Climb to the Top

Climb to the Top
Photo by Klemen Tušar / Unsplash

I taught English at the Fuji campus of Tokoha University at the foot of Mount Fuji for over twenty years. One of my duties was making English entrance exams with my Japanese colleagues. The exams were administered to students at the universities that are part of our Tokoha Gakuen family of universities.

While making an exam, a group of us had been working for over an hour on a set of questions. We were discussing one sentence that didn't please anyone, but it wasn't wrong either. I pressed on for a better sentence, and my colleagues became annoyed. One said angrily, "I said it was ok!"

After a few seconds, I suggested a different sentence. There was a collective sigh and release of tension. It was like someone had turned on a light in the room.

The first sentence was a vantage point where we could have stopped; a clearing on the side of a mountain. Instead of stopping there, we climbed to the top and had a much better view.

That made everyone feel great.

In another session, making a different exam, the situation was similar. There was a sentence that was not quite right. The difference was that I was the only one that was not happy. I couldn't quite put my finger on what was wrong, but it seemed to be a clumsy sentence. I thought if we worked on it, we could find something better. But my colleagues all thought it was fine, so I went along with them, and we moved on to work on the rest of the exam.

This time we stopped at a place where most people were happy with the view, rather than climb to the top. It was a mistake that would come back to me like a heavy, spiky boomerang.

When the exam was held, we received a call from one of our other universities. Someone was calling to complain about the sentence I had not liked. As the head of our group of English teachers, it was my responsibility to defend our choice of test questions. I remember looking around at my colleagues and nervously taking the call. I surprised myself with a pretty good list of reasons the sentence was fine. By the end of the call, my colleagues seemed quite satisfied. But I have not forgotten how uncomfortable it was to be put in the position of defending a sentence that I didn't like. I was responsible for making everyone satisfied with every question we selected, even myself. I vowed to try harder next time.

Sometimes people are tired, the path is long, and clouds can obscure peaks. It can be tempting, especially when people seem agreeable, to stop at a place where the view is pretty good and then turn around and go home to families and dinner. But you might not want to do that. If you push on, the result will be much better.

Climb to the top. The view is better from there.