Apr 4, 2020

Notes from Isolation - Week 2: Finding flow in crisis

“Sooner or later comes a crisis in our affairs, and how we meet it determines our future happiness and success. Since the beginning of time, every form of life has been called upon to meet such crisis.” - Robert Collier

Among family, friends and colleagues I’ve observed a fairly consistent response to the rapidly evolving Covid-19 crisis. Over the past two weeks, most conversations and social media feeds seem to be dominated by people striving valiantly for a sense of normalcy — hustling to establish new family and work routines, leading or participating in Olympic-inspired fitness schedules, becoming yogis, creating Montessori schools on their kitchen tables and orchestrating family lockdown adaptations of Les Misérables. They hope to buckle down for a short stint until life returns to normal. 

Even with my ‘glass half full’ outlook on life and my own quarantine-driven aspirations to become a Michelin-star chef, whilst I wholeheartedly applaud the energy, drive and creativity to do this, I wish anyone who pursues that path the best of luck...

Behind this scramble for short-term productivity is a futile assumption. The answer to the question everyone is asking — "When will this be over?" — is simple, yet hard to accept. The answer is... never. 

Here’s the reality. Global crisis and catastrophes change the world. Even if we contain the Covid-19 crisis within a few months, the lasting impacts of this pandemic will shape our future for years, perhaps decades to come. The way we move, build, spend, learn, and connect will be changed forever. There’s no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened. And so, while it might feel good in the moment or in the short-term, it’s foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about our personal productivity right now. Instead, it’s healthier to embrace the new normal. The mentally, emotionally and spiritually sane response for all of us is to prepare to be forever changed.

I’m struggling like everyone else - searching for answers, balance and following my own coping mechanisms. There are days that I struggle to get out of bed. There are also days that I find myself in a frenzy of baking, drawing and bending into downward dogs until 2am. To help navigate the new normal (in whatever form that takes), I’ve started drawing from experience in previous crises and those shared by others. These have included natural disasters, political and economic unrest and uncertainty and personal challenge. 

Based on this, I thought I’d share a few thoughts and observations below in the hope that it provides some useful ideas as “physical distancing” and “PPE” become part of our everyday vernacular. 

“Take the first step, and your mind will mobilize all its forces to your aid. But the first essential is that you begin. Once the battle is startled, all that is within and without you will come to your assistance.” - Robert Collier

Your first few days and weeks in a crisis are crucial. Make plenty of room to allow for a mental adjustment - it’s completely normal to feel bad, lost and pretty discombobulated. Consider it a good thing that you’re not in denial and that you’re allowing yourself to work through the anxiety that is completely natural. No sane person feels good during a global disaster - be grateful for the discomfort of your sanity. At this stage, focus on essentials like food, family, friends, and maybe fitness. (Spoiler alert: You won’t become an Olympic athlete or a yogi  in the next two weeks, so don’t put ridiculous expectations on your body.)

Next, ignore everyone posting ‘productivity porn’ on social media. It’s ok that you keep waking up at 2am. It’s ok that you forgot to eat lunch, ate a bag of Doritos for dinner and can’t find the willpower to do a Zoom yoga class. It’s ok that you haven't completed a 10,000 piece jig-saw puzzle. Ignore those who are posting that they are baking cakes, writing novels, recording podcasts and ignore those who are complaining that they can’t bake cakes, write novels or record podcasts. They’re on their own journey. Cut out the noise..

Know that you are not failing. Let go of all of the futile ideas about what you ‘should’ be doing right now. Instead, focus on your physical and psychological security. Your first priority should be on taking care of you and securing your surroundings. Stock your pantry with sensible essentials (that includes toilet paper, but food too), clean your house, organise a dedicated work space and make a coordinated family plan. l Have conversations with your loved ones about preparedness and contingencies. If you have a family member who is a front-line or essential worker, redirect your energies and support them as a top priority. Identify their needs, and then meet those needs.

Irrespective of what your family unit looks like, you’ll need a team in the weeks and months ahead. Come up with a plan of activities for social connectedness - while maintaining physical distancing - with a small group of family, friends, and/or neighbors. Identify the elderly and the vulnerable and make sure they’re included and receive the support they need to maintain physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

The best way to build a team is to be a good teammate. Take the initiative to ensure that you’re not alone. If you don’t put this psychological infrastructure in place, the mental, emotional and spiritual challenges of physical-distancing and potential self isolation and quarantine measures will be crushing. Build a sustainable and safe social unit now.

“Start where you are. Distant fields always look greener, but opportunity lies right where you are. Take advantage of every opportunity of service.” - Robert Collier

Once you’ve established yourself and your team, you’ll feel more stable, your mind and body will adjust, and you’ll begin to crave more demanding activities. Human beings, by nature, are incredibly resilient. Given time, your brain will reset to new crisis conditions, and your ability to do higher-level work will resume.

This mental shift to ‘stabilize’ will help you to return to being a great partner, friend, sibling, colleague, neighbor even under extreme conditions. But don’t rush or prejudge your mental shift - it will take time to transition to the new normal. A post I recently saw on Instagram: "Day 1 of Quarantine: ‘I’m going to meditate and do body-weight training.’ Day 4: *just pours the ice cream into the pasta*" — it’s funny but it also speaks directly to the issue.

