Have you heard the expression “The mountains are the best teacher” in terms of personal growth? For a long time, I knew about it but didn’t quite understand it until I started trekking in the mountains. The question “Why are mountains the best teacher” can have many answers. For me, the fact that you face greater challenges than in reality is most likely the answer. But I’d rather share what I learned during my time spent trekking and how I apply those lessons to my personal growth and professional development.
Lesson 1: Never give up
You have probably heard it many times. “Don’t give up. Continue no matter what”. But what does that mean applied to our everyday lives? In most cases, the consequences of giving up are actually small. I couldn’t meet a certain deadline. I couldn’t pass an exam. Let’s put that in another perspective. Imagine you are in the 10th hour of a 14-hour hike. Your muscles are hurting like never before. Your feet are swollen, and every step feels like a world of pain. You have no more energy in your body. Your mind is screaming that you can’t do it. You should just sit and…
Well, this is the moment you realize that quitting is just not an option. You have to reach your destination. You didn’t prepare for a sleep in the middle of nowhere. Of course, you could do it but in some cases that equals death. I can’t imagine a better way to learn that than experiencing the lesson. So when things get really hard at times, I simply imagine I don’t have the option to quit. I just need to continue, and I will never give up.
Lesson 2: Plans are necessary, but they can change
On the one hand, good planning in the mountains is essential for your success and, on some occasions, your survival. You need to know what distance you need to cover for the day. Also, you need a trekking time estimate, so you avoid being caught in the open when the night comes. Is there a water source on the way, and what amount of water you should carry? Of course, there are a lot more things to consider but let’s stick to the basics. Most cases with people needing rescuing in the mountains are because of bad or no planning at all. So you need to plan, but you can’t actually plan everything. Things like sudden weather changes, losing track, suffering from an injury or even walking slower than usual. And you need to prepare for these scenarios. However, don’t try to push yourself simply because you need to follow the plan. Whenever circumstances change, change the plan! But then why have a plan in the first place?
Try to think of it this way.
Without a plan you wouldn’t even know what your options are, you will need to improvise and unless you are very experienced you would probably fail miserably.
I apply the same principle in my work and daily life. I make a plan, but I also check what are the weakest points and my options, especially if I have no control over them. In case the initial plan fails, I have some knowledge of what I can do to continue. Another important aspect of this kind of thinking is your expectation. Usually, the more effort you put into a plan, the bigger the expectation becomes. Bigger expectations lead to bigger disappointments and often to loss of motivation. But if you account that things won’t always go according to plan, this is expectation management, and it really helps your personal growth.
Lesson 3: Take it one step at a time
It’s early in the morning. You just had breakfast in the hut, and you are about to leave for today’s journey. If you start thinking about how much you need to do throughout the day, you will most likely lose motivation to even start. This is similar to when you are at the bottom of a peak you want to climb. If you start thinking of how much height you need to cover, you will most likely decide to stay at the hut. Just don’t do it. You already planned for it. You know that it is possible to be done. Just go.
Put smaller goals along the way to keep your motivation up. For example, let’s reach that hill and take a break there. Let’s get out of the woods to see that magnificent view before rest. The same thing applies to your daily routine. If the goal is too big and you start thinking about the big picture, you will lose motivation. But if you break it into smaller goals and repeat yourself “One step at a time”, you can accomplish much more than you’ve imagined.
Lesson 4: Enjoy the journey, not the destination
As people, we are often too focused on the destination. As good as the destination might be, it’s just a small fracture of the whole experience. You climbed for 4 hours to get to the top of a peak. You stayed there for half an hour and you need to go back for another 4 hours. At this moment, a simple calculation can tell you that if you enjoy 30 minutes out of 8 and a half hours of a trip, you probably hated 8 hours of it. Not a big motivation to go on the trip in the first place, isn’t it?
But what if you enjoy the whole trip? What if you enjoy just climbing and not even thinking about the top? Sounds like a lot more motivating. Same thing applies to our personal lives. If we enjoy what we do, we have a lot more motivation to do it. I don’t suggest following catchy phrases like “Make your hobby your job, and you would not work a day in your life”. I urge you to appreciate the journey as much as the destination. This way, the boring task you need to do to accomplish your goal at work might even become interesting or at least more bearable.
Lesson 5: You’re stronger than you think
Ofen people prefer to stay in their comfort zone. It’s called a comfort zone for a reason. But then how can we find out how strong we are? Only through challenges can we learn about our inner strength. You started at the bottom of the peak, and now you are proudly taking a photo at the top or just taking your well-deserved rest. Either way, you can see that what you once thought was impossible is now a fact. Maybe other so-called “impossible things” can also be accomplished? The only way to find out is to challenge yourself and see how far you can actually go.
Lesson 6: The Art of Patience
For the hot-headed people that decided to challenge themselves, this one is particularly important. “Rome was not built in a day” is a good way to think about your journey. You may need a day, a few days, a week or even more to accomplish your goal. For example, I wanted to challenge myself and cross almost the whole of Bulgaria on foot through the Balkan mountain (about 500 km from peak Kom to black sea “nos” Emine). I had some trekking experience, but I wasn’t particularly trained in this kind of activity. I needed to be patient and train every weekend for about 2 months, and even then, I wasn’t prepared enough.
So I planned to spend more days on this journey. I accomplish it for 22 days, and there are people doing it for 14 or even less (the record is about 5 days). What would have happened if I didn’t have the patience and decided to go right away, without training first, or decided to push for a shorter time? Actually, I had a previous attempt at exactly that. I was impatient and decided to go before I was ready. Well, the mountain gave me a valuable lesson – I had severe knee pain and I had to quit even before halfway was reached. Challenge yourself, go out of your comfort zone, test your strength but do it gradually. Learn to be patient as some things just take more time.
Lesson 7: Humility
On my first attempt at “Kom-Emine” I met an old mountaineer. He had his fair share of mountain experience, and one thing, in particular, caught my attention. He was telling me that in his youth he used to go out in snowstorms but as his body aged his brain started thinking differently.
Instead of thinking that he can do anything without any help, he started doing things the smart way. He started planning better, taking more rests, taking less risks and in the end enjoying the trips more! Initially, his ego blinded him. When you are young and strong you think you can do anything alone. However, the fact is that if you want to go fast this might be true but if you want to go far you need all the help you can get. You need to admit you have weaknesses and work on them. Otherwise, in one way or another life will put you in your place the same way mountains did for me and that old mountaineer.
Following these lessons helped me both in professional and personal growth. I still have a long way to go with learning but I’m trying to enjoy this journey as much as I can while reaching my next destination. I hope you find my experience interesting and decide to try the mountain experience yourself.