Conquering your Everest

TOWARDS JUSTICE - Emmeline Aglipay-Villar - The Philippine Star

Last May 29 was the anniversary of the first recorded successful attempt to scale the world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest. On that day in 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary became the first two known human beings to stand atop the summit of the highest point of land on Earth. This success was an inspiration for many, whether to those of that time period who were still spiritually exhausted from the horrors of World War 2, or to the generations of people to come who were inspired by the challenge and to climb peaks of their own. And that peak hasn’t always been Everest, nor even a mountain at all. The mountain called Everest has always been a symbol, and climbing it a metaphor for every kind of challenge to what is seen to be insurmountable. As with everything raised to the level of a symbol, there is a lot to unpack in order to reach the truth, and the reason behind its importance.

Tenzing and Hillary’s expedition was far from the first – theirs was only the first to succeed, after many others (both well funded national expeditions and independent forays by adventurers) had tried and failed, at times at the cost of lives. Neither do those who take the public credit for these ascents the only people responsible for any success. Tenzing is one of the few well-known Sherpas – a Tibetan ethnic group that is renowned for mountaineering skill and who are frequently hired as guides and assistants for foreign mountain climbers, so much so that their ethnicity has become used as a synonym for the role itself. Yet while it is a role that many of them choose voluntarily, it comes at a high cost: in a National Geographic article published in 2014, it was stated that 40 percent of deaths on Everest over the last century were Sherpas or other Nepali mountain workers.

And Everest remains a hostile, dangerous place, even as the trek to the summit has become over-commercialized. It may seem strange that those two statements can co-exist, but it is that very danger that draws climbers to the mountain (even for those that let the Sherpas face the danger instead). When the mountaineer George Mallory was asked why he would attempt the dangerous climb, his famous reply was simply: “Because it’s there.” Mallory eventually lost his life on Everest, but many still follow the spirit of his example to this day, drawn forward by the romantic ideal of “conquering” Everest. But the more people chase the ideal of Everest, the less idyllic it becomes – pollution and trash have become a problem on Everest, contrary to its image as pristine wilderness. How many people aim to climb to the summit as a way of reconnecting with nature or leaving civilization behind, only to find that Everest isn’t what they imagined it to be?

How true is that for the goals we set in our own lives? How much better served would we be if we could evaluate the true nature of our dreams, the true state of our destinations, before we decide to sacrifice so much to get to a place we never wanted to be?

This column is about mountains, but it is also about us.

I began by talking about Everest as a symbol, and I end by asking my readers to think about what plays that role for you. What is your personal Everest, that goal which seems insurmountable, but  which, if you managed to ascend it – surpass it, would make you feel as if you were at the top of the world? Everest is a symbol, but the truths behind its successful ascent have bearing on the way to approach any of life’s challenges.

You must have a plan. No mountain can be scaled without adequate preparation, without knowing the dangers one will face. An amateur who does not realize how thin the oxygen will be as one ascends will never reach the top.

Your success will need help from others, and that help should not go unappreciated. Look around you and see those who have supported you, and do not take that support for granted.

You must be prepared for the costs. And I don’t just mean in terms of money. Years can be invested in the pursuit of a dream, and those years are those you will never get back. Time spent doing one thing is time away from others, and that may make you a stranger to those that you love. Not every mountain is worth climbing for that cost.

Your success may have unintended consequences. Some people do not look beyond their goal, to see what reaching that goal would actually change in their lives, and that of those around them. Even if the goal is worthwhile, the side-effects may not be, as many who have stumbled upon fame have discovered to their chagrin.

You must accept that success can happen in increments. There is joy to be found just getting to the next staging area, that much closer to the peak. There is a need to rest and recover before pressing on.

Your success will be built on the back of failures. Only the delusional expect instant success. Any goal worth striving for will be a difficult one, and more often than not it means you will fail, and fail often. Each time it will hurt, and each time you will despair – but every failure is a chance to learn, to cross out a dead end and find a new way forward.

Make no mistake, sometimes failure has costs. Sometimes it means you lose something that you can never get back. Not every failure can simply be shrugged off as a learning experience… but every success has only been made possible because of previous failures.

So if this column finds you amidst failure, dear reader, give yourself time to mourn; time to recover. Then cast your eyes back towards your Everest. If that peak is still where you want to be then make your plans. Gather your allies. Learn your lessons.

And climb, once again.


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