Now more than ever, we must abandon the performative and embrace the authentic. Our essential mental shifts require humility and patience. Focus on real internal change. These human transformations will be honest, raw, ugly, hopeful, frustrating, beautiful, and divine. And they’ll be slower than many of us are used to. But therein is the opportunity and the growth. Be slow. Let this distract you. Let it change how you think and how you see the world. Because the world is our work. And so, may this tragedy tear down all our faulty assumptions, rid us of our bad habits, and give us the courage of bold new ideas.

“In every adversity there lies the seed of an equivalent advantage. In every defeat is a lesson showing you how to win the victory next time.” - Robert Collier

On the other side of this shift, as you embrace and accept a new normal, your wonderful, creative, resilient brain will be waiting for you. When your foundations are strong, build a weekly schedule that prioritizes the security of your home team, and then carve out time blocks for different categories of your life. Do the easy tasks first and work your way into the heavy lifting. Wake up early. The Zoom yoga classes, meditation and cake baking will be easier at this stage.

With time, things will start to feel more natural. The adaptations you’ll notice in your life will also make more sense, and you’ll find yourself more comfortable about changing or undoing what is already in motion. New ideas will emerge that would not have come to mind had you stayed in denial. Continue to embrace your mental shift. Have faith in the process. And continue to support your team.

Think of it as a marathon. If you sprint at the beginning, you’ll be sick on your shoes by the end of the month. Emotionally prepare for this crisis to continue for the long term, followed by a slow recovery. If it ends sooner, be pleasantly surprised. Right now, work toward establishing your wellbeing and productivity, under sustained conditions.

Of course, there will be a day when the pandemic is over. We’ll hug our neighbors and our friends. We’ll dance in the streets, embrace nature and the outdoors. We’ll return to our offices and parks and coffee shops. Our borders will reopen to freer movement. Our economies will one day recover.

Yet we’re just at the beginning of that journey. For most people, our minds haven’t yet come to terms with the fact that the world has already changed. Some of us are already feeling distracted and guilty for not being there enough for our family, friends and colleagues or using their time in isolation for bursts of physical and creative productivity. All of that is noise and denial - and right now, denial only serves to delay the essential process of acceptance, which will allow us to reimagine ourselves in this new reality and take the steps to move toward it.

So let’s keep going, everyone. Remember, on the other side of this journey of acceptance are hope and resilience. We will know that we can do this, even if our struggles continue for years. We will be creative and responsive, and we’ll find light in all the nooks and crannies. We’ll learn new recipes and make new friends. We will have projects we cannot imagine today, and we’ll inspire strangers we’ve not yet met. And we’ll help each other. No matter what happens next, together, we will be ready to move forward.


Robert Collier (1885 – 1950) was an American author of self-help and New Thought metaphysical books in the 20th century, researching and writing about the practical psychology of abundance, desire, faith, visualization, confident action, and personal development. 

Mar 22, 2020

Notes from Isolation - Week 1: Doing my bit "te-quil-a"​ virus and flatten the curve

What a week. Where do I begin?  

My week actually started earlier this month when the promise of sand, sunshine, and margaritas beckoned so I flew down to Mexico for a short break. Fast forward two weeks, and I find myself back in Canada, with a fading tan and kicking off a second week of self-isolation, wondering if my last shot of Mexican tequila was a symbolic last hurrah, as I now do my part te-quil-a virus or, at the very least, flatten the curve.  

If you know me or have been following my posts for a while, you’ll know that I normally try and look at the positive side of life (sorry-not-sorry). I’m usually a glass-half-full type of person and as I get older, I find myself even more so. Today, amidst the whirlwind of hysteria, scaremongering, propaganda, conspiracies and fake news I’m doing my best to take the route to search for the seemingly silver lining and for opportunities to express gratitude.  And despite the facts that are being presented to us today, as events and updates unfold by the minute, hour and day, there remains opportunity for this. I’m grateful for this.

Let’s start with opportunity. This is a time for us to practise stillness, to get beyond what we initially recognize as boredom and slow down, reassess and re-evaluate what’s important. Check in with ourselves, with others, read more, write more, innovate more, catch up on the ever increasing load of adulting we’ve been putting off – the bane of everyone’s life: life admin. Spring clean (in the current climate spring-cleaning to a much more clinical degree with something incredibly antibacterial, at least twice). Taking stock; out with the old, and making an effort to introduce less ‘new’. Becoming more resourceful and less wasteful. Understanding the true value of ‘things’. There’s something mentally cleansing about the physical act of streamlining – tidy room, tidy mind.

It sounds great doesn’t it?

Perhaps this is an opportunity to clear the ever-growing backlog of “stuff” that work and social life excuse us from ever getting around to. Not an envelope left to open, not an email left to file, everything unnecessary out of the way, space made for the things you do use and things you love. Knowing where each of those things are. Heaven.

Perhaps this is a chance for us to breathe. A chance for our planet and our world to breathe. A noticeable decrease in air pollution. In noise pollution. A chance for wildlife to flourish. I’m not a forestry or conservation expert, but I have seen ‘The Biggest Little Farm’ and it reminded me of how we can course-correct.  And I watched ‘Peanut Butter Falcon’. (You must watch Peanut Butter Falcon. Please. With all the time you have on your hands I’d recommend it - I haven’t seen anything as warming or fulfilling in ages. Watch it twice.)

