”I’d rather climb another Kilimanjaro, or swim across another Bosphorus, than speak in front of a large audience :))” was echoing in my mind as I was readying myself to step on stage and deliver my speech-ul at ContiTalks, during an internal company event…
About two weeks earlier, I was invited at ValuesDay to talk about the experiential learning I extracted from my travels on high mountains. In slow motion a new apparently insurmountable obstacle was rising in my way: to speak coherently and with meaning in front of a numerous public. I knew I wanted to share my experiences, and at the same time I was seeing fear sniffing the perfect prey. The choice, as always, was in my hands…
Then the climb of Kilimanjaro came into memory: even though it is hard, it surly is achievable, and in the end the victory will be liberating and will guarantee growth. So, I accepted a new challenge of my limits!
The speech delivered later turned out well and the public liked it, and in addition I felt again the freedom of being beyond a new limit, and a boost in confidence as I grew one step higher 🙂 This is the grace and guarantee of experiential learning from transformative travels!
Below, I invite you to join my journey, exploring the transcript of the talk I delivered entitled “Transformative travel – if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!“:
Like every one of you, from Monday to Friday, I spend a good part of my day working at my job, in the office. Friday evenings, whenever I have the chance, I go to the mountains mostly for trekking, rarely mountaineering. And for a few weeks per year, you know how it is with vacation days, I travel in a faraway corner of the world to climb a high mountain, to discover a culture different from our own, and to explore the world outside the limits of my comfort zone.
Everything started about 4 years ago, when I was leaving, a bit anxious and 100% sedentary, straight from my office job to Morocco, to climb North Africa’s highest mountain: Djebel Toubkal. It was for the first time I was climbing above 4000m and obviously I had all sorts of fears: of altitude sickness, of the difficulty of the climb, of traveling as a woman in a Muslim country. I must confess that for me the climb wasn’t easy at all, and I don’t remember it fondly. When I reached the summit, I swore to myself I would never climb another high mountain again… without training properly… :))
for the first time above 4000m, on North Africa‘s highest peak – Toubkal – 4167m
Returning home resigned, but not discouraged, I started a moderate training, since I already had set my eyes on the next mountain I wanted to climb. Luckily, we in the IT industry don’t have too many vacation days per year, and I have enough time both to train and to save money, and in less than a year I was in the Himalayas, with a few less fears, climbing towards 5000m, in one of the acclimatization days of Everest Base Camp trek. With tears running down my cheeks, I was complaining that I can’t go on any further, that it is too hard and I won’t make it. Seeing that no one was paying any attention to my complaints, and that I have little choice, I wiped my tears and slowly continued up staring at my altimeter. When I reached 5000m for the first time, I realized that not only did I made it up till there, but somehow I felt I could climb even higher… Three days later I was climbing KalaPatthar peak, 5550m high. I still had fears, but now I knew that my limits come exclusively from my mind, the real challenge being to conquer not a mountain, but… my mind, climbing the summit following afterwords naturally. So, I started climbing through the night, clenching my teeth when it was hard, stopping to catch my breath, and repeating like a mantra at each step “I can do it!” until I reached the summit. There, from across the valley, an arm’s length away, smiling countre-jour in the rising sun, was Everest, The Roof of the World…
Again, I return home, and between the days at my job, I made room to train for a new challenge of my limits: the cross-continental swim across the Bosporus strait, from Asia to Europe, in Istanbul. I learnt to swim when I was 17, in a “small pool”, and now it was for the first time I was swimming in a sea, with “fear of open waters”, “without bottom”, “without edges”, fear of waves, fear of cold waters, fear of…fear 🙂 Then and there, as I dived from the Asian shore into the Marmara Sea, I… died 🙂 And, 6.5km further, on the other shore, I was reborn, free from the self-limitation of “impossible”. A month later I was travelling fear-free in the Islamic Republic of Iran and climbing Asia’s highest volcano, Damavand, smiling. This time I wasn’t defining any more boundaries until where I could climb, I knew I could climb as much as it was necessary.
Now the time had come to aim higher, towards Kilimanjaro, The Roof of Africa at almost 6000m. I heard many things about this mountain. That it is hard, that you have to push yourself to climb it, that you feel you can’t climb any more. So I started a serious training program, almost daily, permanently keeping my goal alive in my mind.
When I reached Equatorial Africa everything seemed unreal, like a dream, I couldn’t believe I was really there, climbing on Kilimanjaro. Climbing Kili was almost like a walk in a park. I couldn’t understand why others said it was hard. Until 5600m I felt it was easy. Only from there upwards did it start to feel more difficult and I needed to “engage the 4×4 reducer” and to turn to my trusty resource in need for when it gets tough: “the secret altitude breathing” and the walking rhythm: breath, step, breath, step. My training was proving its worth and the experiential learning from my previous climbs was giving me the certainty I could do it. And I did it! I reached Kilimanjaro’s summit, at 5895m, among multi-millennial glaciers, above the now extinct volcanic crater, and an ocean of clouds below us. Now I knew that if I made it here, I can do anything!
I climbed Kilimanjaro, I can do anything!
Less than two month later I was again in the Himalayas, this time climbing above 6000m, on Lobuche East peak. Climbing step by step, and breath by breath, beyond hard and “I can’t climb anymore”, until up on the summit, where Himalaya’s eternally frozen, boundless sea of white huge peaks was waiting for us…
For me, Kilimanjaro is now ever present, and anytime I encounter a challenge, I know that “if I climbed Kilimanjaro, I can do this too!”.
Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to conquer Mt.Everest, once said, “Climbing mountains on the outside, is climbing mountains on the inside!” These mountain climbs I felt also as self-exploring and self-discovering transforming journeys, through which I identified and overcame new and new limits, I brought to light unknown aspects of my personality, some pleasant, some not so, with which I worked to become a better version of myself and to redefine what I consider achievable by me and the way I approach challenges in my private life, as well as at my job.
I particularly invite each of you to have the courage to explore beyond the limits of our comfort zone, overcoming our limits in an ecological and harmonious way, redefining again and again what truly is p o s i b l e for each of us…
Alexandra, your Solaris expedition fairy 🙂Tags: africa, bosphorus, climb, everst, himalaya, istanbul, kilimanjaro, limit, mountain, nepal, speech, swim, transformative, travel