Lessons learned while climbing Kilimanjaro

On Mt. Kilimanjaro, we climbed for 8 days, usually 6-8 hours a day, not including the 16-hour summit day.

That gives a climber lots of time to think.

Now that I am back in Canada, I am trying to put together some of the lessons I have learned while on the climb. There are several I am mulling over now, I am sure there will be more later.

First, take risks. Its a short life and it is very easy to get caught up in the comfortable routine of everyday life. I sincerely believe that you need to be looking for the risks out there that will make you a stronger person, that will help your school, that will enhance learning and that ultimately will stretch you out of the comfort zones we all enjoy too much.

For me, I needed to get out of the destructive cycle of work and I needed to challenge myself physically and spiritually. In some ways, I needed to find some way to cleanse myself from the corporate education world. Bitterness and cynicism were seeping in and I needed a totally new challenge to break a destructive cycle. Climbing the highest mountain in Africa seemed to be the ticket.

The Barranco Wall – looking down

If you are not taking risks, what are you doing? What are you waiting for? Why are you wasting your time waiting for something to happen – nothing will unless you make it happen.

Second, your body is your vehicle. I have taken part in some challenging physical ventures over the years. As a youth, I planted trees in the mountains of British Columbia. Later, I ran marathons and more recently, I took part in bike touring events stretching over two days and over 300 Km.

What I learned from these experiences and again on Kilimanjaro was that without a well-maintained body I was going nowhere. I trained hard for six months to build up my muscles and lung capacity, I was careful about what I ate, I drank up to 6 litres of water every day on the mountain. All of this because I wasn’t going to make it if my body shut down – it was the only way I was going to summit.

This is a great thing. We really don’t have to depend on our bodies very much. We may appreciate them more when we get sick, but generally, we live a pretty sedentary life and we make few demands on our bodies. It is liberating to turn your focus on your own body and see it as the only vehicle that will help you reach your goals. I appreciate my body more now and am committed to keeping it in good shape to be ready for the next challenge.

Tough morning of steep climbing on the way to Shira Camp

Third, what is your social mission? We are all connected and many of us in the Global North are very privileged. So when choosing a venture or a project, ask yourself what is the social good I am creating as part of this project. For us, this was easy, each of us was connected to a charity through the Dream Mountains Foundation.

If I ever do this again (I can’t believe I just wrote that), I will do it because the expedition will allow me to give back to the community – in my case the Sens Foundation.  Everything we do is social and everything we do should have some social good attached to it. When I worked at my last school, all our projects were designed around the idea of helping students and families that did not have the same opportunities as most of us enjoy. All of the Dream Mountains charities try to address this imbalance.

Finally, listen to people who know what they are talking about. As a principal, it was easy to disregard the advice I received from many people. Part of this was plain arrogance, part of this was based on the fact that I didn’t always receive very good advice that could help our students and our school – very few people at the district level had a good understanding of the roadblocks to progress that existed for our children.

So, it is important to discern. Who has valuable advice. Who is motivated to work with you to make you and others successful? This is a challenging process and you may be disappointed – many times over. Having said this, there are good, wise people out there who will work with you and will ensure that you are successful.

On Kilimanjaro, we had three people like this – Shawn Dawson, Kristi Johnston and Jason Colley – our Canadian guides. Each of these people consistently gave us all important advice that prepared us for this incredible climb and that protected us on the mountain. I can’t say I always liked their advice, but they were right, they were experienced and most importantly they knew how to lead people – a very rare commodity in my opinion.

I can say I listened to them, I took their advice and I have immense respect for all three of them. In your own ventures and work, try to seek out people like this, people you can really trust who will not let you down.

If you are a leader, try and do this yourself. Don’t disappoint the people who work with you. Strive to give them advice that will empower them and help them grow.

Make sure they make it to the top of their mountain.

Our Dream Mountains Team at the beginning of the climb

4 thoughts on “Lessons learned while climbing Kilimanjaro

  1. Nathalie Roy

    As I’m reading your post, I’m wondering if you were reading my mind…I truly enjoy reading your posts – I can make so many personal connections – I wish I had had the opportunity to work with you more closely!

    Like

  2. Paul, that was so inspiring…. not like I expected anything else !!! You learned a lot and you just taught a lot ! Thank you.
    I did have the privilege of workink with paul for many years and all I can say is … life continues to get better for him and he is a very wise man !

    Like

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