What “life is a journey” means and why it’s important.
I was reminded of my Rainer expedition in 2000 called The Journey when I heard Tony Robbins speak at Dreamforce this year. The climb was used as a metaphor for life and designed to teach us Tony’s principles to be more successful. I had just started my consulting practice so it seemed like the perfect experience at the right time.
Mount Rainier is a technical climb similar to Everest. It requires a lot of training and preparation and even then, you may not make the summit. I remember getting the initial packet with information describing the climb. The packet included a story of someone on an expedition being left nailed to the side of the mountain in a sleeping bag. The thought of being “bagged and tagged” makes you either rise to the challenge or back out early.
I shared the story with my mother who’s a nurse. She advised against doing the climb because I have a condition that makes me susceptible to frostbite. I’m not one to shy away from a challenge even when the odds are stacked against me.
My decision was made in part by the idea of having a life changing adventure. I was already making big changes in my life and I saw it as an opportunity to learn the tools needed to be more successful. The expedition included: months of weekly calls to ensure our training was on track; assigned reading to help us develop the mindset of an endurance athlete; classroom time to prepare our mental state for the scariest parts of the climb like ladder bridges.
People die on Rainer every year. Our leader, John Chen CEO of Playtime, Inc. [pictured next to me] picked dates for the climb that would give us the best weather for a summit and gave us the tools needed to prepare. It was our job to use the tools and do the work.
Fitting in the training, the reading and the calls was challenging for everyone. However, like with everything in life you have to decide whether it’s important enough to make the time. I ran 6 miles/day almost every day, weight trained several days/week and hiked in the Marin Headlands on the weekends. I participated in the calls but admittedly, didn’t get through all the reading. It was everything that I could give at the time and didn’t know if it was enough.
The last day of our preparation was climb school so that we could test our rental gear and learn how to climb in rope teams. Imagine sliding down the mountain and having your entire team depending on your ability to stop them. It’s a matter of life and death on technical climbs. We ran up and down the mountain practicing self arrests over and over and then finished the day with a sprint to the bottom. Needless to say, it was a physically challenging day. For some members of our expedition, climb school was the end of their journey.
According to Tony Robbins, hunger is what makes people really successful and it usually comes from an unmet expectation in life. It’s not about complaining about what you did or didn’t get in your life. It’s about saying what you want now, how you want to experience it and putting in the work to get it. John knew many of us were hungry for more in life and that we might put our self interests of a summit ahead of the entire expedition. Putting your self interests ahead of your team on a mountain like Rainer can be a matter of life and death. So he kept reminding us that success was not the summit but rather the journey.
It’s a tough message to grasp when you’ve showed up to climb the mountain but it becomes more clear as you start climbing. It’s a long slow process — think marathon and not sprint. We stopped to rest, rehydrate and refuel even if we weren’t tired, thirsty or hungry. It was the discipline needed to manage our energy to complete the climb — and in many respects, the discipline needed to succeed in life. If there is no fuel in the tank, you’re not going to get very far.
Climb School vs. The Climb
For me, the climb was harder than climb school. All the running and drills made me work hard enough to keep warm. The elements on the mountain combined with the slow pace made it really hard for me to generate enough heat to keep my extremities warm. However, I made it to the shack at 10,000 feet where we spent the night. I envied the people who brought the heater meals and hot tea. Definitely worth the extra weight if you’re planning to do the climb.
We woke in the early hours of the next day to head off for the summit. That’s when the mental preparation really pays off. It was pitch black when we were tethered to our rope teams for the first time. Getting the spacing right was difficult in the dark. I could feel the tug on the rope when it was time for the next step — whether I was ready or not. Imagine walking on the side of a cliff and only having enough light from your headlamp to see one step ahead. It’s scary especially if you are not mentally prepared.
When we stopped for a rest, my teeth were chattering uncontrollably. I had a decision to make — either turn back with a few others or carry on and hope that my body would somehow start generating more heat. I decided to turn back because I couldn’t see my condition getting better. It was disappointing but not worth losing my toes, fingers or nose to frostbite and putting others at risk. I may have made a different decision with realtime weather updates. However, like many things in life you have to make the best decision with the information available to you at the time.
So what is the journey? The journey is the experiences you have, the people that you meet, the milestones that you achieve and the breakthroughs you have while preparing for the event. The actual event whether it’s a climb, marathon or another challenge becomes less important.
It takes time to master new skills. Marc Benioff reportedly attended one of Tony’s workshops 3 times and listened to his tapes before deciding to create Salesforce. When you are ready there are three things that you need to do no matter what your goal: make a decision, take [massive] action and have the hunger to pursue the journey no matter how long it takes or how hard it gets. Most importantly, don’t forget to enjoy the journey.
I hope that by sharing my experience on The Journey you get insight needed to apply the three steps to achieve your own goals.
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