On this day 8 years ago I stood on the Roof of Africa.
For me it was the pinnacle of a 5-day arduous and eventful trek to conquer Mt Kilimanjaro and the culmination of 10 months of training that resulted in me going from complete hill walking novice to successfully summitting a height of 5895m above sea level and the clouds, under my own steam.
This isn’t a ‘look what I did, aren’t I amazing?’ post because had I not been there to witness it myself, I too would doubt that it actually happened. In fact, I spent the majority of those 10 months pre-Kili swinging wildly between a state of excitement and complete terror about what I’d signed up for.
I’m writing this post because today, my ‘Kiliversary’ I feel I’ve earned the right to reflect on the experience in its entirety and more importantly, on the impact and legacy of deciding to take that first step outside my comfort zone.
You see, since 1993 I’ve lived in and around the Ochil Hills and beautiful as they are to look at, until 2012 I’d never once considered trying to climb one. That sort of craic was for the Anorak Brigade with their penchant for technical, yet comfortable clothing and sensible shoes, wasn’t it?
Not my cup of tea at all.
On top of that, many years of hockey related injuries and my innate propensity to fall over on the most level and hazard-free of surfaces meant I was no stranger to A&E and I was on first name terms with my orthopaedic surgeon. Climbing mountains for me was therefore ill-advised and, well downright dangerous.
In spite of this, I barely hesitated when I was asked to take part and on reflection, I was yearning for a bit of excitement and adventure but I had no idea how that one small act would impact on my life.
The subsequent months saw me transform into a fully-fledged member of the Anorak Brigade. I had *all* the gear and my idea of a treat was to visit the ‘big Tiso’ in Perth to check out merino wool base layers and the extensive array of technical hillwalking gadgetry.
My first small group hill walk (where I huffed and puffed my way, slowly to the top), led to bigger hills, eventually some Munros and finally the mighty Ben Nevis. I’m not going to dwell on my experience on ‘The Ben’ suffice to say that whilst I did reach the top, I don’t think anyone could persuade me to do that again. Ever.
The training climbs, mostly with my fellow wannabe Kili Conquerors were tough but I loved them – we were in it together and forged a special type of camaraderie that has bonded most of us to this day. We were a continual source of encouragement to one another, I had people around me with a common goal who also shared my new-found enthusiasm for technical clothing and online kit bargains and we laughed, a lot.
When the time eventually came for us to fly to Tanzania to start our epic adventure, I was riddled with anxiety. Whilst it had been lurking for months, it massively escalated as our departure date loomed. What on earth was I doing? What kind of mother runs away to Africa and leaves her baby and toddler behind? What if I fall off the mountain and die?
I’ve never actually written anything about my Kilimanjaro experience in its entirety and today isn’t that day but I will share what I learned.
Since the day I stood at Uhuru Peak, surrounded by breath taking glaciers with tears streaming down my face, I have faced many ‘mountains’ in my life. None quite so literal as the highest free-standing mountain in Africa or God forbid, Ben Nevis, but for me, mountains will forever be symbolic of the challenges that have come my way. Trust me, there have been days when the thought of tackling the dreaded ironing pile has felt more daunting than climbing an actual mountain.
We all have things that challenge us – some of us actively set ourselves challenges, whether it’s running a 10k, giving up chocolate for Lent, or launching a new business.
Challenges can also come our way that are uninvited, unexpected and very difficult.
Taking that first step towards meeting each challenge is the start to achieving your goal, whatever it is and however big or small. If you don’t take any action, nothing will change.
The path isn’t always smooth – ups and downs are inevitable; life is full of gains and setbacks but putting one foot in front of the other, however falteringly, will edge you closer to your goal. I honestly believe that even had I not made it to the top of that mountain, the effect on my life would have been the same – because I would always have taken that first step.
You don’t have to go it alone – on Kilimanjaro, when I felt afraid or uncertain, one of our amazing guides would always offer words of encouragement and support. A memory that will forever remain with me is also being offered a hand from my guide. There I was, a proper grown up and very capable woman, walking up a mountain, hand in hand with another human being and in that moment instantly feeling safe.
The biggest lesson I learned from Kilimanjaro was this:
When you do things that scare you, it may just change your life.
When I returned from Tanzania, I knew that some things had to change. I had worked with the same amazing charity for over 11 years and even though I loved it, I also knew that I was far too comfortable and needed to stretch myself professionally. So, I left and moved into my first executive role in another charity. It wasn’t easy, far from it but I learned that sometimes going after something you really want, might mean leaving something you love behind.
For my children, I’d like to think they’ve learned that anything is possible – even if you’re a bit old, have dodgy knees and the obstacle in your way seems enormous. If you set a goal for yourself, put the work in and be sure to ask for and accept help along the way – you can achieve anything you want to.
Granted, even if we weren’t in a state of lockdown, running off to Africa isn’t for everyone, nor does it need to be but everyone will face their own ‘Kilimanjaro’ at some point. How you choose to tackle it is up to you.
Over the years, coaching has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone again and again and again.
I’d love to hear from you if you want support to achieve your goals, to make plans towards taking that critical first step – even if it scares you.