In a previous post I talked about a lesson I learned from a slow-moving old man who passed me again and again in the hills of Nepal. At another point as I climbed higher, another lesson was waiting.
One of my most memorable moments of trekking in Nepal was the day that I reached the highest altitude of my trip–over 15,000 feet. I had spent a cold night in a small lodge in the village of Dingboche. My climbing partner, an Australian man I had met in Kathmandu, was too ill with altitude sickness to proceed further, so I decided to take a day hike on my own. While I am usually pretty hardy in terms of altitude, I started to get altitude sick as I began climbing.
Focus on the one step in front of you.
As I walked up the trail, taking in gorgeous views of Everest and Ama Dablam, I began to feel more of the effects of high altitude. My head hurt, my stomach was quesy. I knew I could just turn around, but I wanted to achieve the top of a nearby hill. At a key moment as I plodded along slowly, thinking about turning back, I had a flash of insight that I still remember clearly today: if you look down at your boots and just take one step, it’s not that hard. Most of us can take the one small step before us. What can be harder is to look at the whole mountain you are climbing, and to see how far you have to go. The psychology is very different. If you focus on the one step you are currently taking, you are very present and your task is limited and easy. Anyone can take that one step. But if you always have your gaze fixed up at the top of the mountain, especially if it’s early in your journey, it may look too far away and too tough to climb.
Achieving an important leadership goal can be the same. It can seem so daunting, like you could never make it all the way up there. But if you keep your attention focused on where you are now and the next right step, it’s not so hard.
At times, look up at the mountain
While looking at your feet can make the journey easier, is also important at times to look up at the whole mountain you are climbing. Otherwise, how do you know you are still heading the right direction? How do you remember why you are even on the trail in the first place? In leadership, this means that you and the people you lead must keep in mind the context of what you’re trying to achieve. If you lose sight of that, you can end up taking wrong turns. A good climber (a good leader) knows when it’s the right time to look up at the mountain, to be inspired, stay on the best paths and remember the reason that you’re there; and knows when it’s a good time to look down and remember that you can’t climb the whole mountain in one step, and that all you really have to do right now is take the one step in front of you.