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At one point or another, just about everyone is faced with a mountain he or she must climb. In most cases, it is a metaphorical mountain rather than an actual one. Entrepreneurs and professionals often have a huge obstacle they must surmount. Sometimes the challenge is to achieve something that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes the impediment is a family problem. And sometimes the hurdle is a personal health challenge. While some of those mountains are unavoidable, other peaks we scale by choice. The fact that it is a metaphorical challenge, brought by chance or choice, makes it no less arduous, depleting or risky. In that regard, it is a lot like actual mountain climbing. Real mountain climbing is not a sport for the faint of heart. It is exhausting, dangerous, and expensive. Yet so many people choose to climb mountains — despite the risks — much the way people choose to start businesses, deal with major obstacles or find solutions to serious problems. Why?
Why choose to climb a mountain, metaphorical or actual? What is, for example, the use of climbing Mount Everest? In 1923, a reporter asked British climber George Mallory this very question, and he replied, “It is no use. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever.” Later, Mallory added (before he died in an attempt to summit Everest in 1924) that “If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go.” There are many parallels and life lessons we can glean about how to tackle the biggest problems in business and life from real mountain climbers. Here are 10 tips from the pros.
Business Wisdom from the World’s Most Daring Mountain Climbers
In much the same way that people are compelled to climb to the highest peaks on earth, we are compelled to tackle the difficulties of life, take on big challenges, and achieve the seemingly unachievable. We are sending spaceships to Mars. We are mapping the human genome. We are inventing machines that can learn. We are discovering cures for cancer, Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimers. We are building self-driving cars and underground high-speed trains to streamline mass transit. These are the “Everests” and “K2s” that entrepreneurs, inventors, explorers and scientists are scaling today. And while the average business person’s mountain may not be a “Denali” or a “Pike’s Peak”, it might still be an ascent that is fraught with danger, hardship and pain to him or her.
So how do the mountain climbers do it? What advice can we take from their herculean efforts? We can tear a page from the mountain climber’s handbook and learn a lot.
1. Be confident. You can do bigger and better things.
According to William Arthur Ward, “The experienced mountain climber is not intimidated by a mountain – he is inspired by it.” People who climb mountains believe in themselves. They are confident in their abilities and skills. With each climb, they aspire to be able to reach an even higher peak. So too must any person who is taking on a big job or fighting a serious problem. It must start with a deep belief that it can be done. The goal can be achieved. The task at hand should inspire not intimidate.
2. Be prepared… and be prepared to work hard.
Warren Harding, one of the most accomplished and influential American rock climbers of the 1950s to 1970s, said “As I hammered in the last bolt and staggered over the rim, it was not at all clear to me who was the conqueror and who was the conquered. I do recall that El Cap seemed to be in much better condition than I was.” The truth is that no one climbs a mountain without enormous amounts of hard work and a lot of advance preparation. There is massive effort to prepare for the climb and even greater work goes into actually climbing the mountain. It is not for the weak of mind or body. The same is true of any mountain to be climbed, personal or professional. If you are going to conquer a mountain in your career, you’re going to have to work for it. It will require extraordinarily long hours and a willingness to do what others will not.
3. No matter how hard it is, keep going!
Al Alvarez, author of “Feeding the Rat, A Climber’s Life on the Edge” once said “To put yourself into a situation where a mistake cannot necessarily be recouped, where the life you lose may be your own, clears the head wonderfully. It puts domestic problems back into proportion and adds an element of seriousness to your drab, routine life. Perhaps this is one reason why climbing has become increasingly hard as society has become increasingly, disproportionately, coddling.”
It probably goes without saying that climbing a mountain is hard. With any challenging endeavor, there are going to be setbacks and problems, big and small. There is no room for uncertainty or ambivalence. Once the decision to move forward is made, then it is important to press on. A mountain climber cannot quit and call it a day when he is 8,000 feet up a cliff-laden, snowy mountain. Nor should a CEO pull the plug on a market expansion when there are difficulties finding the right staff for the new offices. A climber may have to wait for a storm to pass before continuing to ascend, but the best mountaineers have a do-or-die mentality. This is called grit and it is the best indicator of future success.
4. Don’t rush. Be patient. Take your time.
Al Alvarez also said “Climbing in particular, is a paradoxically intellectual pastime, but with this difference: you have to think with your body. Every move has to be worked out in terms of playing chess with your body. If I make a mistake the consequences are immediate, obvious, embarrassing, and possibly painful. For a brief period I am directly responsible for my actions. In that beautiful, silent, world of mountains, it seems to me worth a little risk.” Like in climbing, in any major mission, every move must be worked out. It is important to be patient and go slowly. This may seem counterintuitive to the fast-paced world of business. But it is only by being methodical that the biggest undertakings can be accomplished. Such things cannot be rushed. When climbing your mountain, be patient.
5. Be careful and aware of every move.
Italian mountaineer, adventurer, explorer, and author Reinhold Messner once said “Mountains are not fair or unfair, they are just dangerous.” For mountain climbers, rushing across untested terrain can cause the ice to crack and break. Or trekking out to grab a tent flap that is flying away without putting on proper gear can result in a sudden drop into a crevasse. So what do they do? They are careful and methodical.
Anyone undertaking a big endeavor should do the same. Expanding into a new market? Launching a new product? Merging with another company? Going public? These are major moves into new terrain. Be careful. These endeavors are dangerous. Think through every move. This advice may also seem contrary to the “Just do it” mentality that some associate with high-risk sports like mountain climbing and certainly contrary to the “Go big or go home” advice permeating social media. Anyone tackling a big undertaking should take it one step at a time, carefully weighing each move. Research. Analyze. Understand the market. Make sure there is firm footing and a good understanding of the lay of the land before committing.
Stay tuned til next week when we share some more amazing wisdom from people who have been to the highest peaks and seen the most dazzling views of the world and shared more about what it takes to conquer the mountains of life.
Quote of the Week
“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” Barry Finlay, Kilimanjaro and Beyond
 June 4, 2014, Conrad D. Anker, National Geographic, Opinion: Why I Climb Dangerous Mountains, https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/06/140604-everest-nepal-sherpas-climber-chinese-woman-conrad-anker-rainier-rescue-icefall/
© 2018, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.