Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Have you ever had a dream? A dream of doing something extraordinary? Of becoming something else, someone else, really achieving something, giving meaning to your life, having a purpose, instead of just ‘being’? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? Isn’t that what we all dream of?
But more often than not we see these dreams as impossible, as things only other people do, not us. Only other people have successful businesses, only other people become millionaires, only other people can get out of the rut they’ve been in for years and turn their life around, only other people sail across the Atlantic Ocean or climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world… Well if that’s what you really believe, I want you to think again.
I’m just like you, and I’m also one of those ‘other people’. I have not only sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, but I have climbed up Mount Everest and stood on the summit of the highest mountain on Earth. I have seen a view of the world, of the universe, that very few have seen. I have looked down on the Earth from 29,000 feet, a height where you feel you can reach up and touch the stars, and I have looked in wonder at the beautiful cobalt blue of a sky that curves away into infinity. I have lived the dream. But in reality, I really am just like you.
Life for me has not been plain sailing by any means. It’s been something of a roller-coaster ride, just like it is for most people. I got married at 25, for all the wrong reasons, and at 26 I was a divorcee. I married again, and spent 12 happy years with my husband until he suddenly died, and I found myself a widow at the age of 39. This was a shock. It was not something which was in my life plan. But that difficult and emotional experience taught me several lessons. One of which is that you can’t plan your life.
You think it’s settled, you’re happily married, you make all sorts of plans for the future, and then all of a sudden, bang! Your life collapses around you. There are many times in our lives when we come to a crossroads, and whichever way we decide to turn, it is going to change the direction of our lives forever. If I hadn’t married my first husband and divorced at that first major road junction, I wouldn’t have married my second husband and found myself a widow at the age of 39. But if that hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have found myself at yet another major crossroads, and chosen the direction which would eventually lead me to the summit of Mount Everest.
The other major lesson I learnt from this experience was that you can’t be complacent; you have to get on with life, take opportunities when they present themselves, don’t let life pass you by, because you don’t know how long you’ve got. My husband dying was a huge wake up call for me. It took me a little while to get up and dust myself off, but when I did I jumped at the first opportunity that came my way. The opportunity to do something for myself. I realised how much I had been living in my husband’s shadow. I had been a ‘wife’, living his life. Now it was my turn. I came to the realization that it is my life to do what I want with and no one else‘s. And it just so happened that the path of my life was going to take me to the summit of Mount Everest.
Climbing a mountain is a bit like life; it is a journey, a challenge, from it’s base, to the summit, and down again. And the bigger the mountain, or the greater the challenge, the longer and harder the journey is. There are many difficulties and dangers along the way, and sometimes it seems too much. Almost impossible to overcome them alone. At times like that we feel we have perhaps taken on too great a challenge and must give up. Which is why so many of our dreams don’t come true. It’s not that we don’t have the capability of fulfilling them, because we do. It’s just that our goal often seems too big a challenge to take on alone, or perhaps we can’t see a way of achieving it. Or perhaps we don’t even know, or can’t see, what our goal, our life purpose is. This is where a Life Coach is invaluable. Having someone along on your journey to light the way ahead, to guide you, to believe in you, to encourage you, just knowing that you are not facing this challenge alone, can be the one thing that you need to get you to the summit of your own Everest – whatever that may be.
Before I climbed Everest, when I was newly widowed and in a deep spiral of despair, feeling lost and alone, not able to see a way out of the dark tunnel I found myself in, it never occurred to me that it would be useful to have someone who could guide me through the darkness to the light. Growing up, my experience of life had been that you battle through life’s challenges alone, you grit your teeth and bear it, you don’t ask for help. But my experience of Everest changed all that. It changed everything.
I didn’t climb to the summit of Mount Everest alone. I had a “Life Coach”, a Guide with me. But my Guide came in the guise of a Sherpa called Ang Nuru. Someone who lives in the shadow of Mount Everest, who understands and respects the mountain, who knows, lives and breathes it. He possessed all the qualities of a perfect life coach. He not only showed me the way, but, more importantly, he gave me the belief and encouragement that I did have the necessary qualities to do what I really wanted to do – to be able to fulfill my dream. This experience made me realise that we all need a Sherpa in our life. Someone who believes in us when we doubt, someone to support and encourage us when our will is weak. Just like a life coach, my Sherpa recognised qualities in me that I didn’t see. He recognized me as someone who could go to the top, but my own light was dim and I couldn’t see it in myself. We can be 95% fit for a task, but we are often afraid of taking the last few steps towards our goal, because there is risk involved or we lack belief in ourselves. Having someone there with us to light the way, to hold our hand and be there with us while we do it, helps us take that final step towards our dream – because we are not doing it alone. But although we are not doing it alone, we still do it ourselves. We still make all the moves and take the final steps to the summit ourselves. Having someone along on the journey gives us courage. Someone who knows the goal can be achieved not only because they see it in us, but because they have been there before us. They know that if they can do it, then so can we, because they also know that if we can dream it we can achieve it.
