They say growth happens when you are out of your comfort zone. So cliché, yet so true and clearly applies across the board, whether in relationships, business, exercise, improving habits, skills, travel, parenting, career, tragedies, triumphs, etc. People tend to prefer what they like, when they like, how they like or who they like because it seems… well… comfortable, familiar, safe, secure, etc. So it seems natural to resist change, to go further, try harder, try new or different, even when they are striving to develop or progress in one way or another (i.e. to get out of the very comfort zone!) .
Recently, I sought to climb Mt. Kenya. It wasn’t the first time I had climbed a mountain (did Kilimanjaro 4 years ago), but the ‘new’ horizon was that I would be more prepared so that it would be easier than my last experience. It wasn’t… even after completing several prep hikes prior to the big one; but I conquered the Summit and learned a few things, too along the way.
- Community is Key
Mountain climbing isn’t for everyone (most things aren’t), so it’s important that whatever your thing is, find others like you. Those folks who won’t waste time asking you why, or pointing out all the pitfalls. Instead, with a high-five /smile / nod or simple eye contact, you’ll connect in understanding and urge each other on, regardless of the level of familiarity (or lack thereof) or inspiration. My friend and I joined a group of six (5 guys & 1 gal) doing this to celebrate getting to their 50th birthday (Wow, what a milestone!). It turned out to be a most amazing journey for all of us. With encouragement and good natured laughter, we hit it off and jelled right away. Whether it was the 5 days spent together suffering, recovering, struggling or triumphing, through the tiring walks, basic shared accommodation facilities (dorms with sagging deckers, thin mattresses, long drops or noisy single ablution facilities in tight corners); or maybe the living in each other’s spaces without showering throughout; or possibly because each one… and together… we successfully conquered the summit (Lenana Point, only 4,895m above sea level) despite varied abilities and personal challenges with the altitude, by the time we parted, we were totally like family. We knew that this would be a special group of folks that lived through a special season in our lives, the day we conquered the summit of the 2nd highest mountain in Africa and the highest in Kenya.
- A guide / coach is valuable
Often we set out on paths we haven’t been before. It may be a common one like starting school, initiating a business, a relationship, family, etc; or a not-so-common one like creating music, starting a campaign on some issue of societal interest; or even and once in a while, one that not many have trodden, like climbing a mountain, or flying a plane. Whatever it is, there’s a high chance someone else has done it before. Whether they succeeded or not (often in the eyes of the beholder), it would be valuable to find them and learn from them. It’s not an expense, but a worthwhile investment, especially if you get a good one. And then… listen! Which doesn’t mean do everything they say to the letter, but it does mean that if you are going to seek advise, make the most of it by using it. Our mountaineer guide was great, not just in steering us expertly towards realizing our goal, but more importantly to answer our endless questions along the way (what to wear, carry, etc… even random ones like ‘why can’t they build cable cars to go to the summit’??); and more so to consult whenever we faced personal & group challenges along the way.
- Know your goal but focus on the next step
Our goal was to make it to the summit. The end. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, and that it would require walking for many hours, for about 4-5 days, in increasingly challenging circumstances. Nothing good comes easy right? But then again, even though we knew what we wanted to achieve, I tell you staring at the mountain peak (though astoundingly beautiful to behold) could often be intimidating! You’d think, will I make it? Can I really make it to the top when these few kilometers for today seem overwhelming (pant, pant!). You know what? Focus ONLY on the next step… and take it! Indeed, a journey of 1000 miles starts with one step. Just take it. One, then another, keep going and before you know it, you’ve started your journey and are well on their way. Keep your goal in mind (graduation day, enlisting on the stock exchange, secure retirement, etc.) and don’t focus too much on the current or future challenges. Start and keep going. Deal with the speed bumps (fatigue, setbacks, etc) and keep forging ahead until you reach your summit. The pains, sleepless nights, broke-ness, etc. won’t matter anymore and you won’t remember most when you peak!
