For the first time in my life, I have accomplished something that is bigger than myself — much bigger. I’ve trekked the Himalayan mountains (Annapurna Base Camp) all by myself without any guide or porter. You can see the visual tour of the trek here.
Seven days of walking up and down mountains, eight hours a day, it brought out the best and worst in me. Day after day, I pushed my limits, both physically and mentally and because of this I had an epiphany. This is what life is all about. Here are 7 life lessons I learned along the way.
1. Moving forward is the only logical choice.
Trekking the Himalayas is not like walking up mountains gradually. The landscape consisted of many steep ups and downs. Going down is as demanding as going up to the base camp, so no matter how tired you are, when you are in the middle of the trek and you’re about to give up, you realize that you will have to go through the ups and downs again on your way down. In the end, moving forward is your only logical choice.
In order to grow as a person, you have to move forward regardless of the speed. Going backward is impossible in life and staying still means you are spending your life doing nothing. While trekking, you can’t just stay still unless you want wild animals to devour you as it gets darker and darker every hour. Even if you move slow, you are way closer to the destination than standing still. The key is to move forward.
2. Optimism is the key to success.
As mentioned earlier, the trek consisted of many steep stairs, zigzagging along mountains and, as you climb up, you often see what seems to be the end of the climb, but as you go higher, you realize there’s another steep stairs waiting for you on the other side. I used this to my advantage and tricked my brain into thinking that the next stop was up there. Even though this was often not the case, it did help me push through and eventually arrive at the village (Chhomrong) atop the mountain, where I was able to finally rest.
If you keep tricking your brain into thinking that something great is waiting for you on the horizon, you will eventually reach your goals. Say you’re working on a startup; no matter how bad your day gets, just remember that something great is on the horizon. Even in the process of failing you can learn something and, in doing so, create something even better in the process.
3. No matter how fast or slow you go, as long as you keep moving you will reach your destination.
While trekking, no matter how fast or slow you’re going, you and everyone else you’re traveling with will eventually reach the same destination. I was often the slowest trekker in the group, but I always arrived at my destination no matter how hard it got. I took it slow. If my body started feeling exhausted, I would rest and enjoy the view; if not, I moved forward one step at a time. There’s no use in going fast when the race is a marathon. As long as you reach your goal, the speed doesn’t matter.
If you are planning to travel the world or start a business, just start doing it — even if it is just a small step. Start listing countries you want to visit or start drafting your business on paper. The key is to start taking steps toward your dreams regardless of how small the steps are.
4. The worst day has yet to come.
On my first day, it was raining heavily and in order to keep up with my schedule, I had to power through the rain, walking through sand and mud up a mountain, while a chilling wind blew through my bones for three hours straight. I thought this would be my worst day; yet, I had never been so wrong. The third day, I had to climb thousands of steep stairs to the top of a mountain and go down to the bottom to cross the river via a suspension bridge and then go up again. On my fourth day, as the elevation hit 3000 meters, I had trouble breathing and I had to stop and grasp for air more often and take longer breaks than usual. The walk that should have taken me two hours, took me four hours instead.
Life can sometimes be like that. The moment you think you had the worst possible day, is the moment you are hit with another and another. The key is not to EXPECT that tomorrow will be better or worse. Just deal with the problem today, in the moment. Don’t fill up your mind with tomorrow’s problems. That is for tomorrow.
5. There’s no such thing as overnight success.
When trekking the Himalayas, most people will be looking forward to seeing snowy mountains and a beautiful sky but that’s not the reality for for the first few days. You will have to walk through the forest, unable to see what you ultimately came here to see. It’s not until you walk for about 32 hours that you start to see the snowy mountains.
In life, when you set off to do something, the end result will not take shape until you invest in countless hours shaping it. Coming up with the idea is not enough; you have to plan, get your hands dirty and then work for it. Just like trekking the Himalayas, you can’t sleep your way up mountains. You have to climb the stairs if you want to be at the top.
6. Nothing meaningful is easy.
Many of my friends wondered why I insisted on putting myself through all of these tortures just to be in the middle of the Himalayas. Looking at photos from Google Maps is as satisfying and even more beautiful than the real deal, they said. For them, destination may mean something else, but for me the journey shapes the destination. Without the conversation I had with many trekking friends, without the countless accidents I had during the trek (and fun stories to tell), and without the hardships that I had to endure, the destination would have had no meaning to me.
Just like in life, the money you get from your parents is less meaningful than the money you earn by working tirelessly every day. The harder you try, the greater the reward.
7. Trust is important for a meaningful life.
I have been traveling alone for a while now, and even though I have met and talked with many travelers, nothing come close to the deep connections I had with the people I met during the trek. Trekking brings out the most rare component in people: trust. Since you are on the same boat for the rest of the trek and you will be meeting them every day from lodge to lodge, your trust in these people tends to grow as time goes on. Since human contact is rare while trekking in the forest, people are more genuine and talk from their hearts. Everyone always says “hi” (or “Namaste” in this case) to each other. People encourage each other along the way and exchange pleasantries even if we don’t know their names.
The best thing you can give to people is your trust. Be open to the people you meet and your conversations will become more meaningful. As life flashes before our eyes, it’s easy to realize how little friends we’ve actually made. Be more open to people; leave a positive mark in their lives and they will do the same to you.
Trekking the Himalayas was a life-changing experience for me. Once you are among the mountains, you realize just how mortal and vulnerable you are. All of the artificial problems you’ve encountered in life were worth nothing up there. It makes you look at people and how they struggled with their problems from a different perspective. And it helps you tackle your problems with the might of the mountains.