I digress. This is all great, if it’s a luxury you’re afforded. But I realize that for many of us it’s not.

There are many of us who can’t sit this out at home on Duolingo learning a new language (¿Tienes papel higiénico?), picking up a past hobby and strumming on a guitar, doing life-art classes in our living room, or signing up to a multitude chef masterclasses in an attempt to become the cook you were never destined to be.

That rainy day that we were encouraged to save for? Guess what folks, it’s here. And unfortunately it’s not just a day. A large part of today’s uncertainty is that despite the many ever-changing predictions about how long this will last, no one actually has a bloody clue. What we do know is, "…that the present is pregnant with the future.” Cheers for that Voltaire.

I sit here eating the final crumbs of Doritos rations whilst still in my pj’s at 1pm. I realize it’s Mothers Day in the UK as I scroll through a bitter-sweet social-media feeds of elderly Mum’s separated from children and grandchildren by the double-paned windows of their care-homes and the screens of technology many are largely unfamiliar with. I’m reminded that there are people who were in isolation long before it was advised. Elderly without family, people with immobility issues, crippling anxiety, agoraphobia, people who felt alone amongst the ever increasing population; people bullied or who feel alien amongst their community, those who feel isolated because of a lack thereof.

Then there are the psychological effects. The fear of catching the disease, the fear of our loved ones catching the disease. The stress of not knowing how to cope with whatever problems this pandemic will present. The frenzy it’s sending ill-informed and panicked parts of our society into is seeing us descend into Black Friday / IKEA sale-like mania. Videos of fights breaking out in grocery stores are making their way onto Instagram or being shared on Facebook make for anxious and difficult watching. You’d hope the idea of isolation would encourage standing still and taking a deep breath, a greater humility and more care for one another, a rise in localism and a strengthening of community. Not fighting over toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

As the number of cases rise, sadly so do the deaths – the most vulnerable and most susceptible being those already suffering with other illnesses and the elderly. In a world that often seems to lean towards prioritizing the lives and wellbeing of those who are well, will this be a time that reminds us that those less well, fortunate or capable deserve an equal standing in society? The world could do with a bit more altruism. The people making a real difference are those making themselves vulnerable in order to care for those in greater need. These are the real heroes - the doctors, nurses, healthcare and social workers, police officers, firefighters, and already under-paid and over-worked, will be called upon further. The importance of services already under strain, understaffed and underfunded will surely be highlighted. But when all is said and done and we return to whatever normal will then be, will this be remembered? I hope so.

As I type, laws are being passed to halt mass gatherings and I can’t help but think about the old sayings ‘Strength in numbers’ and ‘Together we stand, divided we fall’. How do we come together when we quite literally cannot?

I started this blog saying that I was a glass-half full type of person and yet I feel like everything I’ve touched on thus far is ‘doom and gloom’. I’ll get to my point. The silver lining. Ultimately it comes down to a simple idea. The way to feel positive emotions in these uncertain times is by embracing the vulnerability we all feel at the moment – and don’t run away from it.  You can endure struggle.  And the best way to tackle complicated, multi-faceted problems is by doing it together, in teams. In fact, going-it-alone is probably the worst approach. Given our “physical-distancing” restrictions, we just have to be a bit more creative in what that means. The power of technology makes this easier. #InItTogether

While we are physically separated from each other it’s critical that we maintain connection. And the key to connection is being open with each other. Helping each other. Asking for help.  And thinking of each other. We connect by simply being our true and authentic selves with each other – our family, friends, colleagues, and communities.

Right now, more than ever, I’m seeing what the power of vulnerability unlocks in all of us. In fact, this is the time where the bonds of connection become so incredibly powerful.  When we have the courage to check-in on each other, even when it feels like stepping across sometimes  unspoken “professional line”; when we demonstrate kindness and compassion as the norm for the workplace; when we look for opportunities to help each other.  This is how a culture of vulnerability maximizes connection when we are all apart.

So, I guess that’s where this blog ends, with a question, or with a leaving thought…

In a world post COVID-19, after having jumped out of our hamster wheels and having reconnected with the real world and with our vulnerabilities, will we be able to carry on forward having broken the all of the habits which make us ugly and broke our planet – our excessive, wasteful nature; our greed?

One thing I hope is that when all this is over, the world will have remembered what actually matters, and be a place that’s just a little bit kinder. And for me that’s the silver lining.

For any front line workers – doctors, nurses, healthcare and social workers, police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers, pharmacy workers, food-bank volunteers – reading this post, I want you to know that you’re our heroes right now.  You are causing gratitude to spread faster than this virus ever will. Thank you for your courage.

Apr 4, 2019

People You Meet Along the Way: Next Stop - Nepal: Destination Unknown....

You're off to great places,
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting, 
So... get on your way..!
-Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You'll Go

A few final thoughts as I drag two heavy bags out the door for a long journey to Nepal. I’m feeling a wide range of emotions from apprehension and nervousness, to that insatiable adrenaline rush you get when you stand on the cusp of the unknown and prepare to leap. 

Preparing to leap. The biggest challenge with this expedition - like so many decisions in life (e.g. changing roles at work, moving to countries, moving homes, starting and ending relationships), has been making the decision to ‘go for it’ – to upset the controlled routine of a comfortable home, a steady job doing work I enjoy, a living a simple life at a manageable pace…  So why change? Why upset the proverbial ‘apple cart’? when a life of predictability and comfort is so much easier...

