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"It's Not the Mountain We Conquer -- but Ourselves." --Sir Edmund Hillary
By Catherine DeVrye   Printer Friendly Version

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 when I commenced training, I was convinced that everything else began to wear out, spread out or fall out! Nevertheless, planning and training continued.

Picture yourself standing, for a moment, on top of. Mt. Kilimanjaro, 19,340 (nearly 6,000 metres) feet high. Dawn breaks on a crystal clear morning as you breathe in the freshness of the rarified mountain air. You gaze down on the vastness of Kenya to one side and Tanzania on the other, 360-degree views over Africa, as far as the eye can see. The sun bounces a beautiful pinkish-blue light off the ice-capped formations at the summit.

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 have perished. I'd completed full marathons but never remember feeling as simultaneously elated and exhausted as I did on top of Kilimanjaro.

We commenced the final climb the middle of the night, ostensibly to avoid avalanche danger when the sun hit the snow. But, I suspect the real reason the guide woke us in the middle of the night, 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 keep focused on their goal, even with temporary setbacks along the way.

Although I couldn't see the top of the mountain, 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 and turning back but I hadn't come this far to quit.

It would have been tempting to turn around if I'd succumbed to the feelings of doubt and the menacing avalanche of negativity that we so often let creep into our everyday lives. Admittedly, there were times in the past when I didn't complete the project on the ground for whatever justification I could conjure up at the time. I'm pleased that I never lost sight of my goal of reaching the top of Kilimanjaro because it was both the most beautiful and most physically challenging thing I have ever done.

I've since had the privilege of meeting Sir Edmund Hillary. Having started life in a Canadian orphanage, never did I dream that my childhood hero, would one day, say of my latest book, "Information in this book can lead you on the road to success."

Sir Edmund Hillary has truly embodied success throughout his 80+ years of life. He not only put the first foot print on top of the world but is the most down to earth person you could meet, having subsequently used 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 tramping 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 realized the wisdom behind it. I also realized that we often don't set our personal goals high enough, settling instead for mediocrity.

Around this time, I received a fax from Queensland mountaineer Michael Groom, indicating that one of his climbing partners, Tenzing's grandson, was interested in putting the first Australian female on top of Everest. I also realized that as important as it is to set high goals for oneself, it's equally essential to feel that you're in as strong a position as possible to achieve them. A recent injury led me to believe I didn't have good 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 Rob Hall and 11 others had perished in a freak storm on Everest on May 10, 1996.

His last words were to his wife in New Zealand, from a mobile phone at the summit. Mountaineering technology had certainly changed since Sir Edmund's ascent in 1953 but the determination of the individual to succeed against the unpredictability of the 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.

About two weeks after Rob Hall perished, 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 along the way in our everyday lives?

I also realized 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 challenges looming large above us. We need to tackle those challenges in the same manner one climbs a mountain ... one step at a time.

And Sir Edmund Hillary's words still ring true to those who will never have any desire to climb:

"It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."

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