You Don’t Need Your Pinky – And 7 Other Lessons Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro Will Teach You About Life & Business

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Last week I had the privilege of trekking to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro with a good friend of mine. Needless to say, lessons were learned. I tried to keep them different from the lessons I learned trekking to Everest Base Camp 2 years ago. And I didn’t make a video this time like I did last time. Nonetheless, enjoy.
Fun Does Not Have To Be Pleasurable
There was nothing really “fun” about the hike. The altitude, the food, the camping, the uneven ground, the toilets, the hours in your tent, the cold. It will rain. It will snow. It will hail. Your appetite will be exchanged with a parakeet’s when you’re not looking. You’ll probably either have diarrhea, a headache, a fever or a stomach ache at any given time. Your electrolyte infused water will start to taste like motor oil and your sleep patterns will have abandoned you completely.
The mountain is like an overlord watching you at every turn, every day. The sun is its falcon who he dispatches to circle you like a buzzard.

Poking at you. Taunting you. Waiting for you to break.

The mountain will try to destroy you.

I hate this mountain.

But like the Stockholm Syndrome, it holds you in its control just long enough for you to fall in love with it.

I love this mountain.

Your business won’t be “fun” to build either. Not fun like snowball fights, water slides, or dancing at wedding receptions while biting your lower lip. Businesses are hard, but the struggle should be somewhat enjoyable because the decision to start one is your own.

Although some moments were really tough on the mountain (we’ll get to summit day), I was there on my own volition, not because someone sold me into slavery and my master needed me to get him a rock from the top of the mountain.

Same goes for my business. No one made me start it. It was my idea. I hope yours is too.

Things Will Not Go As Planned

“Bassam, we have a problem.” This was said to me at the gate on Day 1. What was the problem? Well Tanzania decided to invent a bank holiday that day (not joking) so the money transfer that was supposed to cover the park fees couldn’t be accessed.

So I had to cover the cost (that I already paid for months ago) with my credit card, with the promise that I’d get paid after the trip (I, of course did).

Shit happens. No problem.

On Day 2, our amazing head guide had to abandon the hike. Turns out, he had malaria (He’s fine and recovering now). The assistant guide got promoted to head guide and one of the porter’s to assistant guide.

Shit happens. No problem.

In life and in business, you prepare as best as you can and then you wait for things to try to derail you. How you react to the setback will shape the kind of person you become and the kind of business you create.

Have One Solitary Focus

I still think the hardest thing for an entrepreneur/creator to do is focus. When everything is important, we flounder. On the mountain we instead had one singular focus. One thing to topple, to conquer. There was no, “I’ll climb the mountain or get a good tan or write my book. Whatever I feel like.” You didn’t worry about personal hygiene to the degree you do at home. You didn’t have email or texts. You sacrificed things for the greater mission.

With your business it has to be the same. Find what’s most important in your opinion and hammer it until that nail is flush. If not, you’ll keep getting your socks and your progress snagged.

Not Everyone Knows What Golf Is

Our 2 main guides were incredibly charismatic and caring leaders. While trying to teach them a card game called “golf” one night in the tent, I was saying that the objective of the game was like golf: to get the lowest score over 18 “holes.” The blank stares confirmed for me that my message was not reaching its destination. After trying to repeat my message slower and louder (the go-to for language barrier moments), one of them finally said, “We don’t know what golf is.”

Damn. I just assumed some things were universal. They’re not. So when thinking about your business and your message, know that just because you have one, it doesn’t mean that people know what you’re talking about.

Acclimatization Days = Demoralization Days

In case you don’t know what an “Acclimatization Day” is on a mountain, it’s when you hike up to a higher altitude during the day, but hike back down to a lower altitude at night so that when you sleep, your body has acclimated to the elevation you are at. Your body “learns” how to handle itself at higher altitudes once it has felt it. So if you were to hike from 5,000 feet to 9,000 feet, you wouldn’t feel as good at night as someone who hiked from 5,000 feet, to 9,500 feet and back down to 9,000 feet.

It’s science. Trust me.

The problem with acclimatization days is that the only thing you think about while trekking downhill is that you’ve wasted what you’ve already climbed. You know you’re going to have to reclaim those steps again the next day.

We did a variation of this hike twice: 12,000 feet to 15,000 feet back to 12,000 feet.

I hate this mountain.

It’s like a potential client (or mate). Things feel like they’re going great and you’re moving to a sale or contract but then they need to take a step back. It’s the mother of all teases.

Going backwards after a new foray forwards is hard to swallow but it really is for the better most of the time. You learn things at higher “altitudes” that you haven’t experienced before and it will come in handy at a later date.

