June 28, 2022

Lessons from Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

In October 2007, I climbed the highest mountain in Africa: Mount Kilimanjaro. I was so excited before we started the hike and during the first day.

We went through the tropical rainforest and saw some of the most beautiful flowers. However, when we got above 13,000 feet, my body could not take it. I started feeling sick and dizzy. The only thing that kept me going was the view of the Uhuru peak. Everything else was volcanic ashes and rocks. The hike became tough. I asked myself, “Why did I decide to do this?”. When I asked myself this question, the lessons below helped me to keep going instead of giving up!

Taking It One Step At A Time

I enjoy competition. When I started the hike, I ran and left everyone behind. When our local tour guide saw this he would tell me, “Octavian, pole pole”. Pole pole is a Swahili word which means walk slowly, one step at the time. What he meant was that by going slowly and one step at a time, we would get there. I had a hard time believing them when they told me that I needed to conserve my energy for what lays ahead. I told them there was nothing that could slow me down.

However, once we reached above 13,000 feet above sea level, I found it difficult to talk and could not run anymore. The thought of giving up and going back was intense all of a sudden. It hit me that this is what my wise tour guide meant.  A quote that I read some years back came to mind, “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” It reminded me that it is not about how tough the hike was, but how much I was willing to take before I gave up. I continued to hear our guide say, “Pole pole, one step at a time”.

In life, most people want to run and get instant success. This is much like the way I was running the first day of the hike and hated it after the second day. This experience taught me a great lesson in life that taking one step at a time and walking slowly, steadily is what pays off in the end. The guides encouraged us to take in the views, the experience, and meet other people on the journey. In life, we should not only focus on the destination but pay attention to the journey. Sometimes as business owners, we get lost in the vision of the final destination and forget to enjoy the process and people around us.

Listen With The Intent To Understand

At the beginning of the hike, I talked a lot and listened very little. However, once we got above 13,000 feet above sea level, I listened to make sure I had understood what was asked so that when I talked, I could be brief. I did not want to waste my energy anymore to listen with the intent to reply. I was at the point of conserving my energy and listening attentively was key to help me get to the top. I took the advice of our guides and porters as I reached the point of my limit. At that point, I needed someone else with experience to lead and guide. I stayed behind and followed our guide. Stephen Covey says

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

Hiking Mount Kilimanjaro taught me this great lesson. Listening with the intent to reply is energy consuming while listening with the intent to understand is energy conserving. When we listen to understand, it has the potential to improve many aspects of our lives including business and personal relationships.

A Made Up Mind Is Key To Get To The Finish Line

The hike was tough and difficult but I persevered and made up my mind that I had to finish the course. I constantly reminded myself of the words of a Tanzanian who competed in the Olympics in 1968 in Mexico City. He had a cramp at the beginning of the race which made it so hard that he was unable to get up and run until the race was over. When he felt a little bit better, he started running while limping although everyone else had already completed the race. 

The media reporters asked him, “Why when everyone has already gotten their medals did you bother running?” He said these profound words, “”My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”  My commitment was to make it to the top of the summit in three days and two days down the mountain. That was the only commitment I was willing to live or die for. As a business owner, what is it you have been putting off or set as a limit? The finish line is closer than you think.  It only takes one step at a time or one decision at a time.

Have The End In Mind

When the going gets tough, anticipates about the end and the joy it will provide you if you keep the promise and commitments. We all want to do something that we would be proud of in life. After my experience of hiking Mount Kilimanjaro, it brought me great joy to share my stories and lessons with others. I could not wait to tell my family and friends about it and at times this kept me going. Having the focus on the end result and the fulfilment it would bring kept me going. Therefore, having the picture of the end in mind was key for me to remain steady.

This reminds me of when I drive around and see a sign and picture of buildings saying, “coming soon”. Those pictures are not the actual buildings, however they show us what the final building will look like. The building looks beautiful but once the construction begins there will be a lot of digging and the area looks dirty and unattractive. However, when the final product is completed, the area is transformed and looks gorgeous. Having the end in mind is what kept me going even when I faced tough times and did not think I could keep going.

By Octavian

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