A most excellent article recently brought to my attention on LinkedIn by Frank Feather serves as springboard to this rethinking of pinnacle experience.
For starters, since “you can’t leave a place you’ve never been,” I searched the web for current definitions and uses of “pinnacle.”
In geography, the highest elevation point of a rugged mountain is called its pinnacle. In architecture, the spire or steeple that tapes to a point at the top is called the building’s pinnacle. In athletics, the peak of success (playing in the Olympics, for example), is called the pinnacle of achievement.
Because it’s entertaining, I also searched for clip art images. Icons include a victorious athlete grasping his gold trophy cup, banners proclaiming WINNER, and business-suited people crawling and racing up stairs towards the top. I even found a quote saying that his physics formula “catapulted Einstein to the pinnacle of fame.”
Graphics portray a figure in hiking gear standing on a mountain top, planting a flag signifying his presence. The also picture organizational charts with a larger-than-life CEO dominating diminutive subordinates.
Applied to government and corporate dynamics, these images imply the elevation of a single, unique and exclusively outstanding individual. By current standards, the pinnacle of achievement glorifies personal ego and winning at everyone else’s expense.
But there is an alternative way to look at the pinnacle experience. In Rethinking Survival, the illustration the illustration called PARADOX places the illusion of separateness in Positive Paradigm context. Here, each of us occupies only a tiny sliver of space in the integrated matrix of the Life Wheel. The broad base of the hierarchy rests on the outermost material level of ephemeral appearances. The apex, the pinnacle of life and leadership, rests deep within the unchanging center.
Here — reminiscent of the first LinkedIn post, “Boundary Spanners Connect at the Center” — illumined minds meet at the universal point which everyone everywhere shares in common looks. It looks like this:
Unlike conventional wisdom, a holistic pinnacle of experience is neither the most visible nor a winner-takes-all position gotten through ruthless competition. Here, the apex of experience is universal and inclusive.
This is where the article recommended by Frank Feather comes in. Just as a holistic vision of pinnacle experience shapes a new standard for success, so does Shane Snow’s most excellent post,”The Counterintuitive Trait That Will Make You Significantly More Successful.”
Shane finds that crossing a horizontal base line with a complimentary vertical axis yields a useful picture of the relationship between attitudes and outcomes. He starts with a horizontal axis that locates Faith in the center. The extreme of Optimism is placed on the right-hand side, due East. The extreme of Pessimism is on the left-hand, due West.
Next he adds a vertical axis that intersects the horizontal line through the central point of Faith. The extreme of Credulous is placed to the North. The extreme of Skeptical is placed due South.
Positive change, he found, is a paradoxical balance between contradictory attitudes:
The most counter-intuitive quadrant is the one where the most breakthrough success can be found: Optimistic, but Skeptical. This is where the innovators reside, where inventors who dare to doubt the status quo ask the questions that need to be asked in order for the world to change. They need a healthy amount of optimism to believe that the world can change for the better, and that drives them to make transformative things happen.
In this case, to complete the Positive Paradigm picture, an additional illustration is needed. “Success” has its shadow side, “failure.” Redefining one necessarily redefines the other. In the same vein, “achievement” also has an opposite, necessary compliment.
What’s needed to complete the pattern is the distinction between two words frequently used interchangeably, but which have diametrically opposed meanings: “achievement” versus “attainment.”
Technically, “attainment” is best used in the context of inward growth. An enlightened sage is said to be spiritually attained. In contrast, “accomplishment” is correctly used to describe the tangible results of sustained effort on the surface rim of the Life Wheel.
Anti-social mass murderers are highly accomplished at what they do. So are highly successful financial geniuses who “make a killing” on the stock-market — at horrific cost to others. (Surely a few names come instantly to mind.)
In the following illustration, Attainment is placed on the vertical North-South axis. Achievement is placed on the intersecting horizontal East-West line. Positive, creative and unifying achievement is placed on the right-hand side, East of the eternal center. Negative, fragmenting, destructive achievement is on the Western, left-hand side.
Is “the pinnacle of achievement” an oxymoron, meaning a combo of mutually exclusive terms? Sometimes, but not always. When the levels of the Life Wheel are linked in an infinite continuum of Do-ing and Be-ing, we experience what Loehr & Schwartz call “The Power of Full Engagement.”
The seated figure with the levels (chakras) activated and unified is the image of a philosopher-king — a leader capable of balancing inspiration with wise decision-making and decisive action. Attainment in-spires and fuels achievement. In turn, professional achievements express and complete the spiritual journey.
Put another way, in a holistic worldview, attainment and achievement aren’t an either/or choice. Seen in this perspective, it is possible to “have it all.”
It would benefit power-seeking over-achievers to keep this picture in mind. For when the levels aren’t balanced, prioritized and integrated — when power isn’t motivated by good will and implemented with self-aware competence — drastically destructive consequences follow. Up to and including atomic bombs. The destruction of nations. The end of the world as we know it.
In a recent post, a Millennial marketer gushed that she “wants it all.” But her extravagant wish list includes only the things she wants to accomplish — things of the economic-political world. No mention of aspiration for wisdom, compassion or enlightenment.
I confess that in the heat of momentary outrage, I commented that Satan offered the whole world to Christ. Perhaps if she approached him, he’d cut her the same special deal offered to the rich and infamous political leaders of every generation.
To the politically correct, this may seem extreme. Probably so. But everyone has their own personal limits. Expressing personal opinions is one thing. Presuming to represent and lead others in a disastrous direction is quite another. Especially when it comes to young people.
As written elsewhere, I have a special place in my heart for Millennials. I regard them as the children and grandchildren I never had. I’m protective as a mama bear towards the generation from whose ranks tomorrow’s best leader-followers will emerge.
In balance, I assure you, the comment wasn’t intended to demean or offend anyone. It was meant as a proactive warning. Ambitious wanna-be leaders who operate on dysfunctional paradigms are, even if unknowingly, a grave danger to themselves as well as the rest of us. History repeatedly confirms the maxim, “Good intentions pave the road to hell.”
On the other hand, human survival will depend upon fully engaged individuals — even if only a handful — who operate on the basis of a complete and accurate reality map, one with an inner compass (or GPS, if you will) at the center.