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At some point, you’ll have to climb a metaphorical mountain in your professional or personal life. You’ll have to travel through unchartered rocky terrain, where there is no clear path or way forward. Every step will be grueling and exhausting. A favorable climate will suddenly change to a stormy one. The body and mind will become stressed. It will be hard to breathe and think clearly. The desire to quit or rush ahead recklessly will surface. It is easy to falter along the way. Ascending is not easy. Scaling to the places where few dare to go is hard. There is no room for hesitation or doubt. The goal is to summit. What is the best way to do that?
Former Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody once said, “For life–which is in any way worthy, is like ascending a mountain. When you have climbed to the first shoulder of the hill, you find another rise above you, and yet another peak, and the height to be achieved seems infinity. But, you find as you ascend that the air becomes purer and more bracing, that the clouds gather more frequently below than above, that the sun is warmer than before and that you not only get a clearer view of Heaven, but that you gain a wider view of earth, and that your horizon is perpetually growing larger.” Life is indeed like climbing a mountain. For that reason, who better than expert mountain climbers to guide and advise on how to do it best. Last week, we reviewed five life lessons from the world’s greatest mountaineers. Here are five more.
Business and Mountain Climbing are a lot Alike
According to Leadership Consultant, former Goldman Sachs associate, producer and author Allison Levine, “The business world today is an extreme environment. It is a fast-paced, uncontrollable environment. You have to be able to take action and make your move based on what’s going on at the time.” Levine knows a thing or two about recognizing truly extreme environments given that she completed the Adventure Grand Slam, which entails climbing the highest peak on every continent in the world and skiing to both the North and South Poles. As a leadership expert — including serving as a Strategy Advisor on the Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point and as a Senior Fellow at Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE), a premier academic center — Levine has a keen understanding of the leadership take-aways gleaned from climbing to and reaching the highest peaks of the entire planet. For those tackling a metaphorical mountain, here are words of wisdom from some of the world’s greatest mountain climbers of all time.
6. Face your fears.
Heinrich Harrer, Austrian mountaineer, sportsman, geographer, and author of Seven Years in Tibet, once said “Fear… the right and necessary counterweights to that courage which urges men skyward, and protects them from self-destruction.” No one ever climbed a mountain without facing his or her fears first. And, it is normal to fear when undertaking any great challenge. But, as Jack Canfield, motivational speaker, corporate trainer, entrepreneur and American author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books once said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” While danger is real, fear is not. Fear is a product of the imagination. Climbers prepare for danger but they acknowledge and then dismiss fear.
In life, it is important to also face fears during major life challenges, acknowledge it, and then dismiss it and get on with the task at hand. It is okay to use that fear to provide the needed thoughtfulness to keep from being reckless. It is not okay for that fear to hinder, cripple or stop you from summiting and achieving your goal.
7. Discomfort is normal. Accept the pain.
Philanthropist, mountain climber and great, great, grandson of Charles Darwin, Chris Darwin once said “Life is brought down to the basics: if you are warm, regular, healthy, not thirsty or hungry, then you are not on a mountain… Climbing at high altitude is like hitting your head against a brick wall – it’s great when you stop.” It is normal to feel numbingly cold and achingly tired during every moment of a climb. Climbers accept this reality and come to terms with it. When tackling any challenge or attempting any major feat, it is important to expect, understand and accept that it will be hard. Starting a business, for example, requires relentless amounts of work. It can be bruising to the ego and can put strain on personal relationships and finances. And there is no end to the grind. Know that going in and accept that it will be difficult and draining.
8. Take time to enjoy the journey and celebrate the milestones.
Lionel Terray, a French climber who made many first ascents, including Makalu in the Himalaya and Cerro Fitzroy in the Patagonian Andes, once said “On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude.” No matter how daunting or demanding the undertaking, there are sure to be moments of glory and joy as well. It is critically important to enjoy the good times, even if they are brief. Just as the hardships hurt more during any trial or big task, the good times are also sweeter and more personally fulfilling. Make sure to recognize and savor them. They provide the spiritual and emotional sustenance to continue when things are bleak. Also, take time to stop, look around and enjoy the vistas. During some big endeavor, take a minute to take in the beauty of the moment. You might never stand in that exact spot again.
9. Be nice and kind to everyone you meet along the way.
Jim Wickwire, the first American to summit K2, the second highest mountain in the world, once said “I’ve climbed with some of the best climbers in the world. More importantly, to me, they are some of the best people in the world. That’s another reason why I climb.” Mountain climbing cannot be done completely alone. It requires gear, support, guidance, and teamwork. Climbers enjoy a fraternity that has been described as being with family. That is probably why climbers say hello and smile at every person they pass on a mountain. That closeness comes with tackling anything that is grueling and laborious. The same should be true for the people involved in any big job or hurdle. Sharing the hard times bonds people. So it is important to be kind to those who are sharing the journey, whether it is launching a company or inventing a product. You may need them one day when you are hanging off the edge of a proverbial cliff.
10. Make sure to get experienced people to go with you and guide you.
According to Brittany Smith in Men’s Health, “Even the most experienced climbers require additional oxygen when they trek 8,848m (that’s 29,029 feet) above sea level to Mount Everest’s peak. But Sherpas, an ethnic group of people from the mountain regions of Nepal, are an exception—they live at high altitude without seeming to suffer any health consequences.” No one climbs a really tall mountain without some help. In the case of Everest, Sherpas have spent thousands of years living at high altitudes, so it should be unsurprising that they have adapted to become more efficient at using oxygen and generating energy.
In any ascent, it is key to have the assistance of those who are the most experienced and best equipped to guide and support the journey. Picking the right help is probably the most important factor in ensuring that the goal is accomplished. Choose carefully.
Sports anchor Rob Parker once said “All evolution is a climbing towards a higher form. Climbing for life as it reaches towards the consciousness, towards the spirit. We have always honored the high places. In the mountains, there is the promise of… something unexplainable. A higher place of awareness, a spirit that soars. So we climb… and in climbing there is more than a metaphor; there is a means of discovery. Go forth and discover.”
Quote of the Week
“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” William Blake
 January 14, 2014, Jenna Goudreau, Business Insider, 6 Surprising Leadership Lessons from Climbing Mount Everest, http://www.businessinsider.com/leadership-lessons-climbing-mount-everest-2014-1
 Brittany Smith, Men’s Health, “Why Sherpas as Super-Human Mountain-Climbing Powerhouses, https://www.mensjournal.com/travel/why-sherpas-are-superhuman-mountain-climbing-powerhouses
© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.