I wish that I had the answer but I don’t. When my head questions the ‘why’, my heart pulls me forward and I’ve never regretted succumbing to the pull. 

Succumbing to the pull hasn’t always been easy or straightforward but it’s always brought me contentment and ultimately happiness as a result – although not always in ways that I’d anticipated. But this is the thrill of life, and in living beyond our comfort zones… life tests and rewards in many different ways, each test and reward bringing us closer to our true selves. 

Life truly is a ‘journey’. The person I am today – right here, right now – is the patchwork of decisions and choices that I’ve made along the way. Through these decisions and choices I’ve discovered freedom and joy in movement, in meeting new people, in finding comfort in discomfort. I’ve fed a thirst for learning – learning from others, from my environment, and in some cases, learning from myself. I’ve learned not to judge myself too harshly when things don’t go as expected. I’ve learned that taking time out to ‘sit still’, and just ‘be’ is perhaps the easiest way to move in the ebb and flow of life. 

To just “be”. I think this is why I keep coming back to Nepal. My first visit was 20 years ago on a trek of the Annapurna Circuit. From that first visit and every visit since, I’ve been gently reminded to ‘just be’. This happens the second you step off the plane, go through the character-building initiation of Immigration and Passport Control, and experience the sheer chaos of baggage reclaim. Eventually you’re spat out the other end of the process and you’re picked up and whisked away to your guest house wiping the sweat off your brow.  Letting go is the theme – the more you try to make sense of the chaos the more lost and frustrated you become. Trust the natural flow. Go with the flow… and have no expectations. It comes more easily now both in Nepal and closer to home.
This first journey also unlocked a passion for movement, for listening, and learning. I experienced firsthand the power of mother nature and the selfless kindness of strangers. It prompted a continuous journey of reflection on what I could give back to the world in some small way. These themes have continued to be an integral part of my life and form the basis for the way that I have chosen to live. I am grateful for all those who keep me true to this and are there 'in my basecamp'.

This isn’t to say that I can’t find a sense of fulfillment in other places – there are days where a margarita on a beach on a Caribbean island would be a preferable option. But for whatever reason – perhaps it is the sheer ‘in your face’ contrast – the beauty, the chaos, the noise, the silence, the nature, the filth, that the lessons just seem more ‘gentle’ here through their extremes.

Stepping out of a comfort zone, following through on a ‘calling’ and sense of purpose – this is often more daunting than the mountains we find ourselves on. But the fulfillment is in the journey – the lessons learned and the people we meet along the way, and the place that we leave in the world as a result. 

“Give me a rich and satisfying life means one full of contrast. Give me sleep ins and soft rains, coffee shops and conversation but also adrenaline and adventure and drunken bellows to the stars. I am determined to embrace this extraordinary life for all it has to offer.” – Beau Taplin


Where one journey ends, another begins…

Some people have asked what I’ll be doing over the next 7 weeks

I’ll spend the first few days in Kathmandu, slowly integrating into the pace that is Nepal at The Terrace, my ‘home away from home’. Gear organization, grocery shopping, catching up with friends and enjoying a pizza or two will be high on the priority list. 

The runway at Kathmandu airport is under construction so rather than fly to Lukla, our entry-point into the Himalayas, we head overland to the tiny airport of Ramchap. There’s never a dull moment in Nepal especially when it comes to bureaucracy and logistics so I have no doubt there will be a few surprises waiting for us there.
Over the course of the next 3 weeks my climbing partner Mal and I will make our way up into the Khumbu and acclimatize before attempting to climb a 6100m mountain called Kyajo Ri, in alpine style and via the Mende route.

Following the climb, I’ll walk across to the small mountain village of Phortse where I'll help put the finishing touches on the Khumbu Climbing Centre (KCC) in preparation for its Grand Opening in early June.

Next stop - Nepal!

“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you'll move mountains.” 
- Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You'll Go!

Mar 14, 2019

"Tell me a little about yourself..."

Tell me a little about yourself...” I’m speaking on a Panel this weekend to an audience of university students and this is the opening question. It’s straightforward yet I’m struggling to answer it…

What labels do I use to define myself? Labels defined by my career, my hobbies, my relationship-status, where I was born, what I studied in university? What’s on my business card or what’s not on my business card? How do I reflect that I’m multi-faceted and unique with an alchemy of experiences underpinned by values that have influenced the decisions I’ve made in life…?

Are the labels I use truly representative in defining 'me'? Defining myself as a ‘consultant’ feels incomplete… as does ‘climber’ or ‘adventurer’. ‘Daughter, sister’ too one-sided. ‘Lover of life’ too ambiguous… ‘mover and shaker’ too brassy and bold. 'Introverted' too misconstrued… So who am I really? 

Until I stopped to truly consider this question, I was surprised at how quick I'd previously been to strip out the ‘true essence’ of who I am.… 

So who am I? 

What my business card says. I'm employed by a global professional services firm. I have nearly two decades of experience as a Change Management and Communications specialist and have spent most of my career working in financial services.  Rolling up my sleeves to work with organisations to improve the experience of their people by helping to manage the impacts of change - technology changes, regulatory changes, role changes etc. -  is what I love most about my job. I’ve had the opportunity to do this in South Korea, Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cyprus, Switzerland, Netherlands, UK and Canada. I enjoy the diversity of the job, the people I meet, and the fact that every single day I learn something new.

