As anyone who is ever read any of Spencer Johnson’s work knows that whatever the topic of the book is is not literally what it’s about. It is always a metaphor for a mental change that you need to make. Peaks and Valleys: Making Good and Bad times Work for You–at Work and in Life, by Spencer Johnson is no different. I was really looking forward to reading this book as this is a topic I struggle with frequently. It seems for the past several years while I have overcome the tendency to live in the past, I’ve started to live in the tendency of “when will the other shoe drop?”
No matter how good the present is right now (incidentally “The Present” is another Spencer Johnson book), I know that bad times are still ahead. This can be a real negative and dangerous way of thinking as it does not allow you to even enjoy the good times. I have even caught myself getting sad about the future, about a time when the kids will all be moving out and we will be heading to the retirement home. Based on my current age those activities are still a long ways away. So, I either need strong psychotherapy or maybe just reading this book will help.
Johnson’s book always told in the form of a story and this one is no different, but he encourages you to use your own story. Stories are the oldest form of education and are frequently used in the training and education industry because people remember them. I don’t remember the vast majority of what I learned in elementary school but I can recite nearly every line Star Wars and Top Gun. Why? They are great stories!
I think if you took a poll, many people would say they are in a valley – either their job or their personal life. With the economy and downsizing, many of us feel that our jobs are not secure, we are uncertain whether we will be able to make the mortgage, and we may even be surrounded by people who reinforce our fears (Johnson 8-9). Climbing out of the valley requires courage and effort. When we leave our valleys we must put aside our fears as it is the only way to get to someplace new (Johnson 10-11).
When I tell the story of my life in my college classes it really is a story of peaks and valleys. As I suspect most of our stories are. By my senior year of high school I was riding the wave in the theater department, only to come crashing down to an insignificant nobody in the criminal justice department at the college a year later. I lived at home throughout college so I never had the homesick thing – until later. By the time I graduated from college I was the president of my fraternity, co-captain of the flight team and King S*%$ on campus. Within one month of graduation I was a screener at the airport, making minimum wage, and was King Nobody of Nowhere.
It was a valley I’d be in for over a year. By the summer of 89, I was driving around Stapleton International Airport as a security guard. Not a bad job frankly, incredibly easy and very comfortable. But if I wanted more I would need to make myself uncomfortable. That’s the rub folks – if you want more out of life you have to get uncomfortable.
Then I was accepted to USCG OCS. But, even after moving out from my folks house my first year after college I still just lived in an apartment 6 miles from my parents. So while it may seem ridiculous that a 22-year-old officer-in-training was dealing with massive fear and massive homesickness while going through military training, that’s exactly what was happening. Good thing I wasn’t in Navy SEAL training I guess.
I did overcome my fears and was commissioned as an Ensign in the United States Coast Guard in December 1989. It was one of the proudest moments of my life but it was just a rest stop on my way to something greater. I wanted flight school. I wanted the Wings of Gold.
Considering my college degree was as a Professional Pilot and I already had my FAA commercial pilot certificate and instrument rating, getting assigned to flight school out of OCS was kind of to be expected. Reporting to Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida was my lifelong dream come true. I was defiinntely on my peak but I didn’t realize I was already heading back to my next valley – and I was taking the journey myself, it wasn’t something that was happening too me. Another valley was to come.
I remember some sagely advice from my mother. Don’t let the highs get too high and don’t let the lows get too low. I am sure I am misquoting her and will likely hear about it later, but you get the gist. If we can manage our Peaks and Valleys in both our approach to work and in our personal lives, we can be more peaceful and successful (Johnson 14-15). There are three things to discover about managing the peaks and valleys:
- How to get out of a valley sooner (Johnson 15).
- How to stay on a Peak longer (Johnson 15).
- How to have more Peaks and fewer Valleys in our future (Johnson 15).
Peaks and valleys are not just good and bad times that happen to you, they are also how you feel inside and respond to outside events. The key is to separate what happens to you, from how good and valuable you feel you are as a person, Spencer Johnson (Johnson 18-19).
One of the first secrets to understanding our peaks and valley’s is that they are connected – there are not gaps. We often create our next valley while standing on our current peak. If you are on a peak right now, look around, do you see where you are already creating your next valley? If not, look harder – it’s there. So was mine in the spring of 1990 – and the damned of it is, I built the path into the valley it myself.
Johnson, Spencer. Peaks and Valleys: Making Good and Bad times Work for You–at Work and in Life. New York: Atria, 2009. Print.