On May 24, 2010, I made it to the summit of Mount Everest. After turning back at the South Summit—just a few hundred feet from the top in 2002—I swore I would never try again. And trust me, there were many moments of self-doubt.
I am often asked what it was like—to go back to that mountain eight years later, after everything I had been through, and finally stand on top of the highest mountain in the world. I can honestly tell you (wait for it…deep breath…) it just wasn’t that big a deal. Heavy sigh. Think about it for a moment. It’s just a mountain. It’s nothing more than a big ol’ pile of rock and ice. And you are only on the summit for a very short time. You spend two months climbing that mountain, and only a few minutes at the very top. I was up there for thirty minutes. Standing on top of a mountain is not important, and the people who stand on top of Mount Everest are no better than the people who turn around short of the summit. Because climbing mountains isn’t about standing on the top of a pile of rock and ice for a few minutes—it’s about the lessons you learn along the way and how you are going to use that knowledge and experience to better yourself going forward.
I promise you that plenty of better, stronger, more skilled, much more deserving climbers than Alison Levine didn’t make it that day—for whatever reason. Most of them turned back because of the weather. But because I had that failed experience from 2002 under my belt, I knew what it felt like to get beat up and knocked around on that mountain. I knew what it was like to get the snot kicked out of me high up on the summit ridge in a storm. And I wasn’t afraid of that this time around. I knew what my risk tolerance was, and I knew what my pain threshold was. Had I not had that failed experience eight years prior, I very well might have turned around when most others did.
Shortly after my return, the New York Times published a photo of me at the summit, which resulted in phone calls from dozens of friends congratulating me on the accomplishment. But there was a lot more to that photo than what they could see. Let me tell you what they didn’t see: the sponsors who helped to fund my trip, the logistics providers who got all the permits in order, the amazing team of Sherpas who helped ferry loads up and down the mountain, the incredible guides who gave me direction along the way, the friends who helped me train before I left for Nepal, the loved ones who gave me their moral support leading up to the trip…I could go on. Always remember: nobody gets to the top of Mount Everest by themselves. Nobody.
Alison Levine is a history-making polar explorer and mountaineer. She has climbed the highest peak on each continent, served as team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition and skied to both the North and South Poles. This excerpt was provided exclusively for Dare To Be Fabulous.
Excerpted from the book ON THE EDGE: Leadership Lessons Learned from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments by Alison Levine. © 2014 by Alison Levine. Reprinted by permission of Business Plus. All rights reserved.