What I learnt about myself from climbing 5545 metre mountain in -20-degree conditions

We have all heard the phrase ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’, though that is often easier said than done. Our common instinct in times of trial or being outside of our comfort zone can be to lose confidence, take a step back, and ultimately accept a sense of defeat. However, we as humans are also capable of extraordinary feats, especially in times of change and adversity.

My resilience was definitely tested during my 18 day trek through Nepal in January this year. I have a reputation in my office for being a bit of a ‘fitness freak’, which involves me being at the gym quite often and partaking in hiking and adventure races over my weekend. While most people use weekends as a quality rest period I tend to strive and push myself to see what I am capable of.

Shortly after the New Year, our group had come to the hardest part of our trip in Nepal, reaching the top of Kala Plattar (5545m). After countless nights of poor sleep due to the altitude, and physical restraints of only being able to make baby steps when climbing hills, we had a 6.30am departure (before breakfast) to the top of Kala Plattar, which was supposed to have one of the greatest 360 degree views on our trip so far.

The sun had not yet reached the hill that we were climbing, and overnight a wind had picked up that created a chill of -20 degrees. The walk took our group just over two hours to complete and even without packs on it was a struggle. We were spread out at our own pace but the sideways wind was blowing strong and I could feel it to my core.

I was tired, cold and hungry and I honestly thought that I could not make it to the top. Tears built up in my eyes and while I wanted to have a tantrum, no one was surrounding me to hear it, nor would it have made getting to the top any more productive.

I knew that I had two options; to go back the way I came, which would take at least an hour only to prove that I had wasted time, or I could make it to the top, experience this once in a lifetime experience and head back down with feelings of achievement, celebrating over a well-deserved breakfast.

And that was the reality at the end of the day. When would I ever get to experience being here again? Would I want my memory of this day to be that I didn’t make my hardest challenge so far and spend the rest of my days wondering ‘what if’?

So there I was at that crossroad where I knew my decision would affect the outcome of this overall experience. So what did I do? I climbed it. And the views were incredible. Not only that, but one of my teammates brought chocolate to the top and that was perhaps the best tasting chocolate I have ever had in my life! I have some amazing photographs that I was able to show my friends and family, and while it was a hard day for me, I overcame it, which is often the outcome for all of us if we take on the challenge.

The most successful people are often those that are the most resilient. But just like any new skill resilience isn’t built overnight.

So what is resilience?

Resilience is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe. Psychologists have long recognised the capabilities of humans to adapt and overcome risk and adversity. Individuals and communities are able to rebuild their lives even after devastating tragedies.  Being resilient doesn’t mean going through life without experiencing stress and pain. People feel grief, sadness, and a range of other emotions after adversity and loss. The road to resilience lies in working through the emotions and effects of stress and painful events.

So what personal or professional challenges are you scared of taking on? Are situations changing around you and you have to make a decision? Or perhaps you have been in a similar situation in the past. If so what did you do to overcome it?