I spend the next 15 minutes processing just how unsettling accurate this statement is likely to be. My mind fights with me, questioning my ability and worthiness to even be on this mountain, attempting this climb. All the reasons to quit now start rushing into my mind. Luckily, I realise this response as fear, my body’s primal response to push me back to safety. So, with a deep breath, I summon every bit of courage I have and stare that peak down. Something in me shifts. My fear is replaced with belief and determination and I soon settle into a steady, comfy pace and enjoy the beauty of my surrounds.
An hour or so later comes challenge number two. Injury. What began as a dull ache in my butt swiftly turns to a burning sensation down the whole front of my hip and thigh. This is the very pain that has been wiping the floor with me in the months leading up to the climb. I knew this would happen, but nowhere near this early in the piece. Once again my mind starts chattering, questioning my ability to endure the pain for such a large portion of the climb. But, like it or not, the pain is here. I cannot control it, only my responses to it.
So I let these thoughts pass and instead focus on employing the strategies I have developed to deal with this obstacle. I’ve trained my body in different ways of walking to shift weight distribution and alleviate discomfort and I’ve trained my mind with walking meditation to manage the pain. A short break and some food revitalise me and once again I get over the hump and find my rhythm.
Scenery, sunshine, fresh air, movement… its Sam nirvana! This is exactly how I imagined this experience to be. I’m in my zone, that sweet spot where reality matches expectations. The mountain; however, has other things in store. Before I know it my nice little walking track and wilderness vegetation is swiftly replaced with a near horizontal gradient and nothing but rocks all the way to the summit. Its decision time. Either I fold or go all in. Refusing to waste the opportunity before me, I say goodbye to hiking and hello to my rock climbing debut.
There is no doubt I am out of my comfort zone, but I take each step in my stride. My pace slows but my determination does not. It’s tough, but manageable. But once again, the mountain is a harsh teacher. Before long, the gradient gets steeper, the rocks larger and the climbing harder. At times I am literally clinging to the side of this mountain. My focus narrows as adrenalin begins to flow through my body. I concentrate on one rock at a time, but my lack of skill is becoming evident and we are now fighting against daylight as well as my capability to reach the summit before dark.
My guide stops me and goes ahead to assess. Returning without his pack I am hopeful we are close to the top. That he has left his pack at the summit and will take mine to allow me to make the rest of the journey easier. But with one look at his face I can tell the reality of the situation is very different.
“Sam, I’m concerned. What lies ahead is increasingly more difficult and I’m not sure it’s within your capability. Your safety is now my primary concern.”
Even now I think: “What?.. No way, I’ve got this”. But as my guide, I know his judgement is more sound than my own. No further words are spoken. I know the decision has been made and ultimately it is the right one.
Failure, disappointment, regret and exhaustion flood my body and I begin to cry. The feelings are overwhelming and for a moment I can’t move. The minute I take a step back down that mountain I have been defeated. Even now, my will is still fighting my capability.
“I’ve failed” is all I can utter. “Are you kidding me?” he retorts. “Today you’ve done things you’ve never done or thought possible for yourself. How is that failing? If you define success on a mountain as simply reaching the summit, you’re missing the point. It is the journey, not the destination that makes you great. It is with each step that you grow, learn and demonstrate what you are made of.”
As I lay in the tent that night my disappointment is replaced with pride. Did I reach the top, no. Did I give it absolutely everything I had, yes. I came for a life changing experience and that is exactly what I got. I learned so much more about myself than had I simply waltzed up an easier mountain just to see a sunset.
On the day the mountain turned out to be too great for me. But I will gladly pay the cost. In defeat I learned humility, self-awareness and what I need to do to improve and better position myself for success in the future.
So next time you are faced with a challenge, don’t run. Instead, be brave. Lean into your fear and grow. Nothing worth doing comes easy. If you want to be your best self, you need to stretch and in stretching, you must change your relationship with failure. It is not something to be feared but something to be encouraged. Understand and accept that on the path to success you will fail, (possibly many times), but it is with these experiences you will find the exact lessons you need to take you to the next level.
“I will come again and I will conquer you because as a mountain you can’t grow.
But as a human, I can”
– Sir Edmund Hillary