives where we don’t get the approval of somebody. For me, one that comes to mind as a teacher I had in school who I felt was very critical of me, but also wanting to see me succeed. There was this drive of wanting to get the approval of this teacher. Maybe it’s being rejected by somebody that you have feelings for romantically and so you want to prove to them. A lot of people get revenge bodies after they break up. It’s like, “I’m going to show you how good I look now that we’re no longer together and maybe you’ll want me back or maybe you’ll regret it.” A lot of this is based on other people’s perceptions of us. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s a very common human experience.

We live in a society where it is common to be driven by our egos. Click To Tweet

It also makes me think about if we’re sitting here and talking about how we don’t enjoy somebody risking their lives for a great photo. First of all, if we step back, we can see that as a judgmental comment. We’re judging these people for the decisions that we’re making. What if somebody reads this and they’ve spent their whole Instagram career taking photos like that and they read this and then they feel shame? Maybe we’re a part of their story of trying to be different and now it’s like they have the opposite thing to prove. Now they’re not taking bikini photos because they want to prove that they’re “better than that.” Maybe they’re hanging out in their pajamas and taking photos in their pajamas and trying to look natural and authentic because that feels like the right way to do it.

It’s funny how it then becomes this right or wrong way of living. I think that’s where it is interesting because the ego, I feel like, is involved either way. If you stop doing something because of something somebody said about it, that’s still ego at play. That’s still you trying to prove yourself to them. Jason and I have been having some talks about moral superiority. The way you’re behaving is not the way I think you should behave in life and this is the way I behave and this is the way I want you to behave. If you don’t behave that way, then you’re not good enough for me. You’re not worthy. It’s almost like saying those things to you and telling you that they don’t like the way you do something and they want you to do it the same way that they do it. It is this moral or this spiritual superiority.

It’s like they become the arbiter of morality. It’s all relative though because if we’re all on different paths and we’re all on different stages of awakening and consciousness, there’s no end to that. I wrote a blog post all about how we are not woke AF and everyone walking around and talking about how woke they are shows how not woke we are when we have to claim it publicly. It’s a whole different blog post, but this feeds into like who are we to say? Honestly, if people want to risk their lives for a selfie, by all means. The thing that it engenders in “me” perspective-wise is how insatiable the ego can be that we constantly feel the need to top ourselves. I can imagine some of the comments or someone says, “If we don’t constantly strive for achievement, where’s the progress of humanity?”

The opposite side of that too is we can also be judgmental about people who don’t strive for achievement. That can be seen as equally bad. If you don’t strive for achievement, you’re wasting your life. It’s two opposite ends of the spectrum.

What about this? If someone finds genuine contentment as they are now, for me, I’ve had people ask me what’s the end goal. I want to feel at peace. I want to feel content. Legit that’s different for me. I’m asking myself that question more and more of like, “Does this bring me peace and contentment?” We don’t know for sure of course, because we don’t know what’s waiting for us. The idea that the state of being I want, it’s not an achievement, it’s not a success. It’s that on the other end of it, certain things I feel that I might achieve or succeed at will bring me contentment and peace that I can finally rest. It’s not to be doing that from a sense of being lackadaisical or lazy or like, “I am throwing the towel.” The idea that I have reached a level of expression or mastery in my craft or a certain level of income that I’m like, “This is actually great. Could I strive for more?” Yes, but I don’t want to just because I’m being told that I constantly need to be striving for more.

Because that doesn’t feel like sustainable peace, I think it is what you’re saying. Striving is not something that you, Jason, associate with being at peace.

MGU 13 | The Highest Possible Level

The Highest Possible Level: We live in a society that profits out off of us being driven by our egos, always wanting more and never feeling enough.

 

I do not and that’s been something that I’m constantly undoing, especially exposing ourselves to this thing of up level and next level and go to the next level and all these things with a success mindset. I get it but for me, when I go way down that rabbit hole, there feels like there is a shadow side of not enoughness wrapped up in that of, “It’s not enough that you make $150,000 a year. You’ve got to be making $300,000 a year. It’s not enough that you’re making $300,000, you’ve got to hit $500,000.” To me it’s like, “If I check in with myself, this might feel pretty good. If I listen to my own internal compass instead of the voices outside telling me what I ought to have or how much I ought to be making or how much I ought to be striving.”

I think this also comes down to it’s all about our personal perception of it. There’s nothing wrong with striving. There’s nothing wrong with summiting Mount Everest. There’s nothing wrong with waiting in line to get up there and to say you did it. There’s nothing wrong with taking a picture up there. If that feels good to you, there’s nothing wrong. Maybe it feels good to you because you’ve proven yourself to yourself. Maybe it feels good to you because you’ve proven yourself to other people or you’re hoping that they’ll see your photo and be like, “Jason climbed Mount Everest. I can’t believe it. Now, it has changed our whole perception of him.” The funny thing is I think when it comes to photos, it’s so fleeting. Somebody sees you up on the top of Mount Everest. For two seconds, they think they’re impressed by you and then they go on and they look at somebody else’s photo.

Maybe that memory sticks around and they think in their head, “I didn’t know Jason could do that.” Maybe they have this slightly different perception than you, but we have no control over other people’s perceptions of us. That’s the thing too is that it is about finding our own piece and try not to judge other people for them finding their piece. It’s confusing. The ego is very confusing. The ego rules us. We live in a society where it is common to be driven by our egos. We live in a society that profits out off of us being driven by our egos, always wanting more, never feeling enough. That is marketing. This is a blanket statement, but a lot of marketing is based on not making people feel like they’re not enough so that they will buy something to make them feel better about themselves.

It’s complicated in that sense and everybody’s on a different path. Jason and I were talking about this as well. Sometimes we’re in different places in our lives and other people and I think it’s very tempting for us to want to judge them for being different than us, but that’s our ego judging them. This conversation started off with us feeling triggered by people waiting in line at Mount Everest, but maybe I would wait in line too. I don’t know. Maybe if I climbed Mount Everest, I would think that I might as well wait in line to get to the top. I have no idea what I would feel like. I don’t know if I feel like the envy of people doing that because I personally don’t feel a desire to go to Mount Everest. I think it’d be cool and I think that’s what’s different and what I was saying about the climbers I mentioned earlier is that their lives had been based around this.

How do we know that those 300 somewhat people that were waiting in line, maybe their entire lives had been building up to that moment and that’s why they wanted to get up there? We don’t have the answers here. We never do. It’s just a conversation. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity to check in with ourselves about what drives us. Why do we take photos? Why do we post them online? Why do we do things? Why do we wait in line for things? Why do we work so hard and hustle and strive for things? What’s the point of it? What makes us feel good?

I think what I’ve realized over time is something that made me feel good years ago doesn’t make me feel good now and vice versa. It’s the unfolding of life. Checking in and trying to figure out what decisions are going to make us feel good and why we’re doing them is the why behind our decisions. It’s something that deeply resonates with us or is it driven by our egos and is that okay with us? Are we okay living a life where our ego feels like it’s stronger than it needs to be? If our ego is always going to be there, do we want it to be loud or do we want it to be quiet? Do we want it to be ruling us or do we want it to be in some balance?

All great questions and that probably is going to bleed into another episode because I feel like this idea of ego and motivation is such a deep subject that maybe there should be a part two. It feels that way to me, for the first time. There needs to be a part two to this. There’s so much more to talk about with this ego and motivation, all those things. We do have resources on the Wellevatr website. You can find a bunch of blog resources there. You can also sign up for our mailing list on the website.

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