I have started keeping a daily blog to recount my preparations as prepare for my hike up Kilimanjaro in July. In researching for this blog I found a site that showed the daily journals of hikers on their approach to the summit and as they made it to the top. Later in the evening, as I read further I noticed that one post did not recount tales as trekkers arrived at this camp or the next one, nor did it say that someone just summited, however it did say that two trekkers fell ill due to the low oxygen conditions and they had to be taken down the mountain. Their attempt to summit Kilimanjaro ended far too soon. I have to admit I was sad and their story stayed in my thoughts. As my head touched the pillow and my eyes slowly started to close the blog post about the two trekkers was still on my mind. This morning during my first workout it hit me and I thought to myself how sad I was for them.
It made me reflect a bit on my life, where I had come from and what I valued in life. Was I afraid? We are taught in life that there are two basic answers to the question of a personal challenge, fight or flight. This is perhaps the worst lesson that we can learn as it promotes fear to a level it should not achieve. Some of the greatest stories of the ages are of people who accomplished one of two things in a situation where they had fear; they faced it and overcame or they faced it and failed. Many times you will find both. Even the most basic of scientific discoveries are a long list of failures leading through to some truth and of course the discovery.
Today, I thought for a while about what if I get sick, what if I get sick at 17000 feet, and what then? That is when my day turned around. I could answer this from experience. You see, I have the fortune or misfortune of remembering my failures in life and the resulting outcomes. I failed a lot in life! It is absolutely amazing how much I have failed, but that is not my story. My story in this blog post is about what happens after the failure. It takes me back about twenty-seven years and to one of the scariest moments of my life. As a young man I had lost my job, could not pay my rent, sold my belongings to buy food and was counting down on the days until I was homeless. I was terrified – literally frozen by my fear. You see unemployment had run out, I think it was 16 weeks back then but regardless it was insignificant.
I was wallowing in self-pity awaiting the end of my world. I wanted to see no one and of course talk to no one. That is when the phone on my wall rang; yes we had land lines back then. It was a friend of mine he wanted to come down and have some beers and I said that I did not feel like it I was broke and miserable. He said “look I will come down with the beers” and after a ton of prodding and insisting I agreed. He had to walk a few minutes to the Quincy T station and catch a bus down to Hough’s Neck. It was a warm summer’s night and he was full of energy and very excited. We walked down to the sea wall and looked across the harbor to Boston. We both cracked a beer and started talking.
After about five minutes he pulled a bottle out of the bag, it could have been JD or it could have been champagne, I do not remember but I will never forget what he said; “Bob, let’s celebrate”, I responded “Celebrate?” , he replied “Yes Celebrate.” I was thinking he must be crazy, he took a swig and said “to your next job-you always land on your feet doing so much better than you did in the past” and then he passed the bottle. I took the bottle and looked across the harbor to Boston and said, “Thanks and one day I will be in charge of systems at that building in Boston . “ He was right I would get up on my feet again, I would get a better job and I would fail again and get up again. On that day I had a clarity that was never forgotten. I would fail, over and over and I should never fear it but I should look at it as an opportunity.
My thoughts then turned to my own climbing and that has been mixed with failures and successes. It is also true that some of the most epic failures have led to the most epic successes. I thought to myself that from the moment those trekkers stepped on the trail at Kilimanjaro they had succeeded! They did not need my pity and they blazed a trail for me. I finished my workout, hit a sauna and felt honored to be amongst a group of people that challenged their fears. It is important to understand that success is often preceded by failures and the failures are often as epic as the success. So good luck in your next failure – may it lead to amazing successes.