Secrets From Mt. Kilimanjaro
Updated: Feb 7, 2019
What do you get when you take a girl from the desert and put her atop the world’s highest freestanding mountain in flipping -27°C weather WITH a frozen leopard carcass?
You get a kid who thinks she’s Rumi.
“Kilimanjaro is a snow-covered mountain 19,710 feet high, and is said to be the highest mountain in Africa. Its western summit is called the Masai 'Ngaje Ngai', the House of God. Close to the western summit there is a dried and frozen carcass of a leopard. No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude.”
Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories
I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in February 2015, and stood at Uhuru Peak, the highest point in the whole of Africa on the day my baby sister turned 18. I say baby sister, but I wasn’t much older at the time, just a few months short of 20.
So I strutted down that mountain feeling like Beyonce (there were no mirrors on the mountain), and owning all 19,710 feet of this 'House of God'. I felt like I finally knew a secret that would change the way I run my business.
But, as my family will tell you, I suck balls at keeping secrets so, here goes.
Lean in folks, secrets are meant to be whispered...
KILI ME SOFTLY
While it isn’t Everest or Denali in terms of technicality, Kilimanjaro’s greatest challenge is the altitude. And the thing that sucks the most about altitude, is that it affects different people, well, differently.
Some people can stand at 19,341 feet and not feel anything. While others, like yours truly, can go partially blind, have nose bleeds, and generally feel like they’ve been punched in the lower abdomen by 7 dwarfs. (Not fun)
Even if it seems like everyone’s on the same path, we’re all climbing our own mountains. Just because someone else is ah-mazing at something doesn’t mean you will be too, just like you might be amazing at bookkeeping and they may stink like a male locker room.
(Why are people never amazing at bookkeeping?)
So stop eyeing that chick with the gorgeous new website, or that guy with the 50,000 strong email list, or that person who always seems to be working off a beach.
Ignore them and focus on your own mountain, and keep walking (or hobbling, if you prefer), and if you can’t, then dig your heels in and stay where you are, because it’s not like the mountain’s going anywhere any time soon.
(Now if you’re thinking of climbing a glacier on the other hand..)
A MAN CALLED JO
Paunchy, despite climbing up and down a mountain as part of his job, Jo looked like a Tanzanian Santa Claus. He taught me the most important lesson of all.
As he walked ahead of us, he’d chant “Pole, Pole” (pronounced po-lay, po-lay).
Thinking there was some profound meaning behind the Swahili words, I asked Jo what it meant.
“It means slow the f*ck down.”
The thing about mountains is that they tend to be high.
Climb too fast and you risk your brain exploding with a cerebral edema, so you go slow, and acclimatize.
Climbing a mountain is like living the story of the tortoise and the hare. You always want to be the tortoise in this story, the hare gets airlifted off the mountain with pneumonia.
Back at ground level, I go back to Jo’s words when I find myself trying to do much at once and remind me to take my time building the foundation for The Scribesmith. I don’t need a VA, a team of 5, and $10,000 branding right out the door. I’m pole, pole-ing my way up that ladder.
MY MUM THINKS I'M AN IDIOT
I’m an idiot. Really, just ask my mum.
A stubborn idiot. And, while perseverance is great and all, it often crosses the line into stupidity.
While skiing down the scree on Kili (Yes, really), I took a nasty tumble and twisted my knee by nearly 360°.
I refused all help and hobbled down to base camp, taking a whopping 3 hours more than the rest of team.
If I’d put my pride aside and allowed the guides to carry me down, I would’ve been curled up in my sleeping bag in half the time.
As entrepreneurs and freelancers, all you ever hear is “HUSTLE”, and that’s great and all, but not when you’re having a panic attack at 4 AM.
I used to call ‘limitations’ the ‘L-word’ because to me, it represented all the things a little brown girl in the Middle East was told she couldn’t do.
But guess what?
It doesn’t have to be quite that dramatic. The ‘L-word’ can mean drawing a line and going to bed early, or making sure you have cushy deadlines.
Limitations don’t have to be so bad, as long as you’re the one deciding what they are.