My intention was to climb the mountain and have a life altering, exhilarating, and inspiring journey. I would reach both physical and metaphorical new heights. I would return a champion. I trained, shopped (that was harder than training—so much gear!), read, read some more, researched, visualized… I was prepared, or so I thought.
Day 1, I climbed like a champ. I was singing, talking to the monkeys en route, and even supporting others with good cheer and bad jokes. I ate energy bars and stayed hydrated exactly as calculated. The elevation at our first camp was close to 10,000ft (3,000m), but I still felt fine and ate a healthy dinner of zucchini soup, sautéed greens, chicken, and ginger tea. (How ever did they make food that good on the mountain??)
But later in the evening, when I crawled into my tent to set up house, BAM! Intense headache, nonstop nausea and vomiting, and a non-existent sleeping bag pad all quickly became contenders for first prize in the discomfort category. I spent one of the worst, most uncomfortable nights of my life. I slept not a moment.
The next morning I was so weak I couldn’t even lift a mug of tea. When I asked for help, our guide told me, and I quote: “This is normal, don’t worry.” From my point of view there was nothing normal about what I was feeling and, while I tried hard not to worry, I was actually very worried (does that strategy ever work?). When I told our guide that I thought I needed to descend, he held up his hand to me (talk to the hand!) and said, “NO.”
In the back of my throbbing head, a chorus of voices was screaming, “Don’t quit! Find the energy! Dig down! You got this!”
But suddenly, perhaps for the first time ever, a quiet and brand new voice whispered, “Maybe you don’t have to suffer like this.” In the end, I chose my health, but actually had to fight with my guide to make going down even a possibility.
Down I went, crumbling a little with each step. I didn’t recognize myself here. I’m a marathoner goddammit; I’ve finished ten marathons, one on a sprained ankle. Who is this person? My mountain had been redefined.
The hidden gem was that I descended with the two people with whom I was traveling – they too were sick. Two dear friends who are each brilliant coaches and leaders. Together we found clarity, we found the beauty of each moment and felt deep gratitude over and over again for the resources we had as coaches; the ability to laugh, deeply process our feelings and eventually find our way to a different summit. Thank you, Gillian and Craig, for your love, support and belly laughs during our magical days in Arusha.
And my summit? The discovery that literally took my breath away? I began wondering how others would see me in this new land of—dare I say it—failure? I wondered if I’d still belong to the tribe. I wondered who would still love me. And then the second clunk on the head in so many days hit me: The question just might be, will I still love me? I received phenomenal affirmation from “out there” that no one was going anywhere; everyone gave me support, enthusiasm, and understanding—all the things I wasn’t giving to myself.
Alone and afraid, it became impossible to push beyond even my comfort zone. In hindsight, I see how critical it is in the work we do to create that safe container in service of allowing others to reach new heights, climb new mountains, and try things beyond even their panic zones. How do we, in our work, in our communities, in our homes, create that safe container? What is necessary, on the 4th highest mountain in the world, to be an expert and to be a learner. An expert regarding the mountain, a learner about each individual’s experience and how support and safety feel for them.
Saying “no” was perhaps a new kind of achievement for me (though it certainly didn’t feel that way!). There was a lot at stake (money, time invested, energy invested, resources, etc.), a lot of “sunk cost”. In the face of all that (not to mention having to tell everyone that I in fact did not summit), saying no can be daunting. Trusting intuition on the other hand can be so powerful!
I thought I had it all “figured out” (ha!) when, during a coach training session, my journey continued to take shape. It became so clear to me in that session that “achievement Kathy” was, in fact, not at peace…yet. My first reaction was anger and frustration, GAH! When will I ever get this??
And then, with help, I found compassion for her, that achiever in me. She has been an important voice in me over the years; she has helped me…well, achieve! For that I am grateful. So, in this moment (until it shifts again), I will try to gently integrate this achiever, listen to her (and not always giving her a vote), and, I will notice when she is driving the being of me. That’s when she gets sent to her room.