Travel has a unique way of shaping our souls, delving deep into our inner selves, and altering our perspective on life. It acts as a transformative teacher, imparting profound wisdom if we remain open to its lessons.
A year ago, I returned from a remarkable 21-day journey to Everest Base Camp in Nepal’s Himalayas. This journey had been etched in my heart for two decades but was further delayed by the pandemic. Challenges loomed – work commitments, an extended separation from my children, and doubts about physical preparedness and age. However, a persistent call resonated within me, urging me towards the Himalayas.
While this wasn’t my first long-distance journey, it felt different. Recent life changes had surfaced old and new fears. This trek posed a question: should I confront these fears or let them hold me back? Simultaneously, my heart had opened, radiating an unfamiliar yet powerful strength. In the end, the call of my heart drowned out the whispers of doubt, and I embarked on this magnificent journey. The mountains taught me that our strength does not lie in the absence of fear but in the courage to face it. It took a year to fully integrate and distill the essence of this transformative experience.
The Journey Begins: Confronting the Unknown
Our trekking journey began as we boarded a small plane bound for Lukla, home to the world’s most perilous airport, nestled at an altitude of 9,337 feet. From Lukla, cars were replaced by animals, helicopters, and, most significantly, our own feet. For the next 14 days, we trekked relentlessly, each day revealing breathtaking beauty around every corner. As we ascended, the wind grew fiercer, the cold more biting, and respiratory illnesses struck a few of our companions.
On the fifth day, at 13,000 feet, one member suffered severe altitude sickness, necessitating her descent to lower elevations for several days. We spent eight days above 13,000 feet, ascending Gokyo Ri at 17,500 feet, and reaching Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. Our return journey spanned 32 miles over 2.5 days, involving a 5,000-foot ascent and an almost 12,000-foot descent.
Creature comforts became a luxury: infrequent showers due to the cold, frigid nights with no room heating, and the challenge of getting out of a warm sleeping bag in the freezing morning air.
The journey was a rollercoaster of emotions—joy, tears, awe, exhaustion—and a test of our physical and emotional limits.
Valuable insights were discovered in the Himalayas that resonate powerfully with conscious leadership – self-discovery, embodied and heart-based leadership, and embracing the unknown.
Insight 1: Summiting the Peaks Within – Addressing Fears & Limiting Beliefs
Even though I work with clients on overcoming limiting beliefs, experiencing them personally was different. Limiting beliefs aren’t just in our minds; they’re deeply ingrained in our bodies as a means of self-protection. These beliefs are like a ship designed to keep us safe, but sometimes, that ship needs to be sunk.
My own journey was crowded with fears about my physical capabilities and concerns about leaving my children for 21 days. Ultimately, the trip made me physically and emotionally stronger than I had been in years. I realized that my children needed to witness their mother pursuing her heart’s desires despite the unknown.
One of the most physically challenging moments occurred on Gokyo Ri, a seemingly unimposing hill nestled amid towering 20,000+ foot peaks. In reality, it entailed a climb from 15,500 feet (higher than any point in the U.S) to 17,500 feet in just 1.2 miles. The path to the summit was clear: one foot in front of the other, one breath at a time. As I neared the top, fears and limiting beliefs dissipated, leaving only the connection between me and the Earth. The closer I came to the peak, the more my heart expanded in profound joy.
This experience mirrored the fears and limiting beliefs we carry into our professional lives. What if we took the time to confront and conquer these inner mountains? How might it transform our impact in the workplace and in the world?
Insight 2: Opening the Heart and Trusting the Journey
In the thin Himalayan air, vulnerability became inevitable. Westerners often clutch tightly to plans and expectations, but this inflexibility wasn’t tested until we encountered it head-on. Plans frequently shifted, destinations were missed, communication was unreliable, and discomfort prevailed. Letting go of the rigid expectations in favor of embracing the present moment with an open heart was a continual challenge.
In the corporate world, layers of armor often obstruct our best work and collective innovation. What if we allowed our hearts to guide us and trusted that compassion and profit could coexist?
Insight 3: Leadership Lessons from the Sherpa People
Nepal’s Khumbu region is home to the Sherpa people, who provided invaluable leadership lessons during our journey. Our local Sherpa guides led us each day with a loose plan. They secured lodging and provisions on the fly, calmly adapting to changing circumstances. Their grounded, flexible approach was inspiring.
Envision this type of adaptability and grace into our organizations—a leadership paradigm where plans are held lightly, and responses to the present moment are met with poise and resilience. Such leadership fosters an evolved culture and ignites the potential to inspire teams and customers alike.
Insight 4: Balancing Self and Service
Balancing self-discovery with service to others is a delicate balance. On our trek, the intricacies of this balance became evident, especially as we approached Everest Base Camp. The night before our arrival, we stayed in Laboche, a village perched at 16,100 feet, enduring an exceptionally frigid night. We set out before sunrise for the five-mile trek to Everest Base Camp, situated at 17,600 feet. Along the way, some among us grappled with the measured pace, others struggled with the altitude, and some had to work through physical pains that come with multiple days of hiking, yet together, it marked an extraordinary triumph.
This journey mirrors the challenge faced by leaders—to find a harmonious balance between self-awareness and selfless service. It’s a symphony where leaders learn to care for themselves while also nurturing the growth of those they lead. Achieving this balance can be transformative. It gives rise to humility, deepens empathy, and enhances the effectiveness of leadership that uplifts individuals and evolves organizations from within.
Insight 5: Listening to the Body and Embracing Rest
Upon returning home, the true transformation began. Sickness, intense events, and unrelenting fatigue followed. At first, it felt like misery, but I soon realized that it might be my body and soul shedding old layers. It was akin to an injury that breaks us open, allowing new energy to flow in. I surrendered to the fatigue, listened to my body, and let go of habits and relationships that no longer served me.
In a culture that glorifies perpetual productivity, we often ignore the body’s signals and the collective energy. We undervalue the importance of restorative reflection and rest, both individually and collectively. What if we had the wisdom to make room for these messages and energies, embracing rest as a powerful catalyst for growth and transformation?
Conclusion: Leading with Heart and Embracing the Unknown
My journey to the Himalayas transcended a trek; it was an exploration of the human spirit. It taught me that leading with an open heart requires confronting fears, embracing vulnerability, and having the courage to rewrite our stories. It was an experience of leading with heart and embracing the unknown—a potent reminder that the greatest limitations we face are often the ones we impose upon ourselves.
In the corporate world, these lessons resonate just as powerfully. As leaders, we must embrace vulnerability, confront our fears, and rewrite the narratives that limit our organizations’ potential. The call to lead with an open heart and courageously navigate the unknown is not exclusive to the mountains—it echoes within the boardrooms and offices where impactful decisions are made. I challenge you to explore how you, as a corporate leader, can lead with more heart, unlocking untapped potential and guiding your team towards new summits of success.