What my business card doesn’t say. I'm a sister. I’m the eldest of four, but definitely not the wisest... I have four nieces and two nephews. I’m not married and I don’t have children. I'm a daughter to my parents who live near Ridgetown and the farm where I grew up. I’m a first-generation Dutch-Canadian and my first language is Dutch. And yes, I like pannekoeken, drop en gezelligheid - sometimes at the same time. I can't cook but I make a mean margarita.

I’m curious. I’m a problem solver, adventurer, facilitator, lover of nature. I love wild places and wide open spaces. I'm humbled by the sheer power and beauty of Mother Nature every single day. The mountains and the sea are where I go to lose myself and find myself at the same time.

Empathy motivates and drives a huge part of my life - from mentoring teams at work, organizing expeditions, to supporting charities in Nepal or closer to home here in Canada. I do my best to live with and be led by an open heart - I don't always get it right but I try. 

When I was 7 years old my elementary school teacher, Mrs. Havens, said that I was 'conscientious'. I had to look the word up in a dictionary at the time. I'm sensitive and feel things deeply, and I always try to understand what other people are going through. The way I fit this into my work and life is by listening more and talking less, paying more attention to the people around me, and trying to understand things from their perspective. 

I value trust, honesty, authenticity. I am grateful for the people and opportunities in my life that reinforce this.

I’m inspired by movement and change. This has led me to explore new places and experience new cultures. I love sharing these experiences with others - although I really enjoy being 'on my own' too. I’ve climbed some of the highest mountains in the world. I’ve been on over 25 expeditions over the past decade and over 15 months of my life have been spent walking up big hills to enjoy the views from above 5,000m/16,500ft. I’ve cycled across Canada and across Tanzania, dragon boat raced down the Thames with the future Queen of England, and white water rafted throughout Nepal. 

In the words of the philosopher Crazy Frog (circa 2005), "I like to 'move it, move it". For me it's about passion and purpose. For Crazy Frog it was more about record sales. 

Combining my interest in people and ‘what makes them tick’, a love for the outdoors, and passion for “giving back” I'm committed to raising money and awareness for causes focused on health, the environment, and education. I’ve done this through an intentional cross-over of all that’s implied by what’s on my business card and what I love to do beyond it. This has been the highlight of my life. It’s where my purpose and passion have come together.

So who am I?

I’m still not sure I have the answer - and maybe there isn't one... and maybe that's the answer in itself.

Tell me a little about yourself?

Mar 8, 2019

The People You Meet Along The Way: Celebrating the Women of the World - International Womens Day 2019

Travel isn’t simply about movement from one place to the next. It’s deeper and broader. In travel, there are lessons to be learned from those who forge their lives in the hustle and bustle of the city, in dusty villages, along rolling hillsides and in the shadows of soaring mountain peaks. 

Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women - while also making a call to action for accelerating gender balance. In celebrating I reflect on gender balance in the context of my travels and the women and men who have made deep impressions on me. Impressions which challenge the stereotypes. Impressions of women at the front. Impressions of women leading, providing and working as equals alongside their male counterparts. Impressions of women, driving change and creating opportunities for women today and for future generations.

Strength and resilience in the Himalayas…

I remember my first trip to the Himalayas over two decades ago. I was welcomed with warm smiles and hot tea into Guest Houses across Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan by kind, strong, and confident women – ‘didis’, mothers, sisters, aunties, grandmothers. Not only were these women business savvy proprietresses, they were the heads of the family - running the household, raising children, managing finances, tending to the gardens and crops. 

Let me introduce the humble Ang Domi Sherpa. She lives a quiet life in the small village of Thame, Nepal. Whilst her husband spends seasons guiding on Everest, Ang Domi raises the family, runs a busy tea-house, and follows her passion for training for the Everest Marathon - she's completed it multiple times including in 2015 when she ran it and raised funds to help rebuild Thame village after it was destroyed in the Nepal earthquake. The 42km race, one of the toughest in the world, starts at Everest Base Camp (5,364m) and ends at Namche Bazaar (3,440m). It was humbling listening to Ang Domi's story - even more so as she sheepishly and somewhat apologetically explained the reason behind one of her ‘slower’ paces - she was pregnant at the time.

Similarly, I reflect on a cup of tea shared with a group of the local women in a small village of Gairung, Nepal following the devastating earthquakes of 2015. Nearly all the homes in the village were destroyed and many men, women and children were injured or lost their lives. I listened as the women quietly told their stories, the depth of their emotions shared through facial expressions, intonations, hand gestures, tears and smiles. Despite not ‘understanding’ the language the lessons and learnings were clear. These women were pillars resilience reflected by the way they pulled together the courage and strength to organise grassroots relief efforts and rebuild their lives, their families and their communities - while their husbands worked on construction projects abroad to generate an income to support the family. 

Business acumen and tenacity in South East Asia…

The women of the markets in countries throughout South East Asia also left an early impression. I think back to the steamy and crowded Chatuchak market in Thailand. The commercial prowess of the women running their busy market stalls laden with stacks of produce, fresh fish and meats would give most business programs a run for their money. I received firsthand lessons in marketing, haggling and client service as I observed the women as they interacted with their eager customers. I watched inspired as they confidently and gracefully beheaded, gutted and wrapped fresh fish with a wink and a smile. 