- Just one step at a time, at your own pace
An important follow-up to No. 3 is embracing your strengths, abilities and challenges. You may share common goals with others, or admire those who are already on the path to achievement, and hold in high esteem those who’ve realized them. Yet, you are unique and may not be able to go at their pace or do it their way. The triumph is the same no matter when you get there. If your guide (see no.2) is any good, he/she will journey with you at your pace, in a way that’s comfortable for you, while ensuring you are indeed headed towards your goal. Obviously we couldn’t stay in the mountain forever but it helped me a lot to go at my pace, just one step at a time, again and again. It didn’t matter that I was faaaar behind the rest, especially when it came to summiting & thereafter. What helped was that I had a guide with me (for the slow coaches), and with his encouragement and my determination to keep going, I made it and have the photo to prove it! J So don’t try to play ‘catch up’ with your friends who are already married, promoted, successful in business, etc; go after your (valid) dreams at your own pace. Your inner joy of success or fulfillment can’t be measured or compared with another’s. After all, it is yours!
- Accept Help
We all suffer setbacks or challenges in life. At times it is obvious to others that we are struggling, even though we do not readily admit it. Again often, we are too proud to accept help even when it is offered. Maybe it’s resistance to accept defeat, or unnecessary pride to make it on our own. Recall no. 1 on community? They are there to help, so when someone offers, have the grace to accept it. It takes true humility. It could be as simple as help with a heavy shopping load, or in an academic subject in which you are not performing well. Accept that offer of help and feel re-energised with the enlightened load. I did, too, on the mountain. Everyone was so generous to help with lightening back packs, offering energizing snacks, or simply encouraging words. It made all the difference in staying the course, one step at a time.
- Ask for Help
Yup, sometimes we are too busy covering up our struggles it makes everyone assume we are ‘ok’. Again, it takes true humility to ask for help. Whether its pride or fear of being a burden to others or looking weak, we have to struggle to overcome this because we won’t be able to appreciate how much people around us are willing to help (or not) until we ask. At times a word of advise is all you need and you are sorted. So go ahead and ask.
- Offer Help
Indeed, we are so often focused on ourselves we don’t notice that others could benefit from our help (often those near and dear). Look around, listen, with your eyes and your heart. Offer a helping hand. Don’t be afraid of rejection, it’s okay… at least you offered, right? Your offer will be appreciated. Again, it may well be just an encouraging word needed or a moment to chat. We all need it sometime.
- Everyone struggles
This, for me, was the most profound ‘aha’ moment during the climb. I felt like I was the biggest struggler, especially because everyone else got to the summit loooong before me (at least it felt like it). And so I was kinda apologetic. One of the guys took time to encourage me by emphasizing that ‘everyone struggled’, not just me. The point was that even if they got there faster, or perhaps weren’t too vocal about their personal struggles, it didn’t mean they breezed to the top (the toughest part of the entire climb). And so it is with life, the businesses, the marriages, the careers, etc. Just because there’s a celebration of the achievements and milestones on Facebook or Instagram, certainly doesn’t mean it was easy for them. Everyone struggles, so don’t be apologetic or frustrated by yours, it’s a vital part of the journey. Otherwise what triumph is there to celebrate?
- Your limits are in your mind
This is not overrated. This is why you need community and/or a coach to challenge you to go beyond them. You can always go a little further for a little longer. You always have one more step within you. Fear, self-doubt, low esteem and other emotions are powerful in defining how far we can go, or so we think. This is why we are encouraged to choose our friends or peers wisely, if we want to realise new frontiers or conquer new challenges. If you keep to yourself, you will remain the proverbial hen pecking away at earth, when you could be flying like an eagle far above in the sky. Your comfort zone is what’s holding you back so get out of it and push beyond your (own set) limits!
- You do you
Believe it or not, I learnt this expression on the mountain from my 50s friends. Yes, you are one in 7 billion, literally. So be comfortable with yourself and do the things you wanna do, in your own way. Watch yourself though, when you feel inclined to join a group, startup a business, or do something crazy, consider whether it’s FOMO (fear of missing out) or YOLO (You only live once). Don’t know the difference? That’s a story for another day… J
Climbing Mt. Kenya was by no means easy, and those who’d done it, debated a lot on whether it was more difficult than Mt. Kilimanjaro (jury is still out). What we agreed was that we totally enjoyed the journey, discovering the full of astoundingly, beautiful tarns, cliffs and landscapes within, quite scenic & uniquely different from Kili. And it was a great experience that was well worth the sacrifice of time and energy.