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July 17, 2020

False Summits

My home state of Colorado boasts of 53 14ers, mountain peaks that rise above 14,000 feet.  Or maybe it is 58 if you don’t get too technical about how deep the saddle must be between peaks if you want to count them as two instead of one. If you schlepped up there and hit both peaks, count however you want.

For many, collecting 14ers is a life-life pursuit, a badge of honor. My buddy is on a similar mission, trying to see how many of our state’s craft beers he can drink.  Some people do both.

Rookie climbers experience the psychological letdown of ‘false summits,’ that belief that you are almost there, only to get to the top of a peak you’ve been eyeing and discover that there is more mountain – sometimes a lot more – left hiding behind it.

You are tired, your friends who told you this would be fun forgot to mention the blisters or how heavy a backpack starts to feel after a while, but you see your goal and trudge on.  Then the goal is a mirage that mocks you as the trail continues to ascend to the sky.  The real summit is still ahead, or is that another fake one?

I do have one piece of advice for first time hikers from the flatlands, wanting to come to Colorado and bag a 14er for bragging rights back home – take on Mt. Evans.  You can drive to the top and the parking lot is about 100 feet from the summit.  You don’t have to give all the details when you get back.

But like the hiking, the pandemic come with false summits and those can bring disappointment that must be managed, or it turns into discouragement.  That is a battle some of us are facing right now.

Like tired kids in the back seat during a cross-country trip, some are starting to whine, ‘Are we there yet?  When will this be over?  When will things get back to normal?’

It is a fair question, but repeatedly setting false milestones in this time can do more than lead to disappointment – it also offers a way out from having to face some really hard questions.

If there is a summit, a real one – this one or the next one, that implies, like hiking, that we eventually get to the top, take a selfie, turn around, head down, then resume our beer quest.

But COVID will not work that way, at least not entirely.  Some things are changed forever.

So, time for a hard question…is your hope for a return to normal just a way to avoid facing some hard decisions that you need to make to put your practice in position to be healthy in the future?

Sit atop a mountain peak (or just have a craft beer) and ponder.

Tim Coan
Tim Coan

CEO and founder

Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog weekly about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.