Culture, celebration and family in Peru…

I think back to an expedition in Peru and the women who celebrated with us upon our return from the dizzying heights of Alpamayo. Local women prepared a celebratory feast and invited us into their homes to experience the richness of the Peruvian culture and cuisine. With great fanfare of music and celebration in their colourful layered skirts, we dined and danced together enjoying a delicious dish of ‘pachamanca’  - potatoes, corn and meat buried and cooked in an underground ‘oven’ of hot stones. Not only was it a celebration of our safe return from the mountains, it was a celebration in and of itself, a source of fertility and life. 

Confidence and capability in the Alps…

A reflection on impressions and inspiration moves next to the women – the guides, the coaches, the mentors, the friends - I’ve shared a rope with in my ‘mountain playground’ of the Chamonix Valley. I’m grateful for their lessons about movement in the mountains and in life more broadly. These women ‘get’ it and they ‘get’ me. The insecurities and vulnerability I feel around harder skills – technical ability, capability, and strength, as well as the softer lessons in purpose, passion and values. I have tremendous gratitude for their listening ears, the firmness of their instruction and gentleness of their advice. I would not be the person I am today – on and off the mountain – without their friendship, support and guidance. 

Discipline, commitment courage and creativity in Alaska… 

There are the women who not only inspire us on our journeys but also physically take us there. A highlight of an expedition to Denali, Alaska was being flown into basecamp by pilot Leighan Falley.  The short film, “Denali’s Raven” provides a glimpse into her life as a pilot, skier, alpinist and mother as she soars above the glaciers and peaks of the Alaska Range with her daughter Skye strapped into the backseat of her de Havilland Beaver. Her story and lesson is one of balance, of discipline, commitment, courage and creativity - a love for the dramatic Alaskan landscape, a need to supplement her career as a mountain guide, and her role as a wife and mother. 

Somewhat awe-struck I stepped into the plane as she shared with me an insight about her experiences in a predominately male dominated industry – “It’s not hard being a female pilot in Alaska, but that’s also the wonderful thing about aviation. The airplane, the mountains, and the weather—they don’t know you’re a woman…” A lesson extending to mountaineering as well.

The people you meet along the way….

There are the women travelers I’ve met along the way. Solo travellers, families, women traveling with their sisters, daughters, aunts, lovers… Some traveling on a holiday, some traveling to raise money for a charity, some simply traveling for the sake of travel. Confident, curious, kind, inspiring women everywhere. These are the women you meet in the coffee shops, in the guest houses, the airports, the visa queues, along the trails, on the summits and on the long journeys home... From these women I learn the importance of listening, sharing and kindness. Everyone has a story and a lesson and there is always a learning.

International Women’s Day 2019...

Today as we celebrate International Women’s Day I’m grateful for all those women and men who continue to challenge perceptions and inspire us to look beyond perceived boundaries. I’ve highlighted a few examples from my travels - but this summary is neither comprehensive nor geographically representative. 

I’m also inspired closer to home by the many women and men in my life – the friends, family, colleagues, mentors, coaches and role models - who are examples for me and many others in environments far removed from adventures in the mountains. 

As my friend the inspiring Shalena Poffenberger recently reflected in her travel blog, Longitudianal Shift. “Women are the ropes that hold communities together. They’ve spun the thread, weaved the cloth, and transformed it into something unbreakable. That’s what a woman is. She is the background, the foreground and the connector. We women work together, we work against each other, and we work on behalf of one another. But all day long, we are working for something.” 

We have much to celebrate today but there is still a long way to go to achieve a world where gender balance is the norm – but until then let us continue to work toward this goal and recognise the women and men around the world who move the dial and are examples to us all. 

Mar 5, 2019

The People You Meet Along The Way: Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans...

Life, they say, is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. I don’t know about you, but it feels like everyone’s ‘busy’ making plans these days. I’ve recently even caught myself hopping on the ‘I’m so busy’ band wagon wondering how I'm going to fit everything on my 'to-do' list into a day. 

There’s a popular meme that goes, ‘You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé.’ Whether you like Beyoncé or not, what the core message boils down to is that we all get the same amount of time - not the same circumstances or level of assistance - but we all get the same 1,440 minutes every single day. The difference between your life, or mine, or Beyoncé’s is defined by what we choose to do with those minutes. It’s up to us to carve out the time to make our own ‘bootylicious’ stuff happen. This involves honing in on why, what and where our priorities are, focusing on planning and time management, and building our 1,440 minutes around that.

I can almost hear parents around the world groaning that I’m venturing to write a blog about “planning” and “time management” in the same breathe as a reference to a Beyoncé meme - particularly as I think back to my youth and the herculean level of planning that my parents deployed in managing our family. Growing up, life was meticulously broken down into an orchestrated time-boxed schedule of school drop-offs, pick-ups, piano, ballet, gymnastics, badminton, soccer, grocery shopping, full-time jobs, after-school jobs etc. D-Day did not receive the level of planning as was scratched onto the calendar hanging in our family kitchen.  To all you parents out there (especially you Mom) – chapeau. I have no idea how you do it.

