Ten years ago, on a warm summer evening, I sat down with my husband after a long day at the office. We discussed our respective days at work, and the discussion shifted toward life plans, goals and projects. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation turned in that direction, but when it was over, we’d decided to climb one of the highest mountains in the world: Mount Kilimanjaro.
Located in Tanzania and standing a whopping 5,895 meters (19,341 ft.) above sea level, Kilimanjaro is the highest peak in Africa. Over the past few years, it has become the focus of environmental research because of its shrinking glaciers and vanishing ice fields. My husband and I are both keen hikers, so the idea didn’t come completely out of the blue Kilimanjaro fit the bill: it was high, it was interesting and it was doable (with significant training, of course!).
That climb was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life: a limit-testing expedition that was also a true journey of self-discovery. Since then, I often find myself reflecting on the similarities between our professional paths and such challenges. I’ve mapped them out into three simple categories that can be applied as career advice, or life advice: setting goals and preparing; facing surprises and imponderables along the way, and having a guide — not only to lean on, but to help you soak up the learnings.
Preparation and Goal Setting
I frequently tell my teams: the most challenging thing in life is to a have a vision, a clear view of the direction you want to take. The rest is execution. When thinking about life and career goals, these should be challenging, but achievable. Many of you are probably thinking: how do you know if a goal is achievable until you start execution? You’re absolutely right. Trust your gut and your expertise that your objectives are challenging but doable, and then start. The first step is the most important one.
There will be times when you want to run and others when you will need to rest and regain your energy, which is the fuel for critical thinking. My advice: establish the pace of your journey. Decide when you want to walk, when you need to run and how you’ll choose your rest stops. You need energy to get to the end, but you also need to see progress along the way. Prepare for each step, but expect the unexpected and welcome it.
The biggest takeaway when it comes to preparation and goal setting is to always put things into perspective. Celebrate every achievement, even the small ones. Before the climb, I thought the toughest part would be the physical exertion, the exhaustion of walking hours on end and having to restart the next day. In the end, the hardest part of the climb ended up being the scarce access to clean water and air, heavily rarefied as we climbed higher and higher. But we had prepared; wen hardship came in multiple ways, we addressed it and moved on. Although it was important to reflect, over-thinking our steps would not get us any further.