I would rather risk the acute pain of failure than live with the dull ache of regret.
To avoid failure and the disappointment that follows, It’s often easier not to try at all. I’ve done that myself. One of the great life lessons Everest taught me: Don’t let your ambitions lie fallow. Every time I’ve shied away from trying something with an unknown outcome, I first felt relief, having let myself off the hook, but it wasn’t long before inevitable regret crept up behind me. By then…too late! The opportunity has passed. The ship has sailed. All the shoulda-coulda-woulda gets ugly fast. Expedition planning has taught me that it’s better to try something, in the fullness of one’s own effort, and fail, than to give up and forever wonder “what if?”. There’s no dishonour in failing. But there is misery in living with the regret that comes of never having tried.
Fear is a friend–not a foe.
Mountains are not to be “conquered.” It took me a long time to learn this; I confused rock and snow, cold and wind for the enemy. What I really needed to conquer was my antipathy toward, my utter hatred of, “fear.” I began thinking I had to conquer fear–my fear of falling, yes, but more importantly, my fear of failing, that fear that I have always found insidious and paralyzing. I was afraid of the unknown, of being judged, of being alone out there, and so much more. So I converted my effort to “conquer” Everest into an all-consuming effort to conquer my fears–until I realized that fear wasn’t my enemy any more than a mountain was my enemy. Everest was just an extraordinary piece of rock and ice and snow that I had chosen to make part of my life.
Another part of life, then, is fear. And it’s not foe, but friend. In fact, fear was perhaps my very best friend, an ally in life’s pursuits. I realized the only way of coming to grips with paralyzing fear was to embrace the fear itself. Fear causes us to pause. Encourages sober second thought. Ask any novice skydiver–fear brings intense focus and boundless energy. The absence of fear isn’t bravery, it’s foolhardiness. And that’s exceedingly dangerous. Psychopathic too, possibly even maniacal. In climbing, an absence of fear is suicidal. It’s not only okay to be afraid…it’s essential.
Get comfortable with uncertainty.
It’s falsely comforting to think otherwise, but so much in life is beyond our control. On a mountain, the climber cannot control the weather, the snow pack, the rock quality, their rope partners, corrupt governments, other teams, or who’s taking their girlfriend for dinner in their absence. Get used to it. Everest taught me to focus on what I can control and taught me to trust in my ability to thrive, come what may. Everest prepared me to deal successfully with the chaotic uncertainty that plagued every step of our adventure into the desert Empty Quarter of southern Arabia. The weeks and months leading up to the desert crossing were full of the kinds of uncertainties plaguing every expedition. But, maddening as these were, they were nothing compared with the uncertainties we faced in the desert itself with our camels, the weather, our route, and our Bedu companions. It’s taken me years, and endless struggles and failures, to figure out how to deal with uncertainties. Still, at times, they plague me–in adventures, in business, in daily life. What Everest has taught me: not just to “cope with” uncertainty, but indeed how to revel in it as part of life’s thrill.
Doing the hard thing will bring you value.
The easy way is seductive, always there waiting to be taken. But the easy way leads nowhere worth going. It’s distraction. Idle temptation. And a dead end, so far as we care about any lasting achievement. The hard way, the right way, is more work, more pain, more struggle. It’s more intense and, ultimately, more alive. Everest taught me to stop being distracted by the easy route, the usual practice, the obvious tool. Our first two trips to Everest ended in our failure to achieve the summit. But these “failures” made all the more deliciously sweet the last two trips when I did make it to the top. It’s for good reason that the hard way is hard.
Simple solution + consistent execution = success and elegance.
No Chuck Norris Total Gym, no Suzanne Summers ThighMaster will get you fit. There’s no healthy eating secret in George Foreman’s Grill or Ron Popeil’s ShowTime Rotisserie. The supermarket magazine solutions and late-night infomercials magnify life’s challenges while offering gimmicky, sure-fire answers. Magic and sleight-of-hand, all of it. But authentic solutions contain no magic. The secret is: There is no “secret.” The power of good, simple solutions comes from consistent action. Neither Everest nor any other peak, literal or figurative, is every truly reached in a single leap for “three easy payments of $19.99.” The climbing that leads to what’s worthwhile goes one hand-hold, one hard-won step at a time. All life’s mountains–the ones that count–get climbed this same way. Everest taught me: There is no substitute for consistent action, day in, day out. It’s not easy. But it is elegant, and it is simple.