The Sherpa who stood on the summit of Mount Everest with me knew how hard it was because he had climbed it before. He also knew I could do it, because he had seen it in me. It was me that doubted. I lacked belief in myself. I wasn’t sure I could manage that last 5%. I had doubts that my body could cope with the difficulty and length of the climb, the lack of oxygen, the severe cold. I had never before climbed above 8000 metres, the altitude which is called the death zone. It is called that because if something goes wrong you are more likely to die than survive. People die up there every year. So it wasn’t just doubt that I had. It was fear too. But then two things happened…
When I arrived at the top camp at the South Col, my Sherpa came to my tent, looked me in the eyes and said: “You are very strong, you summit tomorrow no problem.” I sat there startled. I knew I had climbed quickly that day from camp 3, and I had felt good. But to know that my Sherpa, who was risking his life by coming to the summit with me, really believed in my ability to do it, actually gave me belief in myself. I could almost feel it coursing through my veins. It gave me strength. It gave me power. It gave me energy.
The other thing that happened was that I faced up my fear. And once you face up to your fear, you find that there is no fear, it is just the next thing you are doing. Fear is a perception of the mind, a block that stops us progressing in our life, doing the things we know we are capable of but are afraid to try. And facing up to my fear meant leaving my tent at 9.30pm in the dark to climb the last part of the mountain, the final 5%, which would take me to my goal. My summit of achievement. And so I struggled into my down suit, big boots, harness, head torch, mittens, crampons, picked up my ice axe, put on my oxygen mask and set off with my Sherpa to face up to my fears, knowing that he was beside me whatever happened.
And because Ang Nuru had given me courage, through his belief in me, to face these fears, once we started out up the mountain together they all dissolved. I found myself just climbing, doing what I knew how to do, and suddenly I knew that there was no doubt I would reach the summit. My fears were unfounded. It wasn’t too difficult, I wasn’t cold, and I could cope with the lack of oxygen. Because he had given me the courage to face my fear of climbing that last 5% of the mountain, I had the most magical, unforgettable experience of my life. When at last I was on the wavy crest of the summit ridge, I was very emotional. It was a profound indescribable feeling, not only of elation, but also of awe. Awe at the unbelievable beauty all around me, not just the pristine white snows of Mount Everest, the Mother Goddess of Earth, but the beauty of our world, our universe, which I could see all around me, below and above me.
It had been the most incredible journey, and I knew that any minute I would see my goal, the place I had been striving all these weeks to reach. The summit of Mount Everest. And then there it was, and I was climbing up the final slopes to the top of the highest mountain in the world.
But the last steps my Sherpa and I took together. We had climbed up this mountain together, and it seemed only right that we stepped onto the summit of Mount Everest together. He had helped me to realize my true potential, and it felt amazing. No man is an island and everyone of us needs a Sherpa, a coach, someone to guide us, to help us achieve our potential in this life. For we are deep wells of untapped potential. We really can do more than we could ever imagine. When I was 39 and newly widowed, it never ever occurred to me that I could possibly even contemplate climbing the highest mountain in the world. But five years later I did just that. And at the same time I discovered the true value of having another person along on the journey, someone who sees qualities in us that we have missed, or even dismissed. Someone who gives us the belief to do what it is we have always wanted to do, without taking our power away. Someone who will be our guide on that journey.
We are not meant to struggle through life alone. It isn’t a sign of weakness to ask for help. My experience taught me that when two people work together in this way, it can catapult you to levels of achievement that you would never have believed possible. Why settle for mediocrity when you can have the best, the biggest or the highest? After all, the danger is not in aiming too high, but in aiming too low and achieving it. You really don’t know what you can do until you try.
But first you have to dream it. So dream big! Because dreams really do come true.
Updated September 2014
Previous Articles by Sue Harper Todd