I love this mountain.

The Ridge You See, Is Never The Only Ridge You’ll Have To Climb

Time and time again, we would see a ridge that we thought was the top of a pass, but once we reached the top of said ridge, there was another one behind it waiting for us, laughing at us.

You can’t see 2-3 problems down the road, even if you know your end goal. But as long as you’re moving in the main direction you want to,  just focus on what’s directly in front of you and don’t worry about the rest. The next problem will present itself in due time.

You can’t summit in a day. Your company won’t be where you want it to be in a day either. If you get too caught up too far down the line, the hidden ridges will eventually erode away your ability to keep climbing.

The Hardest Thing To Do Is Finish (Summit Day)

Our summit day started at 11PM (our 5th night on the mountain). We were supposed to sleep from 7PM to 11PM but that didn’t happen because of nerves, excitement and nausea. I got up, put on everything I owned, had some biscuits and some tea and then set off from basecamp (4600 meters, 15,088 feet) towards the summit (5,895 meters, 19,341 feet). Since the moon was almost full we didn’t even need to use our head lamps. Truly serene.

I love this mountain.

Most of the 4,000 foot vertical climb over 3 miles, gets comically steep. You look up at the luminosity coming from Stella Point like it was a chandelier dangling from the ceiling above you. Every dig and pull with your poles feels like you’re climbing up an escape ladder. And every step with your feet feels like a depressed thumb tack trying to move across a cork board. Your speed is that of walking the wrong way on horizontal people mover at an airport. Oh and your lungs have been replaced with the last sip of aCapri Sun pouch.

Water bottles froze. Snacks froze. It was around 0-10 Fahrenheit without the wind chill! On the way up, my left pinky got so cold that I couldn’t feel it for 15 minutes, even with 2 heat packs on it. The thought went, “Do I need the tip of my pinky to live a good life? … No. No I don’t. Let’s keep moving.”

Yeah. That’s pretty much what you’re working with.

I hate this mountain.

Summit day strips away the controls and the defenses of your emotions so that you feel them all at once, without warning or buildup. It was like playing a miniature game ofOperation with shaky hands. One false movement and I was laughing and the next I was openly crying.

Crying from the pain, elation, confusion and insanity of it all.
Crying because I knew I’d make it.
Crying because I didn’t know if I ever would.

But the stars, the stars!

The Big Dipper was so close over the eastern ridge that you think if you stuck your tongue out, you could taste what the little bugger was pouring out of its spoon. Orion was so near overhead that if you were cheeky enough, you could reach up and take his belt off.

Staggering from Stella Point to Uhuru Peak could only be described as a jaunt of a drunken boxer. It was an outer body, zig-zag experience. It was like a car racing game where your vantage point sits above and a little behind the car. That’s what it felt like. But each step closer to the top I kept muttering, “I’m gonna beat you…I’m gonna beat you.”

Breaking down in sobs at the top would be an understatement. The accomplishment was mind boggling and my body kind of just…let go. And in fitting competitive fashion, (although not purposely), we were the first ones to summit! 5.25 hours. It usually takes people between 6-10 hours. We beat sunrise so it allowed us to see some stars at eye level and sharing views of the cities below and skies above that only pilots see. This will be something that I’ll never forget.

I love this mountain.

Hardest thing I’ve ever done? I think so. Although the most recent events in our lives always seem to steal the superlatives:

The prettiest girl
The best meal
The craziest night

But if this wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I must have forgotten the time I had my leg sawed off without anesthesia or something.

I love this mountain.
I hate this mountain.

All the work to get you to the moment before the finish line of a post, a project or a product launch ends up being the easy part. It’s the crawling across the finish line that becomes the most difficult thing you’ll do. You’ll face the possibility of judgement, let downs, and disappointment. But if you can’t finish, what the hell was everything else for?

It’s not good enough to be busy. You have to hit the summit of whatever you’re doing, no matter how long the trudge or how hard the slog. It’s why you started working on what you wanted to work on in the first place.

You’ll doubt yourself. You’ll want to quit. You’ll feel things you’ve never felt before. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry.

I do.

I love this mountain.
I hate this mountain.
I love my business.
I hate my business.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Oh and I got to keep my pinky too. Win-win.

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If anyone is seriously thinking about trekking Everest Base Camp or Mt. Kilimanjaro, I’m happy to give my advice, just let me know. I did the group thing in Everest, and I used this company for a private trip in Kilimanjaro. There was so much personalized care, it was tremendous. Just tell them I sent you!