Image Courtesy: Noah Media Group
At the end of the year, here are some reflections that I'd like to share with you. Now, I truly believe that philosophy is all around us. And that we can find metaphors in our everyday lives. For this month, I have chosen the documentary, ‘14 Peaks – Nothing Is Impossible’, (2021, Netflix) for us to find some reflections for our lives, and possibly for the year ahead. Here are my 10 takeaways from the documentary 14 Peaks and Project Possible.
First of all, I personally would have liked for the documentary to be less about having conquering the 14 peaks. But I do know that in our very achievement oriented world and in our time and attention starved generation, it's the highs, (quite literally) and the wins that catch our eye. So, to that extent, I feel that this documentary is attention grabbing. The story is about a climber called Nirmal Purja or Nims, and his great passion to climb 14 arduous mountain peaks in a record time of seven months. The only person who had who had accomplished a feat like this before Nims, was a climber called Reinhold Messner. But it took him 16 years to complete the same feat. Let's look at what worked for Nims.
Before I set off, a disclosure - it is very difficult for us to read into someone else's motivations or mindset. So please take my observations with a pinch of salt. It is far more useful that we find stories that we can resonate with, and learnings we can use, rather than actually analyzing what might have gone on inside the heads or minds of other people.
So, here goes:
Lesson one: Know yourself. Nims was no ordinary man. He had a great love for the mountains to start with. And he also had an extraordinary ability for endurance in high altitude conditions. We often compare ourselves to others and feel like we are lacking. For example, when Michael Phelps won all his golds, we wondered what the secret was - his many hours of training or his coach or opportunities. But what we didn't realize was that he had an extraordinary physical capacity, an unusually long arm span that actually helped him. This was recognized by him and his team and this gave him an advantage in his pursuit. Now, if we don't have that arm span, it's fairly pointless comparing ourselves. So rather than comparing, let us spend a little bit of time knowing ourselves first. And work with our unique strengths and interests.
Lesson two: Now that we have understood our motivations, our proclivities, as well as our natural abilities, it is time for us to make our BHAG or big, hairy, audacious goals. We could make these goals just about ourselves. Like, 'I want to summit 14 peaks for my personal glory', or, like Nims did, make the goals as wide as possible, as unselfish, or other regarding as possible. WHY does this matter? You'll find out in just a bit. But Nims was also torn between his duty and his passion. As the youngest son of a Nepali family, he was expected to look after his parents. Now, in moments like these, you need to ask yourself what your true obligation is. Is your obligation to live a life that has been prescribed by someone else, or yours; to define your life, your karma, to express your desires, and to reach your greatest potential? These choices are never easy, but do know that they don't need to be all or nothing. Very often, when you lean into your more authentic goals, other goals will often get realized as well. But we need to be prepared to make these difficult choices.
Lesson three: Once we make these BHAG goals, we need to drop the expectation that these will, in fact, happen for us. Does that sound ridiculous? It doesn't, really, if you think about it. Nims got incredibly lucky on multiple occasions. There might have been several reasons why he might not have achieved his goals that would have had nothing to do with him or his ability. In short, they would have been conditions or circumstances outside of his control. This is why I said that the story would have been more interesting if he hadn't summited all 14. But we know how the mind works...we want the highs, we want the wins, we want to conquer!
When you drop the expectation that the goal is your birth right, then you will stop worrying all the time. You won't wake up every morning thinking 'Will I reach 14 peaks in seven months?' ‘Will I beat the previous record?’ Rather, you will think only about what you need to do on a particular day. It's like you're on Google Maps, you know where you are, you know your destination. Now you just have to focus on the path. Even if he didn't achieve his goals, he would have been no less of a mountaineer; he would have earned no less respect, from those in the know of things, at least, and he would still have had a fabulous story to tell. A life well lived, rather than one of disappointments or regrets.
Lesson four: 'What is impossible for others doesn't have to be impossible for you', as Nims said, very philosophically, in the documentary. Just because the herd says so, or present wisdom or knowledge is limited, it doesn't mean that the universe doesn't hold many, many more possibilities, just waiting to be discovered. When you break away from expected norm and stop following the herd, you can really allow your mind to expand and think bigger than has ever been thought before. Especially when this thinking is in line with your natural tendencies, this is where you can realize your highest potential (God, I have to stop with these puns!)
Lesson five: Not only should your goal be other regarding, and unselfish, but it should also be collaborative to be even more powerful. If Nims had the goal of just his personal glory, not too many people would have got out of bed to support him. The fact that he had a crack team of fellow Nepali climbers, that he was doing it for his country, that he had the respect of the climbing community, all worked in his favour, and there were many others willing to buy into his dream and help him along. He would never have been able to undertake this expedition on his own. When we find resonance with others, we are able to reach amplitudes way higher than we could ever have reached by ourselves, and indeed, more than just the arithmetic sum of the effort of our collaborators That's where the magic really comes in!
Lesson six: Of all of the choices that the world gives us, if we lean into values that we resonate with, besides our natural proclivities, we have a much greater chance of success. Nims could have focused on buying the most cutting edge equipment, or finding the peaks that were the easiest to climb, or chosen to showcase his own climbing prowess. Instead, he leaned into his values of his family, his national identity, of putting his team on the front stage, and his natural optimism. All these were meaningful for him, especially when the going was tough, because they were values that he resonated with, and they gave him the strength to carry on even when his own faith was wavering.
Lesson seven: Expect challenges. While we cannot anticipate everything that can possibly go wrong, we do tend to have an optimism bias and jump in blind into projects. It helps to sit and think about the obstacles that could come up in our way, but in a conscious manner; not to ruminate on it every free moment that you get. Block some time, ideate, and plan for scenarios that could pose problems. Ruminating on every horror that could befall us doesn't help the cause, doesn't help you find answers either, could keep you in fear, and could distract you from the from the journey itself. See the difference? We consciously face problems. Not by ruminating.
Lesson eight: We get by with a little help from our friends. It's important to develop our lives holistically. It’s important that we make conscious and consistent investments into our relationships, friendships, look after our health, plan our finances, invest in our community, our hobbies. While these are important for us to not get tunnel vision or siloed, these social networks also become the web that creates a wide support base for us. When all hope seemed lost, Nims reached out to his community of followers, friends, and fellow mountaineers. They were the ones who helped him overcome the last hurdle (I won't give away any spoilers here)!
Lesson nine: Having a good partner, as Nims did, in his wife, while not mission critical, can be a tremendous strength. A good partner has their own journey, and will not try to stifle yours, and neither overshadows the other. This reduces our sense of overwhelm of our undertaking (yes there’s behavioural science behind this) provided they are able to put aside their discomfort. How rarely do we do that? So much of our lives, centers around our own comfort, our safety, and our fears. And if our goal was selfish, all we’d be doing, with or without our partners, is worrying about our precious selves and all the countless forces outside of us that could hijack our goals. The more we consider the other, the less we fear for our petty selves.
And finally, once all these big plans have made, all that remains is for you to put one step in front of the other and just enjoy the ride. The highest peaks are yours for the taking!
I hope these lessons have inspired you to reach beyond your fears and to express your infinite potential Have a wonderful 2022, my dear friends.