I don’t have to worry about school drop-offs and pick-ups but I do have a full time job, and live a life directed by commitments, choices and decisions – some of these are mine, some are not. I’ve spent nearly two decades shaping a career as a consultant harmonized with an inherent sense of wanderlust and sprinkled with a touch of “fear of missing out”. Like you parents out there, I’m learning – through trial and error – the art of multi-tasking, learning when to say ‘yes’, when to say ‘no’, and smiling bravely through the realisation that there are 24 hours in the day and I've planned for 30. These are the ‘not so bootylicious’ evenings that I’m in the gym after a long day in the office, gasping for breath on a treadmill while reading emails and deciding what to reheat in the microwave for my 11pm dinner.

Here’s a recent example. In April I’m traveling to Nepal to climb a 6100m / 20295ft mountain and volunteer for a charity to help put the finishing touches on the building of a local climbing school. As I’ve spent the past few months diligently planning and managing the activities around the trip, I can’t help but reflect on my first visit to Nepal about 20 years ago. I packed a ‘you only live once’ mentality along with a small backpack, begged and borrowed for the flight ticket, kissed my parents good-bye and off I went. How things have changed. 

Now that I’m older and ‘busier’ with commitments involving suitcases with wheels more so than backpacks, it’s more a case of making choices about what I truly want to do and why. I consider how I can carve a chunk of time to do it, and then come up with a plan that fits into that time slot that doesn’t compromise my objectives or the intimacy of the experience. This means bypassing the all-inclusive margarita-themed holidays to Punta Cana and focusing instead on preparing for the adventure I’m saying ‘yes’ to.  Sounds simple right? Ha.

I’ve wanted to go on this trip Nepal for a number of years but other priorities moved it to the back-burner. This year I spent time speaking to family, friends and colleagues to figure out how to prioritise the time out to plan the trip and set the wheels in motion make it happen. 

Managing work, personal commitments, relationships, fitness, finances, and taking time out for myself - there are a lot of 'moving parts' and it's been easy to become overwhelmed. As tempting as it is, I’m not going to give you the “sunshine and unicorns” version of this story. I have been overwhelmed. Crippling anxiety, moments of defiance and stubbornness that exacerbate every negative Taurean trait running through my body. Questions like, “Have I made the right choices?” “How can I make the time?” These are the moments that challenge me, that I learn from and that keep me true to my purpose and passion-led ambitions. 

But here’s the harsh reality. There is no simple solution to making more time. I can’t solve your lack-of-time conundrum – it’s entirely down to you. But I might get you excited enough to resolve to solve it yourself. To set your plan in action and kick-start the conversations with the people in your life – your family, your colleagues, yourself – about how it might be possible to pause the racing rhythm of life for long enough to plan do something different and memorable that satisfies and rewards in equal measure.

For your treadmill reading pleasure, here are four quick reflections from my own experiences in deciding what stays on the calendar and what goes… and how to manage all the bootylicious stuff that happens in-between.

Discipline: Be disciplined in your focus on attaining your goal.

A focus on the end goal is a bit like having a personal GPS. Once you type your destination into a GPS, it cleverly spits out step- by-step details in how to get there. If only there was a GPS of life – but that would take out the adventure wouldn’t it?  I’ve learned to manage goals by breaking key activities and events down into priorities: What needs to be done today? What can wait until tomorrow? What can wait until next week? A therapeutic 15 minutes is spent every morning prioritizing so I know what’s on my plate for the day ahead. There are plenty of apps (e.g. Toggl, Workflow, Shift, RescueTime) that can help with this if lists aren’t your forte. I keep it simple and use the ‘Notes’ app on my phone and a good old-fashioned pen and moleskin notebook. My recommendation – find a simple solution that works best for you and stick with it.

Before every expedition, I spend time thinking about my end-goal and the detailed activities and steps (real and proverbial) required to achieve it. “Is it the summit? Is it to raise money for a particular charity? Is it to improve my skills and fitness? Is it to experience a new part of the world?” I write down the activities required to achieve the goals in a step-by-step list. As a highly skilled procrastinator I’ve found that without this rigor and focus I’m easily distracted and diverted - the dishes in the sink, the floor that needs vacuuming or the trip to the grocery store that just can’t wait. Just as road congestion and construction requires the GPS to recalibrate, I’ve learned that my daily ‘to do’ list helps me to keep sight of goals and focused on the steps to get there irrespective of the detours that pop up along the way.

Commitment: Don’t give up when you’re forced beyond your comfort zone or when setbacks or disappointments happen.

There's a difference between interest and commitment. When you're interested in doing something, you do it only when it's convenient. When you're committed to something, you accept no excuses; only results.” A great quote by author Ken Blanchard.  

If I was only ‘interested’ in climbing mountains (assuming this was my goal), I’d deprioritize training, planning, and expedition preparations, only focusing on climbing when it was convenient. I’d give up on the goal with my first shiver in the freezing temperatures or the first rain on a training run. Commitment to a project like climbing a mountain means that even when exhausted from a long day of work, I still go to the gym for the days training or I continue with my run despite torrential rain. It might not be the most productive training session of all the time but it’ll do wonders in keeping me relentlessly focused on my end goal - even when things get uncomfortable.

Those people who are successful in the mountains – and in life more broadly – are those who are unrelenting in the pursuit of their goal. Sure they experience setbacks and failures like everyone else, but what sets these people apart is their ability to get back on track and learn from their mistakes. Success and commitment to achieving a goal is about the ability to do this time and time again.

