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What I learned from summiting my own "Everest"

Last month, I did something that was really, really hard for me. Along with my sister, Annie, and 300+ brave souls, I attempted to climb the elevation equivalent of Mt. Everest (29,029 vertical feet) in 36 hours.

At 6am on Friday, September 22, we climbed from the base of Whistler Mountain to the summit (3,900 vertical feet), rode the gondola down, and repeated the climb. 8 times. We were thrilled to finish the challenge in the allotted time, completing our last ascent around 3:30pm on Saturday, September 23, and winning the coveted "red hat." And while I have enjoyed the pride and bragging rights that red hat brought me (especially at home, with a husband and three children who are typically more athletic than me!), the lessons I learned on that mountain have been even more meaningful. I've spent the past few weeks letting it all sink in, and this is what I'm taking away.

Life can be a lot easier (and more fun) when I adopt a curious, beginner's mindset. In the weeks leading up to the event, I noticed that my anxiety was starting to increase. The adrenaline was kicking in, and I was having a hard time sleeping, concentrating, and feeling positive. I felt like an imposter. Who was I to be flying across the continent to compete in an endurance event? Everyone around me was saying, "You've got this!" And, as I read motivational quote after quote, I wondered, "Do I really?"

After talking with my brilliant coach, I realized that I was applying the same mindset I often use in work settings. I was going into this event, feeling like I had to be super confident, prepared and competent. And the reality was I was none of those things. We talked about what mindset might serve me better, and I landed on the mindset of an explorer. I loved this shift - I've been an explorer before! The explorer in me didn't have to have all the answers. She'd never been here, she could observe and learn from others, and she could have fun, taking it all in. So, when we arrived at the mountain and people would ask us, "Have you done this before?" I felt pure joy in saying, "Nope! This is our first time. What advice do you have?" On the mountain, this felt like a relief, and I no longer felt like an imposter. I was a 29,029 novice.

As I take that experience off the mountain, I've realized that I have tried to come across as older, wiser, more confident and competent than I really am for my entire life. While I have certainly reaped many rewards for being mature (the best gift was that I was bullish enough to marry my husband at age 23), this behavior has also caused me to get into several situations where I felt completely over my skis in terms of my readiness, understanding, and preparation. I'm learning that it's far more fun to admit to what I don't know, and to embrace those opportunities to be a beginner again.

The second lesson came from our motivational and mindset coach, Chris Hauth. How can you lean into hard now for easy later? Chris described that often, the difference between people who finish the event and those that don't comes down to the decisions they make early on. There were countless moments when his advice proved invaluable, but one which stands out for me. Annie and I were finishing up our 5th ascent, and it was around 10:00pm. I was exhausted at that point. We'd been hiking for 16 hours straight, and the last 3 hours had been in the complete dark. My headlamp was dying, my phone had died, and I was feeling pretty unsteady on my feet. All I wanted to do was to go to bed for a few hours, warm up, and return to the mountain in the morning.

Annie, however, advocated for a different plan. We had both been watching the weather closely, and it looked like we'd be facing rain, wind and snow the following day. And even though it was dark right now, it was at least dry. We went back and forth for awhile, but in the end, our joint decision was to continue on. Choose hard now for an easy later. That 6th ascent was so hard. I was yawning, tripping on the uneven terrain, very cold and so tired. We finally finished that ascent at 2:00am. But when we returned to the trail the following morning - and it was indeed raining, windy, snowing and getting more slippery by the second - we were so grateful we chose hard now for an easier later.

This concept shows up everywhere in my life, too. I've realized that most of the things that I am proudest of accomplishing involve delaying instant gratification for a bigger payoff down the road. My education, work ethic, career roles, health goals, financial goals, family goals... all have involved choosing hard now, so that I could have more success, optionality and freedom (more ease) later. Yet, I find this area continuing to evolve for me. Currently, my growth opportunity is to really explore the definition of "hard." I want to continue pursuing excellence, but I'm trying to also assess what is "enough," and to release a long-held belief that anything worth achieving has to involve some suffering along the way. This is a work in process for me, and I'm still learning.

Trust others. This event required me to trust deeply. First, I had to trust that the coaches knew what they were doing - they'd put together a training program, support staff, and guidelines on nutrition, hydration and rest that were well thought out, tested, and would work. Secondly, I had to trust my body. Even though I had followed the training program to a tee, I had no idea if my body would hold up. Would it be able to keep going through the night? Would my joints give out? Would I have a debilitating injury along the way? I realized that I had to trust in my body, and know that it was well prepared. And finally (and probably the most joyous part of trust) was that I had to fully trust my younger sister, Annie. I have gravitated toward being the leader in front for my entire life. I naturally fall into that role at work, at home, with friends, in volunteer roles, you name it. It's probably why some of my closest friends have nicknamed me, "The Healer-Dealer." But in this event, I had to relinquish that role to Annie, who is far more experienced in endurance events. She helped me when I was too tired to fix my headlamp, to charge my phone, or to properly put on my rain gear; she made the hard decisions to keep going; and she kept our pace on target (even if that meant I didn't get all the rest I though I needed!). I had to trust in her leadership, and allow her to do what she did best.

As any other "self-proclaimed" leader in front knows, it can be really rewarding to lead from the front. Some of my most exhilarating moments have come when I've been privileged enough to lead teams to do extraordinary things. But there are times when it can also be EXHAUSTING, and when it doesn't serve others. It was a relief to let someone else (who is so much more capable than I am) lead. I'm continuing to experiment with playing other leadership roles, like leading beside, leading from behind, and leading from within. And learning what type of leadership is really needed in each situation.

Finally, my last lesson - if you're looking for a stretch goal, start with something you love. This event reminded me that when picking a challenge, I am far more likely to succeed if I center the activity around a unique strength, gift or passion of mine. I absolutely adore hiking. There is nothing like the physical, mental and emotional energy boost I get from being in nature, moving my body, and spending time with loved ones (a special shout out to all friends and family who trained with me). Needless to say, the preparation for the event was as rewarding as the event itself.

As I work with my clients around big changes they want to make, we start by examining their strengths, passions and natural gifts. We spend time exploring their values, their vision, and what gives them fuel and energy. And it's from those places - the rare intersection of our gifts, what we love to do, and what the world needs - that we find our greatest meaning and purpose.

Completing 29,029 was a life-changing event for me. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to share this experience with my sister. In fact, it was so inspiring that we are talking about signing up for another event in 2024. May the learning, growth and gratitude continue!

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Alison Dean
Alison Dean
21. Okt. 2023

To being an explorer always!!

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