4 things I learned from conquering the Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro

by Jan Scheele   ·  10 months ago  
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Nothing more exciting, as trying to achieve personal goals every year, besides all the corporate ones. Usually I try to raise the bar high, to make it real challenges. Last year I therefore climbed the highest mountain of the African continent; the Kilimanjaro (5900 meters), last month I conquered the highest peak of Europe; the Mont Blanc (4800 meters). Both required a significant physical preparation, but also gave me a full week to rethink challenges, look ahead and brainstorm about new exciting opportunities, as both mountains offer no WIFI or cellular connection. Four things I’ve learned from both exciting journeys.

1) Let go

My coach Paul Rulkens gave in one of his famous TEDx talks the beautiful example of a ‘monkey bar’ in kindergarten; ‘in order to keep on moving, you have to let go’. While climbing and ascending both mountains, I learned this the hard way. If you’re not bending over and let go your fears of falling, you will fall. Our bodies have been programmed to have a certain fear of non-common movements and will make it lean backwards. To proceed and make progress as entrepreneur or employee, you need to take certain risks, make uncommon movements and make sure the satisfaction of reaching the next level, is not weakening your willingness to let go again. The dopamine of overcoming this stress is the fuel for your mind to proceed.

2) Focus

When ascending the Mont Blanc, several parts of climb were very intense and scary. We hiked for countless hours on very steep glaciers, where you would slide down for hundreds of meters if you would take the wrong step. We furthermore climbed parts of the mountain where you could easily fall of in the ravine. No wonder, tens of people die on a yearly basis, while climbing this mountain and no wonder I was constantly analyzing the environment every single second. But constantly looking around, made me disillusioned, frustrated and even fall a couple times. Also in management, constantly looking forward on long term goals or looking back at the past, can be quite distracting from the steps you should take on a daily basis. Getting frustrated of not having reached a goal yet or not going fast enough, just like when climbing a mountain. Instead of constantly making new plans and evaluating the past, focus on excelling and improving daily operations, taking small and smart steps.

3) “If it doesn’t scare you, it is probably not worth doing”

The entire process of preparing for both climbs, the journey itself and the memories afterwards, are indescribable. Besides the regular, advised preparations, I found myself into constantly trying to maximize the efforts in both preparing and climbing, making the experience much better. It resembled with one of the key learnings from last year. I quit several projects of which I was not totally excited about anymore and became stricter in selecting new ones. From all projects, I had the pleasure working at in the past years, I learned that excitement creates the necessary foundation for successfully completing them. No financial incentive or status; even if projects are not completed successfully, it is the excitement that is maximizing creativity, desired input and esteem.

4) Off the line

Lots of people would get a heart attack, when they would not have cellular reception or WIFI connection for a couple hours. Even at holidays, most people stay connected, as they have the psychological feeling that they would otherwise miss anything important. In the beginning, I was also a little sceptic about being totally disconnected for a week, but both mountains simply don’t offer any connection. With several companies, positions and other obligations, it seemed like a challenge, in the end, it turned out to be a wonderful experience I’m going to repeat a couple more times this year. Yes, being offline for a week or two is definitely possible. Everyone can be missed, if you have informed co-workers, partners and clients, have clear instructions for fellow workers and a good out-of-office. Just like with meditating / mindfulness, the effects of not being disturbed for some days is incredible. Offline is certainly the new luxury!

Next challenge? Mount Toubkal in Morocco and the Annapurna track in Nepal!