An example is the incredible story of the 69-year old Chinese double amputee Xia Boyu. Last year Mr. Xia summited Mount Everest on his fifth attempt. In 1975, his team were trapped in a storm near the summit. He lent a teammate his sleeping bag and subsequently suffered severe frostbite, losing both his feet. 1996, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and, after recovering from cancer, he attempted to summit Everest three more times…. In 2014, the climbing season was cancelled due to an avalanche on Everest. His attempt in 2015 was called off after the Nepal earthquake. Then in 2016, Mr. Xia's dream seemed within reach - the team was just 300ft from the summit when a blizzard forced him to turn back… Then last year in May of 2018, on his fifth attempt, Mr. Xia achieved his dream of reaching the highest point on earth and becoming the second double amputee to ever do so. It’s an incredible example commitment and the relentless pursuit of a goal.

Courage:  Learn to say ‘no’.

Learning to say ‘no’ takes courage. Saying no is one the most challenging things I’ve had to learn in harmonizing a career and personal ambitions outside of work. Over the past few years, I realized that my people pleasing tendencies were creating stresses and inefficiencies which were impacting my work, personal life and the enjoyment of time spent outdoors. Thanks to some great coaches and simple exercises in knowing when to say ‘yes’ and when to say ‘no,’ I've begun to preserve my most valuable resource – time – while growing personally and professionally. By saying ‘no’ to some things, I’ve realized that I’m actually saying ‘yes’ to other things – for example, a step toward a professional or mountaineering goal. Saying ‘no’ to a new commitment honors your existing commitments and gives you the opportunity to successfully fulfill these commitments.

There are literally thousands of articles and books written on different ways to say ‘no’ and offering tips and tricks to help convert your ‘no’ into a ‘yes’. A few highlights include:
  • Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply can’t do it. And be upfront in sharing that – don’t wait until the last minute.
  • Know your priorities. If you do have some extra time, ask yourself whether this new commitment is how you want to spend that time? If it’s not, then say ‘no’. Pretending you can do everything in equal measure creates artificial pressure and ignores the pleasure of impassioned action and discipline. There’s a lot to be learned from giving some things up and giving your all to what you love.
  • Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying ‘no’ as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word – it’s actually quite empowering.

Creativity: Look for ways to overlap things.

Asking for the time off to climb Everest was a nerve-wracking experience. I’d already considered all of the reasons why my boss might say ‘no’ and hadn’t considered why he might say ‘yes’. As it turned out, he was an ‘arm-chair adventurer’ and connected with the vision behind my request. We spent the rest of the meeting discussing the leadership qualities of adventurers like Shackleton and how these qualities aren’t dissimilar to those we see exemplified by some leaders in business today. We talked about discipline, commitment and courage inside and outside of the office. My boss suggested that I present at a team meeting on ‘leadership lessons learned’ following my expedition. I obliged and a few months later  was amazed at how much I’d learned from my experiences - the preparation, expedition logistics, and the challenges we faced individually and as a team.

I started building a portfolio of ‘lessons learned’ on a range of topics including team building, objective setting, risk management, decision making, communications, reframing success, and leadership. Rather than seeing the time-off work as a ‘career limiting’ move, it became ‘career enhancing’, gave me confidence, independence and purpose. It tapped into my love of story-telling, adventure and problem solving - and I became a more authentic, effective consultant as a result.

A few years later I organised a trek of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania to support one of our firm’s Foundation charities and as a continuation of my goal to creatively harmonize my personal and professional interests. The expedition raised $40,000 to support a charity funding critical research into issues impacting the health and wellbeing of women and babies. The news of our success spread across the firm. Today, five years, later I’ve organised multiple Kilimanjaro treks and have also added Everest Base Camp to the charity challenge portfolio. We’ve raised nearly $400,000 for our Foundation charities, are on-track for another $150,000 this year and have a waiting list booking into 2021. Equally importantly, over 100 colleagues have become friends, have learned about fundraising and have experienced a great adventure together, forging friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. A bit of creativity and a passion for bringing colleagues together to learn from each other in an environment far removed from the office has been more fulfilling than I ever dreamed possible.

Choices and priorities - one month to go…

Over the past few weeks I've consciously reminded myself to breathe – to inhale, exhale, repeat - revisit the to-do-list, re-baseline dates, re-prioritise and let my body catch up with my brain. I’ve focused on deciding what things on my list relate directly to achieving my goals and which are just ‘nice to haves’. I’ve realised that this discipline and rigor are critical in this so that I don't find myself on a mountain without a sleeping bag or return from an expedition without a job.

One of my most valuable learnings has been the appreciation that everything I do – every choice I make, every activity I prioritise - has a cost and consequences. I'm learning that life isn’t ever going to be perfect. I’m never going to be entirely ready, there is never an entirely ideal time, not every problem can be completely resolved and fear and anxiety never entirely leave. But it’s down to me – to you – to make the choices on how to live a life fulfilled. Inevitably, I’ll still find myself having those not so bootylicious OMG moments, reading emails on the treadmill and reheating microwave dinners at 11pm… But thinking back to our well-used family calendar, the sooner I make peace with this basic fact, the better I’ll be at making decisions that work for me. It’s entirely down to me to build the life I want to live today. And that’s an incredibly empowering realisation.