It’s Not The Mountain We Conquer But Ourselves

We all have metaphoric mountains in our lives – setting our sights on new peaks and working towards them, overcoming obstacles in the journey. There are many parallels between mountaineering, work and life. Story by Catherine DeVrye.

Few of us will ever set as tough a challenge as conquering Mt. Everest but most of us do indeed set more modest goals for ourselves along life’s path.

I dreamed of celebrating my 40th birthday on the summit of the highest mountain in Africa. They say that life begins at 40, but during early fitness preparations, I was convinced that everything else began to wear out, spread out or fall out! Nevertheless, planning and training continued – and was well worth the effort.

Picture yourself standing, for a moment, on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, 19,340 feet high. Dawn breaks on a crystal clear morning as you breathe the freshness of rarified mountain air. As the sun silhouettes the ice-capped formations at the summit, you gaze down on the vastness of Kenya to one side and Tanzania on the other – sensational 360 degree views over Africa, as far as the eye can see.

At the same time, imagine shivering at minus 18 degrees Celsius temperatures, feeling nauseous with a crashing headache from the altitude. Gasping for air and hyperventilating, you see crosses where others previously perished. I’d finished full marathons but never felt as simultaneously elated and exhausted as I did on top of Kilimanjaro.

We commenced the final climb in the middle of the night, ostensibly to avoid avalanche danger when sun warmed the snow. But, I suspect the real reason the guide woke us in darkness, was because if we’d seen the full extent of the climb during daylight, we might not have done it! Isn’t that the same with any project we take on at work? If we knew how hard it might be, maybe we wouldn’t volunteer. However, those who achieve more than others, always do so!

It was sheer shale all the way up. It seemed that we continually took three steps forward and two steps back. Isn’t it a bit like that at work as well? Or, in life? Just when we feel we’re making progress, we sometimes slip back. But, again what separates winners from losers is that winners keep going forward and focus on their goal, even with temporary setbacks along the way.

Although I couldn’t see the mountain top, I visualised it in my mind’s eye and knew that’s where I was headed. Yes, there were times during the night when I felt like giving up but I hadn’t gone that far to quit.

It would have been tempting to turn back if I’d succumbed to feelings of doubt and the menacing avalanche of negativity that so often creeps into our everyday lives. Admittedly, there were times in the past when I didn’t complete a project on the ground for whatever justification I could conjure up at the time. But, thankfully I never lost sight of reaching the top of Kilimanjaro, because it was both the most physically demanding and beautiful goal I’d achieved.

It was a long way from starting life in a Canadian orphanage. Never did I dream of being privileged to meet my childhood hero, the late Sir Edmund Hillary, who would one day, say of my latest book… Information in this book can lead you on the road to success.

Sir Edmund has truly embodied success for over 80 years of life. For a man who put the first foot print on top of the world, he is incredibly down to earth; using his fame to build over 26 schools and hospitals in Nepal. I asked if he had always known he would reach the summit.

“No” he replied. Of course I had a goal. I wasn’t just walking around and found myself on top of Everest. I didn’t know I would make it because there were so many uncertainties but what’s the point of having a goal if you know you’re going to make it? What’s the challenge in that? he asked.

Thinking about that question, I realised the wisdom behind it. I also realised that we often don’t set our personal goals high enough, settling instead for mediocrity.

Around this time, I received a fax from Australian mountaineer, Michael Groom, expressing interest in putting the first Australian female on top of Everest. Initially thrilled at the prospect, I recognised that although it’s important to set high goals for oneself, it’s equally essential to be in as strong a position as possible to achieve them. A recent injury meant I had poor odds of succeeding on this occasion, and it was agreed that I would start training for the following expedition. I had no idea that my injury had been a blessing in disguise and was devastated to learn that expedition leader, Rob Hall, and eleven others in that climbing group, perished in a freak storm on Everest on May 10, 1996.

Rob’s last words were to his wife in New Zealand, from a mobile phone at the Himalayan summit. Mountaineering technology had certainly changed since Sir Edmund’s ascent in 1953 but the determination of the individual to succeed against unpredictable elements, had not. Technology continues to embrace new frontiers and there are always those pioneers at the forefront of discovery. Less than fourteen months after that fateful expedition, volcanoes were discovered on Mars, that are three times the height of Everest.

Two weeks after Rob Hall’s death, I received a postcard he had previously sent from base camp. As the media debated the pros and cons of commercial expeditions, I wondered how often we make mountains out of molehills, with relatively minor problems we encounter in our everyday lives?

I also realised that most individuals would never have any desire to risk their life climbing a mountain! But, we all have those figurative mountains in our everyday lives that sometimes seem like insurmountable blockades looming large above us. We need to tackle those challenges in the same manner one climbs a mountain… one step at a time.

Sir Edmund Hillary has since passed away but his words are worth passing on – and the timeless wisdom still rings true to those of us in Real Estate who will never have any desire to climb, because: “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”

Catherine DeVrye is the author of the #1 best seller ‘Good Service is Good Business’- plus ‘Hot Lemon & Honey’, ‘Who Says I Can’t’ and ‘Hope Happens!’ With books translated into over a dozen languages, the past winner of the Australian Executive Woman of the Year Award speaks internationally on customer service, managing change and turning obstacles to opportunities.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a modified excerpt from Catherine DeVrye’s book ‘Hot Lemon & Honey-Reflections for Success in Times of Change.’ On the cover, Sir Edmund Hillary said, “Information in this book can lead you on the road to success.” Royalties go toward the Himalayan Trust to continue his work with schools and hospitals in Nepal. We wish Real Estate Agent, Stephen Bock every success in his quest to climb Everest and raise funds for bowel cancer research. Ironically, although they have never met, Stephen and Catherine have offices less than 50 metres from each other in Manly.

We all have metaphoric mountains in our lives – setting our sights on new peaks and working towards them, overcoming obstacles in the journey. There are many parallels between mountaineering, work and life. Story by Catherine DeVrye.

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