It’s been half a year since I climbed Kilimanjaro and wrote about it. It feels in so many ways that I gave all of myself to it and that there is nothing else left within me. Like I didn’t know what else to climb, where else to go, what is my next big thing.
But it is not.
Kilimanjaro is a big part of my life but as a turning point, as a reset button.
My life has always been a hectic sum of paths that flow rapidly, go parallel and occasionally intersect. From my childhood – school and sports and writing and drawing, to my early marriage – getting babies and finishing university and courses and a boutique, all the way to my middle age with grown-up children, career, being a wife, an activist, a mentor … I always needed my life to go fast and full. And at a certain point, I found myself doing the same things every day, thinking the same thoughts, talking to the same people because it felt like no effort, everything felt the same, only my children decided to grow up and start their own lives without me…
I needed to create something new in my life and I went back to what I was as a child. An explorer and a tester. Exploring the outer world and testing how far can I go. This is how Kilimanjaro happened.
After Kilimanjaro, my “mental climbing” was preparing a TEDx speech as a summary of what happened to me. Luckily, I had a good guide for that too. When we spoke, he asked me what the speech was supposed to be. I told him about challenges in life, having a goal and working towards it, raising children, middle age crisis, freedom, courage, smaller goals, social stigma, failure, giving up, pride, smaller goals, the importance of deep focus, nowness and who knows what else. After he heard my story (can you imagine how he looked at me?) we both knew I had to go back to that importance of focus and sum up. An opportunity to say everything you have in 18 minutes only gives you a whole new perspective, a new structure to your life or at least a new understanding of your life. So gradually I made a three pages story about a book of my life. There were only three important things to say (I only had three cliché conclusions and I hated that, but bear with me):
First cliché: To Achieve a Major Goal, Learn to Go For Small Ones
It came to me when I went climbing Maja e Jezerces – it was terribly cold, the wind was blowing and spraying ice snow particles in my face, it was hard – we climbed 1700 m of difference in altitude and walked through snow 25 kilometers for 18 hours. We couldn’t rest because it was too cold. My way of getting to the top was to ignore my screaming need to give up and focus on the next boulder like it was the last thing I was trying to reach in my life. And then when I got to that boulder I would scan the snow for the next one and focus on getting there. The only way to get to a major goal is through a series of small ones.
Second cliché: It’s Okay to Fail
It’s not talent or natural born skill that drives me through life. It’s sheer stubbornness. And in reaching goals stubborn people get further, with more pain and the road is usually harder, but they will get there (or die on the way). But we do not give up. I don’t know why, but all that seems stupid now. Giving up in life, like giving up in business means mostly that you learned something on the way and realized that the goal was not worth it. Or you missed the point. That happened to me when we went climbing Mont Blanc. We did the acclimatization a day earlier by climbing the Gran Paradiso. Acclimatization means getting used to higher altitudes and thinner air. I was lucky enough not to feel the impact of thinner air of the 4000 meters above sea level. When we started the climb to Mont Blanc the day after, the weather got stormy windy and we gave up. The feeling of giving up meant … nothing. I felt ok. It was such a huge revelation for me that it felt like I reached a special kind of bliss. Not feeling guilty because I gave up. Nice, right?
Third cliché: Flow. Find the flow.
The realization of what makes me happy on the mountain slope came when I tried to explain my resolve when climbing the final part of Kilimanjaro – from Kibo on 4700 m of altitude to Uhuru on 5895 m. Everything in my body was crying to give up – my curling, altitude-stricken stomach, my heavy feet, my struggle with gasping for air on 5500 meters above sea level, my frozen hands. I knew I had to squeeze out the last drop of whatever gives energy to tortured not prepared muscles, and what pulls out oxygen from air and fills your blood. And my brain decided to go with the rhythm of breathing, every time I inhaled I went with the air particles through my nose, to my lungs, to my blood, to my frozen limbs, and back again. One-two breath – step, three-four breath – step, one-two step, three-four step. Your body stops existing at that time, it floats around, just like diving, in three dimensions, the only thing that was there was the volcanic slope, the black sand, the vibration of mountain which felt like it embraced every step I placed on it. I felt my feet being held by the ground and that gave me that last drop of strength to breath in and breath out, to give all of myself to that mountain. That was the flow. I found a way to recognize the moment in which I lose myself. I realized that all of my mountaineering was a source of finding the flow. The flow which dancers find, and musicians and conductors, and math experts, and yogis, and mediation experts, and religious trance. It’s the moment when you are immersed deeply in what you love to do. Kilimanjaro gave me the deepest and longest flow. That’s the moment when I realized that in order to find my future I have to enjoy the presence. And I did.
It feels like with Kilimanjaro I did everything I had to do. I went to other mountains after and I still adore every and each one of them. But Kilimanjaro was a conclusion or the final stage of the change I felt I had to go through even though I know the change didn’t stop.
Life is an ongoing walk, it’s a bike ride for the first time in a decade, it’s diving for the first time and feeling the sense of existing in three dimensions, it’s a parachute jump and nothingness of the air that holds you, it’s the way how I brush my teeth and cut my hair, it’s the approach to my job, and it is in my connection to people. Openness being the one word. Openness to change. And freedom to feel the change.
Uhuru is Swahili for freedom.
Natasa is an avid hiker, but still discovering herself and the world of hiking. This blog is a place where she shares her thoughts of the mountains.
An economist by education, Natasa is the chief marketing officer of Domain.ME, the international tech company that operates the internet domain “.ME.” She’s spent her entire career at the intersection of airline, banking, social media, leadership and technology, and is constantly trying to figure out the secret to being in three different places at the same time.