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A Lesson from the Athabasca Glacier

Understanding Why Growth Happens Over Time.

Glaciers are breathtaking. These giants shape the environment through rock abrasion. The Athabasca Glacier carves itself among the Canadian Rockies in an area known as the Columbia Icefield and measures up to 300 meters (980 feet) thick! When I stood there, it was hard for me to grasp that I was standing over such a thick layer of ice. It made me wonder how glaciers came to be and what we could learn from them.  How exactly does a glacier become such a magnificent, ice-blue wonder?

Let’s think about the last time you stretched yourself to grow. How did you deal with setbacks? Usually when we embrace challenges, we tend to approach them fiercely. We might think that who we are is at stake, so we seek to validate our self by winning, appearing smart, and expecting immediate outcomes. As a result, we set demanding objectives that leave little room for mistakes. We overwork, over-analyze, and become irritable. Of course we get exhausted. Can you relate to this situation? Instead, we can choose to pursue learning and experience, as we appreciate that growth happens with effort over time.

Glaciers begin to form when snow slowly accumulates and transforms into ice. As more and more snowflakes fall, they begin to compress and squeeze the air out of each other, eventually forming glacier ice. This process repeats itself continuously over a long period of time—often well beyond a century—before becoming a glacier. This is how we stretch ourselves to grow: we realize that time and effort are fundamental for us to learn. It’s not about jumping fiercely into action to seize results and prove our capability.  It’s about believing that we are always in development. And in becoming a glacier we recognize that it’s okay to struggle! That we can have fun learning, ask for help, and enjoy the process of growth. To grow like a glacier, try to:

  • Allow yourself to feel: the setbacks, the failures, the improvements
  • Let it snow: take action to grow, help, and experience rather than judge and be judged
  • Keep it snowing: Try. Make mistakes. Learn and have fun!

Glaciers remind us that growth is not a single event, it is a lifelong process. Like layers of snow, we gently yet persistently accumulate learning and experience by exposing ourselves to challenges. And when we let go of the belief of superiority, that we should appear to perform effortlessly and ideally, only then will we be able to see our performance as a reflection of where we are today and act to improve. The next time you set out to stretch yourself—think glacier!  Who we want to become and what we want to achieve, like a glacier, will gently snow into change with effort and with time.

Juan F. Diaz

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Comments

Hector Rodriguez
Reply

I agree, working hard will eventually lead to something impressive and learning in the process will make it more efficient day by day.
Learning from your mistakes will also make you wiser and your practice will make you stronger and skilled.
The greatest things are done over time, from a nice well matured beer or a towering giant sequoia to an expertise in some sport, art or cience or a glacier.

Another example of this would be the Crater Lake, which once exploded dramatically and over the years was filled up with snow and rain to become that impressive deep blue wonder of nature !

Juan F. Diaz
Reply

Hi Hector!
Working hard because something matters, and understanding that things that matter take time, is a distinction worth noting! 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

Ted
Reply

Fantastic picture! Thanks for sharing this “cool” insight. I like the symbolism of the glacier to growth coming over sustained persistent effort without bounds and growth which may not easily be perceived due to our shorter term perspective. Often times in western culture growth is perceived as a more intense struggle in part due to unrealistic expectations and demands for immediate results. That mentality may result in quick results but can often lead to unsustainability/burnout and methods to attain instant gratification often come at the price of neglecting deeper understanding and appreciation of the fundamentals. As a chess player I see this when I focus too much on memorizing openings and neglect more fundamental aspects such as tactics, strategy and endgame study.

Juan F. Diaz
Reply

Hi Ted! It certainly is challenging to be able to perceive time and effort when it comes to results. Somehow I catch myself expecting to perform in anything from day 1. Instead I like to think and believe that we can have fun learning to eventually perform, with hard work. Like you said, there’s only one way a glacier could become itself: through sustained persistent effort. Thanks for the comments!

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