I never really cared much for the outdoors and I still don’t classify myself as the ‘outdoorsy’ type. Films, novels, and art were always more attractive to me than trail mix and exhaustion. For these reasons, I never thought I would find myself climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. But now, almost a year later, I am so glad I did it.
Everyone should climb a mountain, because the lessons you learn on the journey are irreplaceable. Here are 5 of the many things I learned while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
1. The value of patience.
On the mountain, it is of great importance that you pace yourself in order to remain energized and enjoy the scenery. The mantra that is constantly repeated by all porters and guides is ‘pole pole,’ which translates to ‘slowly.’ Most people are excited to begin the journey and want to hike at a quick pace. I’m glad I was constantly reminded to pace myself, because I would not be writing this article had I not taken my time. On the mountain, as in life, patience is key. We are often so fixated on reaching our goals that we do everything in a hasty manner in order to achieve results. Allowing the vision of our goals to cloud our focus on the journey itself will often lead to unsatisfying results. This is made obvious when climbing a mountain, because going too quickly leaves you feeling exhausted early on and takes away the enjoyment and beauty of the journey.
2. The most important possessions are those you hold within you.
When climbing a mountain, every item you bring must be absolutely necessary, because the weight of every possession is a burden when piled on your back. I was surprised by how little I actually needed on this journey. While having more physical possessions actually holds you back on the mountain, having more inner strength and perseverance pushes you forward. This is true both in hiking and living. In our materialistic world, people often determine their value as a person based on their physical possessions, so they become consumed with ‘having more.’ Such people often forget that the most important possessions are those they hold within. Strength, morals, motivation, and love are far more valuable than any materialistic possession.
3. Putting one foot in front of the other is really all it takes.
When climbing a mountain, you have two choices: to reach the top or turn back. The only difference between those who reach the top and those who go back down (putting aside incontrollable factors like mountain sickness) is the perseverance to keep moving forward. Sometimes the key to success is simpler than we think; sometimes all it takes is the guts to put one foot in front of the other and letting go of doubt. When people ask me how I reached the summit, my answer is as simple as it is true: I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, even when I didn’t want to, I just kept doing it.
4. The myth of ‘awkward silence’ is just a myth.
I’m ashamed to admit that my biggest fear before climbing Kilimanjaro was not the physical feats I would have to overcome, but rather the boredom I would face when spending a week without access to Wi-Fi. I feared having to hold conversations with people for hours while hiking and managing to not run out of things to talk about. Before climbing the mountain, I certainly would have chosen to watch the newest episode of Breaking Bad over meeting someone new. I now realize just how much technology has devalued the importance of real conversations. On my journey to the peak I met so many people from around the world who all had something interesting to tell me about. The barriers of ‘being strangers’ were all broken down once I realized that no one found it odd to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. I was also introduced to new and interesting sides of those friends who came on the journey with me that I had never noticed before. Not once did I find myself needing a tool to escape the ‘awkward silence,’ because it never came. Technology has made it easier to escape an awkward silence that does not even have to exist.
5. Discomfort is sometimes a good sign.
The more progress I made on the mountain, the more uncomfortable I grew. As the altitude increased, so did the cold weather and lack of oxygen. I was so close to quitting on several occasions, but my guides and porters constantly reminded me that I was too close to stop. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t give in to my discomfort. I have found that this holds true to most situations in life. There are two roads in life: the roads of comfort and familiarity, and the foreign ones. When choosing to take a different and unfamiliar path, you are bound face difficulties and discomfort, but that should not be confused with failure or the inability to succeed. Just keep going and learn to embrace discomfort, because it is often a sign that you are close to the goal.