Some of you may already be aware that our President, Amy Stoehr, recently achieved a lifelong dream of going to Africa that included summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro. We are so proud of her, not just for climbing the mountain, but more importantly for casting a Vision, gaining Clarity on that Vision, and then taking Action to ensure that vision became reality.
And in true Amy fashion, she returned with a bounty of lessons learned, which she has mindfully articulated in the article that follows. So if you’re ready to absorb some simply stated, yet truly profound messages, please continue reading.
Lessons the Mountain Taught Me
My recent journey to Africa was a win before I ever set foot on the airplane. Six of us had committed to a seven-day climb and summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, the tallest free-standing mountain in the world at 19,341 feet. And following that, four of us would remain in Tanzania for a week and be joined by my husband and eight others to visit a children’s home and go on safari.
Preparation for the climb itself involved everything from getting the proper gear, to shots and medications, to physical training that for me and two of my friends meant hiking in the Rocky Mountains as many weekends as we could.
We all knew the temps could potentially drop to zero degrees; we all knew the days would be long. We’d read that we might feel less like eating at higher elevations, and were instructed to bring our favorite hiking snacks just in case (ChocoLove Dark Chocolate with Salted Almond Butter filling, anyone?).
What none of us knew to prepare for were the mental challenges we would face. Sadly, one of our six became ill and had to bow out after a couple of days. She was waiting for us the day we came off the mountain, with a giant smile on her face. Everyone got comfortable being uncomfortable – using an outcropping of rocks to shelter you when “nature called” and not experiencing a shower for seven days were just the start of those discomforts. Beyond that, we all had individual struggles and we all had breakdowns and breakthroughs.
As I reflect on the entire climb, there were five distinct lessons that contributed to our success.
LESSON 1: Pole, Pole.
Pronounced pole-A pole-A, this is Swahili for “Slowly, Slowly.” Our three guides impressed on us early how important it is to pace yourself. It’s not uncommon for extremely fit people to fail on Mt. Kilimanjaro because they try to go too fast. They don’t give their bodies time to acclimatize, and they end up experiencing acute altitude sickness and have to head back down the mountain. In fact, we met a young, fit couple on our layover in Amsterdam and got to chatting. They shared they were going to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, and we excitedly exclaimed, “So are we!” The young man scanned the four of us – aged 45 to 66 – and gave us a look that said he was confident we’d fail. We ran into him on the mountain; he was heading down. We asked how the Summit was, and he told us he didn’t make it.
In business, we often try to rush changes and we lose patience with team members who are slower to adapt. Have you ever delegated something, and then gone ahead and done it yourself because it was taking the team member too long? Or maybe you don’t delegate it at all, and think, “It will just be faster to do it myself than slow down to teach someone else.”
If you want to grow and reach the Next Level, whatever that looks like for you, sometimes you need to go slower before you can speed up. Take the time to train right. Give others the space and time to fail forward and learn. Before you know it, you’ll be handing off more and freeing yourself up to focus on your highest and best use – generating business, or enhanced quality of life, or both.
LESSON 2: Focus on the Next Step, not the Summit.
In our pre-climb briefing the night before we set out, our head guide, Respicius, stressed to us to focus our thoughts on just taking the next step, and not get overwhelmed with thoughts of how far away from the Summit we might still be. (If you haven’t read the book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life, by Robert Maurer, Ph.D. you might consider picking it up.) We followed his advice consistently, and I am convinced that his advice resulted in five middle-aged ladies achieving the ultimate, as we “stood on the roof of Africa” (what the locals call summiting Uhuru Peak, the highest point).
Boy, is this true in business! Have you ever been overwhelmed when thinking about all it will take to arrive where you’d like to end up? I certainly have. We encourage our clients to paint BIG visions, and then break them down into specific actions and smaller steps. Then we have them prioritize what’s most important to focus on first. Take that step. See it through to completion. Take the next step.
LESSON 3: Wherever you finish, that IS your summit.
Another valuable piece of advice we received at our pre-climb briefing: “Wherever you finish, that IS your Summit.” Respicius emphasized that we had already succeeded by making the decision to climb, and by arriving in Tanzania ready to go. Whether we actually made it to the top of Uhuru Peak on Kilimanjaro or not, we were on the journey. So wherever we might finish, we should consider that our Summit, and celebrate that victory and all the ones that preceded it.
Have you ever felt disappointed because you set a big goal and perhaps fell short? There was still victory worth acknowledging in the progress you made. This is something we emphasize with our coaching clients – celebrate the wins along the way! Stop thinking that the end achievement is the only thing worth celebrating. Morale will go through the roof if you recognize progress.
It’s worth sharing that every day, when we arrived at our campsite for the night, our crew would greet us with singing and dancing. No matter how late we arrived, they were there cheering. As exhausted as we were, we instantly felt uplifted and our enthusiasm and commitment was reset for the coming day.
LESSON 4: Acknowledge the challenges when they’re happening so you can overcome them instead of them overcoming you.
This was critical on the mountain. If you’re starting to feel nauseous or lightheaded, it might be early signs of altitude sickness. Deal with it immediately, and chances are good that even with a short break, your body can recover and you can start up again. Wait until you’re feeling like you might pass out, and it could be too late for you to bounce back.
People do this in business all the time… we sense something’s awry, but we don’t pause to deal with it. Ever forget to return a phone call from a mildly unhappy client? And then when you discover it, you think you’ll have to do that tomorrow, and then you get busy with tomorrow’s little emergencies and forget a second time, and then next thing you know, that once-amiable past client has hired your competitor to replace you? We all make mistakes. Embrace it, say you’re sorry, ask what you can do to make things right.
LESSON 5: Everyone needs a Team. EVERYONE. And choose the best one.
We learned that no one is allowed to climb Kilimanjaro alone; the government requires that anyone – even someone who has summited many times – must take a guide. Why do you think that is? I could give you many reasons, and the simple truth is, two are greater than one. If any misfortune would befall one person, the other is there to help. I can’t imagine why anyone WOULD attempt to do it alone.
I’ll add, don’t find just anyone – if you’re navigating new territory, or trying to change your results in existing territory, find someone who knows what you’re going through. In our case, the company we chose and the Head Guide who led us were the best of the best. Our guide has summited this mountain nearly 500 times. Our crew was the only one singing and dancing us into camp every night. Our company sent us a 20-page preparation guide, whereas a friend of ours who is going with a different company in a couple of months received NO preparation guide. It pays to partner with the best.
If you think you can do it all yourself, watch how quickly you can fall behind. There is only so much you can do alone. If you want to reach your Next Level, find someone to go along with you. Depending on where you are in your business and on the path to your life goals, you may need to add to your team, you may need different folks than you currently have, and you may need a coach. Yes, I said it. That’s another vital part of your Team.