Two weeks ago I climbed Mount Snowdon to raise funds for a local school. At 1,085m it's the highest mountain in England and Wales. It's also one of the hardest things I've ever done. I'd never climbed a mountain before but I was 50 in August, I'm reinventing my life in other areas so it seemed like a good idea back in April to say yes. And you never know what's possible until you say yes.
Now I can add mountain-climber to my list of lofty achievements. But saying that does not really encapsulate what I went through. It was tough, in ways I expected and many that I didn't. I was so far out of my comfort zone. But being uncomfortable is where learning and growth happens.
So here are 5 key lessons for climbing a mountain in business, in your career or any part of your life.
1. Build your power team
I climbed with thirteen other amazing women, eleven of whom I'd never met before. Experience ranged from one regular climber, several 2-3 timers right through to those of us who'd never done it before. We encouraged each other, held each other up and after more than 7 hours, staggered off the mountain and into the pub to celebrate our victory together. I could not have done it without them. These are moments we will share forever.
Lesson #1: New does not happen in a vacuum. We are wired to connect, collaborate and support. Build a team that empowers you.
2. Listen to your coach
Keith and Jade from RAW Adventures were our guides for the day and they led, cajoled and supported us every step of the way. And there were A LOT of steps - somewhere between 27,000 and 30,000 according to the various pedometers on the day. But it was their advice and coaching that was the most valuable. Helping us adjust our walking poles, showing where to put our feet along the rocky stretches of path and keeping us together as the distance between the leaders and laggards grew increasingly further apart. And they got us all to the top.
Lesson #2: Being coach-able is not about someone telling you what to do. It's about someone who's done it before helping you to find the way. Listen to your coach.
3. Focus on small wins
Every step forward, up, over and around was a step towards the top of the mountain. I know that’s an obvious thing to say but there were times when putting one foot in front of the other felt impossible and the small child inside me wanted to sit petulantly and say ‘I don’t want to any more’. But I kept telling myself that taking even the smallest steps would get me closer to the top - as long as I kept going. At one stage I was taking 20 steps (left and right) then resting to keep me focused, motivated and moving forward.
Lesson #3: Seemingly insurmountable things are conquered by breaking them down into bite-sized chunks. Goals, ideas, projects, chores right through to massive changes. Basically this works for everything.
4. Growth emerges from humility
Being uncomfortable is not fun for most of us. We humans love comfort and there’s nothing like a bit of uncertainty to push us to the edge. Instinctively we want to run away and hide from it or stand our ground fight it. But while the discomfort, the uncertainty, the I don’t know, the I don’t think I can? swirled endlessly through my mind, in acknowledging exactly how I was feeling I found some compassion for myself in those very worst moments of the climb.
And then I was at the top. New horizons became visible – both literally and figuratively. New dreams came to mind. And I knew I would never be the same again. It was breath-taking.
Lesson #4: Be open. Say I don’t know. Ask for help. Stick with it. And know that you will have changed. Your world, your business, your life will expand and so will your place in them.
5. You inspire others
At my regular pilates class a few days after the climb, one of the ladies patted my arm on the way out and said, "I just wanted to touch somebody who's done it."
I hadn't acknowledged how huge this achievement was going to be for the people around me. Congratulations have flooded in, there have been donations for the school, and we've pored over photos to remind ourselves that we really did it. But in those few words, one person's awe touched me so deeply, that it totally shifted my perception of what I had done.
Lesson #5: Life is fraught with personal development goals, appraisals and growth initiatives but often the most valuable thing we can learn is how we show up for others. When was the last time you really listened to someone singing your praises, acknowledging your achievements - and owned that it was you they were talking about?
Climbing Snowdon was an exercise in trust, humility, persistence and courage. But the most surprising experience of all was one of resilience. Overcoming difficulty and facing challenges. Feeling fearful, uncertain, sad, close-to--defeat. That's when we get the opportunity to build our resilience muscles.
Consider this too. If we never face adversity, we never get to plumb the depths of what we are truly capable.
Come to the edge, he said.
They said, we are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said
He pushed them.
And they flew.
Guillaume Apollinaire, French poet (1888-1918)
This is the way of business too. Scaling that mountain, of building a successful future for your business requires getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, pushing your boundaries, being fiercer than your fears and not letting uncertainty stop you. Time and time and time again.
But when you have faith and keep saying yes to achieving what you really want, that’s when you really soar.