Why take on a challenge?

The most common question I am asked when I identify myself as a mountaineer is “Why?”

From my education as a life coach, I’ve learnt that the neurology (the brain) doesn’t like the question “Why” very much – in fact the neurological reaction is to defend, justify or shut down. This may explain my speechlessness when people inevitably want to know why I would expose myself to the risks and challenges of high altitude. The best answer I have been able to present in my keynote presentation has been the spectacular views that I love photographing in the mountains.

Camp Cholera – Aconcagua

I certainly don’t only climb for the views though. Interestingly, some personal development research has explained that my personality type “takes on big challenges to see if they can pull off the impossible” – so maybe it’s just in my DNA?

As a kid I was never afraid of new challenges, whether it be the highest branches of a tree, or riding a horse, yet mountaineering was never an aspiration  I was conscious of.
Hence, the second most common question is “How did you get started?”

A road trip my brother, two of his friends and I embarked on early in the  year 2000 culminated in us climbing Africa’s highest mountain – Kilimanjaro. In my jeans!
We pointed the bonnet of our Land Cruiser north, and when we had ticked off the wanderer’s checklist of things to do in Tanzania, we were left with the highest freestanding mountain in the world. Unprepared, untrained and inexperienced, we set off with hired clothes, hired porters, and ignorant determination and summitted the mountain on 26 February. As I shuffled onto the summit in layers and layers of clothing I realized what I was capable of, and wanted to test the boundaries of my mental and physical capabilities again, at even higher altitudes.

So, my desire to climb mountains is possibly simply in my DNA or part of my character, innate in me is the desire to challenge myself and others in all aspects. Perhaps your character or personality type values security and comfort instead, and you have absolutely no desire to challenge yourself at these extremes, or even at all.  I encourage you to try new things, to step out of your comfort zone, in any small or large way, and expose yourself to new opportunities and adventures. Whether it’s taking up the challenge of climbing a mountain because you’re right there at the base of it, like I did with Kili, tasting sushi for the first time, riding a motorbike, or learning a new skill, try something new and you might find it changes the course of your life like it did mine.

George Mallory (died on Everest in 1924) said about this “If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.”

You may indeed state “I’ll never climb a mountain”, and rightly so, yet if I offered you more joy – would you decline? Certainly not.  I challenge you therefore, not to climb a mountain necessarily, but to experience joy in your life by trying something new. Step out of your safe routine, and take the risk of trying new things. Why you may ask?

  • Trying new things takes courage, something you may discover you have more of than you know. When you discover this courage you can draw on it when you need to
  • Trying new things may open up an entirely new world to you – whether it is something you turn into a hobby or a career path or entirely different life
  • You’ll never be bored again
  • You’re forced to grow
  • You’ll get to know yourself in surprising ways

Some suggestions for new things to try:

  • Try something your spouse/partner or child loves doing
  • Take a different route to work
  • Do something alone – you might enjoy your own company
  • Photograph nature during the day – you’ll become more aware of the beauty around you
  • Enter an event – whether it be a parkrun or an endurance event – whatever stretches your limits

The list of suggestions on the internet is endless.

My joy may come from the pursuit of challenging myself, from the beauty I enjoy photographing at high altitude, and from the confidence I have from knowing and striving to know what I am capable of.
Do you know what yours stems from? I challenge you to find joy, step out of your comforting routine, and at the end of it all, LIVE.


Camp Cholera – Aconcagua

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