Recently, my client Kate (a Southern California grandmother of 9) summitted Kilimanjaro. There were months of preparation, both physically and logistically, just to get to Tanzania. Once there, the hard part began and she had to put on foot in front of the other and push on for 7 days straight. After she arrived back in LA where she lives, she and I discussed her adventure. I asked Kate what was the biggest factor in her success on the trip (some in her group didn’t make it up). She answered without hesitation: The guides. According to Kate, those hardened Sherpas had literally grown up on the mountain and knew every step of the way - and they were the reason she was successful, no question.
Seasoned experts - guides, mentors, coaches, professionals- those who have tread the path many times over, can be the difference between our success and failure in many aspects of life. We can take advantage of their wisdom and experience, learning from their mistakes and successes. In fact, last year I wrote a blog post on the lessons we learn from elite athletes. While that’s more specific to athletic endeavors, here’s two critical lessons we can learn from Kate’s Kilimanjaro quest about the importance of guides- not just in African adventures, but in life.
Kate had the good fortune of having guides that were dedicated to helping the group succeed. They were focused on her success, telling her when to rest, when to eat, when to drink. Not only did they literally lead the way, these men told her where to place her feet, how to move her body, and where to hold on to as she climbed. They told the group when to change boots, gear, and clothing. At one point, when they were running low on food, one of the guides hiked back down the mountain several hours and returned with much-needed food from another camp. These men were dedicated to Kate’s success, AND had the capability to help her succeed.
When utilizing a guide to achieve goals- whether that be on an African mountainside, in a corporate board room, or preparing for an Ironman race- there are two key factors to consider:
First- we have to identify the RIGHT guides. Anytime we embark on a challenge, it seems there is no shortage of voices shouting advice. Whether we are starting a weight-loss journey, signing up for a half-marathon, beginning a workout regimen, or taking the first step on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, listening to the right people is paramount to your success. Instagram, YouTube, and Google can be poor substitutes for those who have succeeded in helping others reach that goal. Notice I didn’t just say that THEY were successful, but that they’ve helped others do so as well.
The RIGHT guides are not only dedicated to your success, but they must be qualified to get you there. Unfortunately I’ve heard many novice athlete horror stories about poor advice received from a friend with the best of intentions, but zero qualifications. This is also evident in every gym I’ve ever been in, when I see the overconfident boyfriend trying to teach his novice girlfriend how to do a deadlift, power clean, or back squat. Typically, the common result is a confused girlfriend with a sore back. Seeking out the right people to guide your efforts can be an exercise in persistence, but is well worth the time.
Second- we have to TRUST the guides (coaches, mentors, and teachers) in our lives. It may seem that this goes without saying, but it’s surprising how many times I have clients that will hire me as a coach, and spend years working with me to build up to an Ironman race or Ultramarathon. Yet in the last days leading up to the race, they will get panicky, and deviate from my advised training regimen, overdo a particular workout, or follow some YouTube advice which leaves them depleted, sick, or injured going into the event. The result is usually a sub par performance and a lost opportunity to truly maximize true potential. Trusting the guide throughout the entire process is paramount to reaching your goal. A seemingly small thing might not seem like a big deal, but the guide knows. He/she has been there before. Trust them and the process they prescribe.
On the trip up Kilimanjaro, Kate’s tentmate was a former marathon runner half her age. Fit as she was, she failed to make the summit. “What happened?!” I asked. Kate simply said, “She didn’t listen to the guides”. They would tell her to eat, but she wouldn’t. They told her when to drink, but she didn’t. They even warned her that she wouldn’t make it to the top unless she did- but she didn’t listen. Her reliance on her own wisdom and not the voice of experience robbed her of a truly incredible opportunity.
As I listened to Kate tell the story, I truly felt for this woman who spent thousands of dollars, several months of training, and weeks of traveling in a foreign country preparing for an epic adventure. Yet she failed, simply because she didn’t heed the advice of her guide. It reminded me of a similar experience in my own life.
In another lifetime, I was a collegiate pole vaulter, and before every indoor season, our pole vault coach would invite us out to his family’s ranch in rural Montana for a weekend of hiking, eating, shooting, and skiing. At the conclusion of one such weekend, six of us, including the coach, were preparing to leave the ranch as the snow lightly began to fall. Before we began the 8 hour drive back to campus, my coach told my fellow teammate, the other driver of the vehicle, “Now Jeremy, stay behind me. There’s black ice and I know the way around it”. He agreed, and we piled into the two vehicles, myself with one athlete and the coach, and Jeremy and two other athletes. My coach was in the lead for about an hour, driving slowly, almost methodically across a snowy, windswept highway.
Jeremy became a bit impatient and at one point, drove around my coach and spread off ahead into the distance. About 10 minutes later, as we slowly rounded a hill, we saw the flashing lights of an ambulance and a vehicle on its side. It was Jeremy’s. We spent all night in a small-town emergency room, waiting for two of our teammates to be stitched up. Then, all 6 of us crowded back into Coach's truck and drove another 6 hours back home.
My friend Jeremy failed to trust his coach. His guide- the person who had literally traveled that road dozens of times and knew all the pitfalls and hazards of that perilous drive. Had he stayed behind our vehicle, chances are they would have been just fine. But my friend was overconfident, thought he knew better, and paid a dear price for it.
So, in athletic endeavors, outdoor adventures, or just in life- it’s not enough to just find the right mentor, coach, teacher, or guide- it’s about adhering to their counsel. Have faith in their wisdom, continue onward, and you’ll find yourself that much closer to success.