lessons learned climbing a volcano

We had an incredible time climbing the Iztaccihuatl volcano yesterday. (Here you can read a blog my husband wrote about the volcano legend.) It was a demanding ascent through the snow to over 16,000 feet elevation. I learned some important lessons from the experience; I don’t want to forget them because I believe they are relevant to so much of life and leadership.

  • push beyond the comfort zone

This kind-of hike is not a normal everyday activity for anyone in our group. It was difficult – physically and emotionally… legs hurt; lungs ached; wet and cold harassed; nausea and headaches assailed, fear attacked; exhaustion was real. However, at the end, even those who had suffered most claimed it was a (horribly) awesome experience.

Isn’t it true that we often get to great achievement only through agonizing struggle? There is something very satisfying about pushing through the challenge to accomplish something worthwhile. Where can I push myself beyond my comfort zone to a greater challenge…physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, intellectually?

  •  prepare and take care

Without a doubt, previous exercise routine, warm wool and polyurethane clothing, and hiking quality boots made the climb easier. Extra socks, hats and gloves came in handy, as did the lemon-grass tea and the Ibuprofen and Excedrin tablets. It was also important to drink plenty of water and re-apply sunscreen throughout the day. (I learned this hard lesson last year – I paid a heavy price in sore muscles due to dehydration.)

It makes no sense to take on a big challenge unprepared. Strengthening ahead of time and planning well means I am ready for the test and can even support others. How am I training today for tomorrow’s challenges? What can I do better prepare for the future?

  • go with others

During the day we talked, laughed, took pictures and praised God’s creation together. All along the climb, different people battled seriously with fatigue, cold, fear, altitude sickness, and pain while others took turns to encourage each next step, accompany those who needed rest, help and protect on the treacherous slopes, share food/medicine/clothing supplies, and celebrate and rejoice at each milestone. I was so proud of those who persevered when it was tough and of those who served when others were weak. We made an incredible memory and “bonded” because of what we went through together.

I would never consider attempting a climb like that alone, and I was so impressed by the support and camaraderie offered that enabled others to achieve more than they could by themselves.  I need that kind of team in all areas of my life. Who encourages me? And who am I helping to accomplish what they could never do alone?

What have you learned from a challenging experience? Are you ready for the next one?

are you happy to see me?

My dog Mandy loves me. She wags her whole body as soon as she sees me. She dances a little jig, and if I would let her, she would joyfully do a five foot vertical leap to kiss me smack on the lips. Sometimes I forget to feed her on time, sometimes her water dish goes dry, sometimes I don’t give her any attention all day… It doesn’t matter; I don’t deserve it, but she is always happy to see me. 

People aren’t like that.

Henry Cloud, Patrick Lencioni and others state that one of the most important elements in relationships is trust… and I have to deserve it; I have to build it; I have to earn it. I have learned a lot about trust from Henry Cloud’s book, Integrity.

  • The first way that I earn trust is by connecting authentically with others. People feel like I connect with them if I listen for understanding – really hear them, with empathy and validation for their concerns. Connection happens when the people I work with feel that I truly value them, that I care, that I invest in them. I will not always do what they suggest, but they know I will hear them out, consider their ideas, and never discount how I affect them with my actions.
  • Trust is also built by looking out for other’s interests. Cloud calls this “extending favor”. In other words, I am “watching their back”, and I am on their side. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have goals or performance standards, but it means that I will do all I can to help, train, encourage or provide resources so that others are successful. If I have built trust, they can be confident that I will always speak well of them, and I will always speak up for them. They never have to worry that they might “get on my bad side” or that I might turn on them.
  • I also build trust by balancing power and vulnerability. Others can trust me when they see that I make things happen and get things down. I earn trust when I am competent and responsible, and when I follow through with what I said I would do. On the flip side, I also need to acknowledge my mistakes and faults at times. When I am authentic about my own challenges, others gain courage to face their own. When I am honest about my weaknesses and needs, others can identity; they are often willing to help, and we build more trust in the process.

Since trust is the basis of relationships, I need be constantly evaluating how I am doing in my relationships at work and at home. Am I connecting? Do they know I care? Do they know that I am “for” them?  Can they depend on me to get things done? Have I been real with them?

Are they happy to see me?

How do you build trust? How have others earned your trust?

(** If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “how’s my wake?” – more from Henry Cloud’s book, Integrity.)