Moving Towards The Mountain

You may have seen Neil Gaimen’s commencement speech last week. If not, ignore the rest of this post and watch the video now.

The entire speech is great. But I was struck by Gaimen’s “moving towards the mountain” metaphor. He gave me words to describe what I’ve been doing for the past year and a half.

I left law school in December 2010. I had no plan. I just had a goal: make my own way in the world. I would do no work that I did not want to do.

To my great surprise, things have worked out. Whenever I faced a choice, I just asked myself: will this take me closer to my goal, or move me away?

Over the past 15 months, I have:

  • Set up a private LSAT tutoring business
  • Helped a niche test prep company move into Montreal
  • Written LSAT explanations that provide me steadyroyalties each month
  • Begun learning to program

I didn’t plan to do any of these things. But when I noticed an opportunity, and saw that it brought me closer to my goal, I tried it. There were other things I tried that didn’t work out, but it’s not hard to try an experiment, and swiftly abandon it if it fails.

Just recently, I took over the LSAT subreddit, /r/LSAT. I’ve spent the past week getting it going.

Do I know how this will help me? Not at all. It might lead to nothing, or it might be the best thing I’ve done since leaving law school. I’ve never been a subreddit mod before, I have no clue what will happen.

But it feels like a step towards the mountain. How can it be anything but good to create an active forum that covers my niche? The worst case scenario is that I provide something useful to people for a while, nothing much comes from it and I hand it off to someone else. It’s worth an experiment, considering the potential upside.

Thanks to my past work, I’m free to spend two weeks getting something like this going, even if it doesn’t work.

Likewise, I’m learning Ruby on Rails with Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial. Do I know exactly where this will lead? Do I have a well defined plan for how to benefit from this knowledge? Hell no.

But, it clearly won’t be a bad thing to know how to program in Rails, even if I never learn any more Rails than the guide teaches me.

This isn’t entirely Neil Gaimen’s strategy at work. I’m also following Nassim Taleb’s advice, and exposing myself to events that have low risks and high potential upsides. I’ve done this ever since leaving law school. When any of these high potential events pays off, I move several steps closer to the mountain. When one fails to pay off, I just discard it.

I’m a lot closer to the mountain now.


I’m Graeme. I’m a self-employed LSAT instructor in Montreal and moderator of /r/LSAT.

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  1. Great video and great blog. I actually run some online test prep sites, and I’m looking to buy 10 or 20 original LSAT practice questions. If you might be interested, please send me an email. Thanks!

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