Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What Does It Take to Reach the Peak?

This is my friend Alisson Dube - on her trek to climb the highest mountain in Africa - here is her lesson from the climb.  Alisson is one of the most insightful people I have ever met.  Her lessons and words always hit the mark.

 I know right?  Climbing a mountain as a metaphor for life or business... It's been done before.  Well, give me a shot because I think my experience was a little bit different :)

I was part of a group of 12 people attempting to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, the 4th highest mountain in the world.  We had spent a year preparing: training, fundraising for the local hospital, buying the right gear, getting all the travel medical stuff in order and dreaming about it.  It was kind of like trying to open my business.  A lot of details riding on a dream.  This thing that you invest so much of yourself in: your money, your expertise, your time away from your family - all for the idea of what it's going to become!

So after a long 8 hours of walking/hiking on Day 3 I was sitting at camp at 4000m with a journal on my lap and Africa spread out in front of me.  And, not for the first time in the year, I wondered if we were going to make it.  Don't get me wrong, the dream was still there.  Snow-capped and solid behind the drifting clouds, the peak was there, getting closer every day but still an intimidating giant.  I had a tiny sense of what it would be like to be like to make it all the way.  It would be undeniable and a part of my story forever!

But this was a tough project.  It wasn't exciting.  It was tedious.  At the top of every rise there was another one.  And there wasn't much of a view.  Rocks, clouds, and more often than not, the person's heels in front of me.  We ate a lot of rice.  After a couple of hours there weren't many stories left to share, nor the breath to tell them.  And there were blisters, headaches, dizzy spells and sore muscles.

You get the parallels right?  To paperwork and hiccups, roadblocks and red tape.  Inevitably, at some point, we all wonder if the dream, the peak is worth it.  We don't need this.  We've come this far and that's a lot more than most people even attempt!  We want our steak and potatoes, our pillow top mattress, our career with benefits back.

So how did I finish the journey?  No differently than I had started it.  Say it with me now, "one step at a time!"  One tedious right foot in front of the next boring left foot.  Eating even though I wasn't hungry, planning out your yearly marketing plan even though you would rather be done working for the day.  Helping a teammate pack their tent up because they were feeling the altitude worse than me, taking the time to train a new employee even though your work is piling up.  Every meter, every meeting - they all matter.

5895m - Uhuru Peak at sunrise after climbing all night long.  The air is thin and cold at the top of Africa.  But there we were, a year in the making, standing at the summit.  Honestly?  I was cold.  And tired.  And knew that in a few minutes I was going to have to walk back down again.  One step at a time.

So what's the lesson?  Would I do it again?  No.  Would I tell my friends to try it?  No, because if they didn't have the desire on their own nothing I could say would give it to them.  But it's been a couple weeks now and I've been telling my story to a lot of friends and family.  I've noticed something.  Every time I tell the story my eyes are a little brighter, my trials and tribulations are just a little lighter, maybe even funny.  And my team?  We're a family now.  For the rest of our lives, we did this incredible thing together.  Every time I eat rice I'll remember wondering if it was really chicken in the stew.  Every time I can't fall asleep I'll be thankful that at least I'm not wearing a toque, and parka and gloves.  And every time I'm faced with a tedious, boring chore?  I'm not pretending it was that profound a change.  I'm not suddenly a disciplined machine.  But the dream?  The peak?  Your legacy?  There's a story there that's worth telling one day.  All you have to do is keep walking forward and get there :)

Thanks Alisson for the great lesson - it's always in the story!

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