Explorers Discuss What It Takes To Reach The Top
Happiness—the scientifically unwieldy notion that stands throughout history as possibly the most universal of human aspirations. Everyone from philosophers and poets to self-help gurus have tried to unlock the secret of attaining it. Granted to us as an unalienable right, we relentlessly pursue happiness as if it were the goal rather than the take-away. And that is, perhaps, one of the greatest paradoxes of human existence: the more we chase the elusive dream of happiness, the more unobtainable it becomes.
And yet, we try anyway. We make resolutions and bucket lists with self-imposed deadlines, convinced that satisfaction is found just beyond that proverbial finish line. But is it?
A series of recent studies conducted by psychologist Iris Mauss, Ph.D. all determined the more value people placed on achieving happiness through goals, the less happy they became. Additional research conducted by the University of Scranton concluded that a staggering 92 percent of people never actually achieve the New Year’s goals they set for themselves. So why do we continue to do it?
Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Psychology, LeeAnn Cardaciotto, Ph.D., weighed in. “By focusing on goal attainment, we may be doing ourselves a disservice,” she said. “Specifically, focusing on achieving goals may cause us to desire things we don’t have, which is associated with more negative emotions. Focusing on extrinsic things like fame, fortune, and success can cause us to neglect more intrinsically meaningful goals, and ultimately does not improve feelings of happiness.”
Personal goals and aspirations come in all shapes, sizes, and altitudes. Stretching 29,029 feet into the atmosphere, Mount Everest is the ubiquitous crown jewel of all bucket list metaphors. And with the amount of training, preparation, and skill that goes into tackling such a beast of a landscape, it’s easy to understand why. A task of Everest’s magnitude requires immense work and discipline. But as many people who attempt the trek discover, the real challenge isn’t physical, it’s psychological. That’s why countless physically able people have cited Everest among their goals, but only an approximate 4,000 people have ever made it to the very top.
Drew Maloney, ’88, is proud to be among those elite few. But at no point of the two-month expedition was summiting Everest Maloney’s ultimate goal–not really.
“Yes, the goal was climbing the mountain,” said Maloney. “But honestly, the real goal for me was becoming a better person. You meet so many people, you suffer, and you challenge yourself. So, it’s much more of an emotional response… I’m definitely proud of what I’ve done. Mostly, though, I’m proud of who I became while trying to accomplish the goal: a better teammate, a more self-reflective person, a more worldly person, someone who realizes I can do things in my 50s that I never thought I could do in my 20s. If your goal is simply to get to the top of the mountain at all costs, and it doesn’t matter if you’re poorly trained or what you sacrifice or if you have to compromise your integrity, then that’s a different kind of person who will feel a different response.”
There is something to be said for mindset, adaptability, and the bravery in being willing to fail—three of the common themes found among those who study happiness. Maloney knew that no matter how prepared he was for the climb, conditions beyond his control could have kept him from summiting. But instead of worrying or, even worse, never try in the first place, he embraced the journey and went for it anyway, which he insists made all the difference. “I was fortunate enough that the mountain let me get to the top,” he said. “But if I hadn’t been able to summit, I wouldn’t have failed because that wasn’t my goal. And because it wasn’t my goal, I wouldn’t have been disappointed because I gave 100, sometimes 150 percent. I was the best climber I could be on that mountain at that time. Being able to summit was just the cherry on top.”
A.J. Bubb, MBA ’09, is another Explorer who climbed Everest. “I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is that it doesn’t really get easier, you just get better,” Bubb said. “Everyday was faced with the decision to keep going or not. But failure is just a path to success. You can’t succeed at anything without a hiccup on the way. If you aren’t fumbling at something, then you aren’t challenging yourself enough.”
Maloney agrees that discomfort is a good thing. “Making yourself feel out of place, realizing that the world is full of challenges and difficulties, and experiencing those things as a young person—it will change your life as you grow older,” he said. “Even at 52, I’m still trying.”
You don’t have to climb Everest to feel the pride associated with attaining your goals as long as you’re setting your goals for yourself and not based on expectations or impressions of others. Eleanor Roosevelt said it best in her book, You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, in which she wrote, “Happiness is not a goal, it is a by-product. Paradoxically, the one sure way not to be happy is deliberately to map out a way of life in which one would please oneself completely and exclusively.”
Many of our alumni agree.
Brother Rafa Rodriguez, ’17, took arguably the biggest leap of faith there is when he traded in the life he originally thought he wanted to follow his calling to the Brothers of the Christian Schools. On listening to what speaks to your soul, Br. Rafa said, “Remember, nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. The hardest part about following your calling is saying the first yes. Everything after that will not compare in difficulty.”
After making headlines for being the first woman to swim around Bermuda, Lori King, ’97, became an expert on facing discomfort to reach her goals, literally. On how to swim your Bermuda, King said, “In order to reach your goal or chase your dream, you are going to have to be very tough with yourself. You have to force yourself to do things that you may not want to do, sacrificing many things because no one is going to, or should care about your dreams or goals more than you. It will be hard. It will be uncomfortable at times, but doing those things and being unreasonable with yourself is what is will take.”
