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How Mountaineering Clears My Head and Helps Me Reach Career Peaks

Like climbing mountains, the business world requires people to pursue lofty goals while surrounded by a strong support team. Here's how to tackle your own audacious goals personally and professionally.

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For someone who is severely afraid of heights, I climb a lot of mountains.

Why? Not because I enjoy feeling afraid, but because I enjoy the challenge of mountaineering. There’s nothing like reaching that peak after giving your all emotionally, mentally, and physically. In many ways, mountaineering has been the key to my career success.

In just about every challenging situation — whether in your work life or personal life — the mind gives up before the body. Mountain climbing shows you that. When the climb is extra daunting, you have to get your head in the right spot before you even get started. If you can do that, you’re already 99% of the way there.

Why is the right headspace so important? A clear mind fights fear. Tim Ferriss says the easiest goals to attain are often the most unrealistic and unreasonable. If you want life-changing and meaningful goals, you have to aim high by setting Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs). They stretch your mind and push you beyond what you think is possible. Don’t just set them for climbing — use them for your business, too.

Too many people are afraid to take risks. They stay in their comfort zones because they like to feel safe. It might seem safe, but they never get the feeling of finally reaching a peak they didn’t think they could (proverbial or not).

When I think back, three specific lessons have carried me through my business career and my climbs:

1. The strongest emotion always wins.

As I mentioned, I’m terrified of heights. During my Everest Base Camp climb, I had to cross a 400-foot bridge in the Himalayas. Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn’t have done it. My fear would have gotten the best of me. But in this case, my desire to get to the Base Camp was just a little bit stronger than my fear.

When you work toward your BHAG, you’ll come up against formidable odds. Most likely, you’ll hit bumps in the road that trigger your fears. That’s when you decide which emotion — fear or drive — gets to win.

2. Attitude is everything.

You can train for skills and aptitude, but you can’t train attitude. The oldest woman in the world to ever climb Mount Kilimanjaro was 89. She wasn’t necessarily the best climber in the world — and she certainly wasn’t the youngest — but she was driven. She took on a seemingly impossible challenge because she’d set out to raise money to help children in need, and that made her dream possible.

3. Climbing (and business) is a team sport.

If you try to climb on your own, you’ll fail every time — much like in business. When climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, mountaineers will tell you the first six days aren’t bad. Once you reach day seven, everyone is tired, and the going gets tough. Many climbers are sick and tired, and everyone experiences a moment of clarity when they understand they need each other to have any chance of reaching the top. It’s amazing how powerful someone saying, “Come on. You’re doing great!” can be when you’re exhausted and facing your fears at 4 a.m. in frigid and windy conditions.

Just like in mountaineering, the business world requires the pursuit of lofty goals surrounded by a support system you trust. As I’ve tackled my own BHAGs (both on and off mountains), the lessons I’ve learned have been at the heart of everything I’ve done.

The thing about BHAGs is that the moment you reach them, you’re ready for the next one. Always expect the unexpected, committing yourself to the pursuit of your wildest dreams and craziest goals. You won’t be disappointed.

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