David Gryzbowski, ’13, never planned on writing a book. But five years after his labor of love, Mr. All-Around: The Life of Tom Gola, began, he stands as a published author. “Having the book completed is such a rewarding feeling,” he said. “I get a little emotion thinking about how it was just a funny idea that turned into a cool reality.”
Jacob Smolinski, ’17, and Mark Lynch, ’17 , saw their dream of completing a short film come to fruition when they presented “College Graduate” at the Cannes Film Festival in the summer of 2018. “It was an incredible blur,” Smolinski said. “To say you had a film screened in Cannes is amazing, but participating in the world’s most prestigious film festival was a once in a lifetime experience,” added Lynch.
Many variables keep us from achieving our goals, but the fear of failure is the one we face most often. “Everyone has a different belief of why they’re on this planet,” Maloney said. “But I’ve always believed that the luck of being born and into the life and opportunities that I have, it is my responsibility to work as hard as humanly possible at everything I do. And I think it’s my responsibility to always be placing those goals in front of me and working towards completing them. And if you’re doing that, then you should be failing probably more than 50 percent of the time. But failure is not the end. Failure is just the beginning of the next stage of accomplishing the next goal.”
As humans, we easily forget that we are perpetual works-in-progress, unnecessarily afraid that we’ve peaked at any given moment, reaching our final becoming before we’ve had our say or made our mark. But these Explorers agree that there is no final culmination of ourselves, but rather just a transient glimpse of who we are in each present moment. Learning to find satisfaction in ourselves while striving for more––that is, perhaps, how we transmute our challenges into opportunity for growth. It is also in the acceptance that there is no secret, nor a key to happiness, as it’s not hidden behind a locked door or any one place. Just as the joy of climbing Everest isn’t found at the top. Reaching the summit might be the goal, but goals are just temporary highs. Lasting happiness is found in who we become—from the perspectives we choose, the willingness to surrender, and the ability to view failures not as the end, but rather as stepping stones, each paving a path along the way to wherever this great adventure takes us.
LESSONS FROM A TRUE EXPLORER
Bruce Zehnle, ’66, has lived a life most would envy, filled with making goals and checking them off.
“At 74 I have gone through several bucket lists. Several notable items checked off include: Attending The Running with the Bulls in Pamplona, skydiving, a week-long white water rafting trip on the Colorado River, and visiting all seven continents in addition to all 50 States.
Crossing all these things off my bucket list has not made me happier but it has given me a sense of fulfillment and joy. You don’t need a bucket list of accomplishments to be happy. Happiness comes from enjoying every day, staying active, laughing, and sharing with family and friends. Happiness is finding peace within yourself and appreciating all the beauty that God has given you. A major part of my happiness came from my career as a teacher. Teaching was my passion and I loved being at school and with my students. Always knowing that God is there listening and guiding is a great source of happiness for me.
From all the things that I have accomplished, I learned how fast time goes and to take advantage of every moment. My bucket list has made me more adventurous and excited to try new ventures and keep pushing the envelope for myself. And the bucket list is never ending because it is always being filled with new activities and destinations as I travel through life.”
La Salle Olympians: 16
Gold Medalists: 3
Bronze Medalists: 2
- Bill Belden, ‘70, USA, Rowing 1976, 1980
- Edgar Borja, ‘84, Philippines, Swimming 1980
- Edwin Borja, ’80, Philippines, Swimming 1972, 1976
- Diane Bracalente, Staff Member, USA, Field Hockey 1988
- Michael Brooks, ’80, USA, Men’s Basketball 1908
- Derek Brown, ’93, USA, Team Handball 1996
- Eric Buhain, ’91, Philippines, Swimming 1988, 1992
- Al Cantello, ’55, USA, Track and Field 1960
- GOLD MEDAL Stanley Cwiklinski, ‘66, USA, Rowing 1964
- Ira Davis, ’58, USA, Track and Field 1956, 1960, 1964
- GOLD MEDAL Hugh Foley, ’66, USA, Rowing 1964
- Frank Lescas, ’93, Albania, Swimming 1992
- BRONZE MEDAL Kathy McGahey, ’82, USA, Field Hockey 1984
- Jack McIntyre, ‘50, USA, Rowing, 1948
- BRONZE MEDAL Diane Moyer, Class of ’80, USA, Field Hockey 1980, 1984
- GOLD MEDAL Joe Verdeur, Class of ’50, USA, Swimming 1948
EXPLORERS WHO HAVE CRUSHED THEIR GOALS
B.J. Johnson, ’18
Forward for Orlando Magic, G-League, the Lakeland Magic
Sean Quigley, ’08
Finished 11th in the 2017 Boston Marathon
2017 La Salle Hall of Athletes Inductee
Cheryl Reeves, ’88, MBA ’90
Head Coach of the Minnesota Lynx;
WMBA’S 2016 Coach of the Year
2017 La Salle Hall of Athletes Inductee