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Four lessons the mountains have taught me

11 June 2013
Vineet Nayar

In today’s MBA obsessed world, success and growth are often considered a result of looking out for opportunities rather than focusing on the inside. Unfortunately very few of us spend time on exploring our inner strengths and unique characteristics, hence over the years what we do sometimes becomes who we are!

A few years back, as I got busy in the massive transformation exercise at HCL Technologies, life had become a whirlpool of work. In those days of 24X7 schedules, thousands of flying hours and endless meetings, I faced the same dilemma – the reflection in the mirror was getting hazier by the day!

Then one day I just decided to put everything on a pause and took off to the mountains on a ten day trek.  There in the lap of nature, humbled by mountains, calmed by silence and encouraged by the rising sun, I looked inside and found “myself” again.

I consider these annual trips to the mountains as my  “me-time” now. They have taught many important lessons that have improved me as an individual and even as a Leader. Since life is about learning from introspections and I believe in counting them collectively not individually, I share these reflections with you here today in hope that maybe in these thoughts you will discover a part of your inner self that may have gone adrift too:

     1.Introspection is a necessity for rejuvenation

Hearing about the trekking expedition a lot of my friends asked where was I headed to. I said, WITHIN. I’m not sure they understood. But the truth is that for me the best part of trekking in the wilderness has been the silence and the time it provides for self-introspection. Knowing ourselves and what we want out of our life, understanding our leadership skills and the effect we want to have on the lives of others, these require us to look inside. The mountains with their silence provide that priceless thinking space which can be used to create a new professional manifesto or  personal ‘bucket lists’ or simply reflecting over the larger purpose of work and life.

Once back in office I have tried to include these “me-time” spaces in my daily schedule too and the introspections continue to help me discover myself.

     2.Sometimes all it takes is will power

When we sat down to plan our first high altitude trek a few years ago, I didn’t think I could do it. I just didn’t think I was physically capable of treading such high altitudes. In fact I almost chickened out at the last hour. And then my friend said the most wonderful thing. He said, “Let your dreams be stronger than your fears”. I summoned my will power in that moment of epiphany and never looked back. Once I got on the trail I realized the hike was going to be even more strenuous than I first thought, but I was there, committed, and eager to try it. So I told myself to just go as far as I could and that would be enough. The more I walked the easier it became. My only goal was to hike as long as I could. I couldn’t fail at this. I could only fail if I didn’t try. Thereafter it mattered little how high the mountain was, it mattered most how high I believed I could and wanted to climb.

In hindsight I wonder now how many other things I’m capable of doing that I haven’t tried yet. I wished we could live our work-lives with this conviction too - Just start walking towards our dream, see how far we get, improve our abilities, and keep going.

     3.It’s about the journey, not the destination

When I looked up at the mountains every day at 5am, I analyzed, calculated and concluded how tough the climb that day would be. For the first two days I hated the trek. After that I stopped thinking of the destination and started enjoying the process. Last day was the toughest, an 18 kilometers trek where I just wanted to give up many times, but it turned out to be the best eight hours of my life for a long, long time. I have erred in that approach even at work when goals and milestones have over powered my thinking many times at the cost of enjoying the journey towards them and celebrating small and big successes at every step.

     4.Imperfections are beautiful too

Another very important lesson the mountains taught me was that imperfections are beautiful too! The rough edges of the mountains, the heavy hail storms in the middle of the afternoon, were all elements of nature which were “inconvenient” but added to the beauty of the trek. I am acutely aware now that in my pursuit of perfection at work, I have often failed to recognize that imperfections are also a core part of our identity/team/companies which needs to be preserved and not always changed.

In conclusion

Now, I can’t wait to trek again next year. And it really doesn’t matter to me if I ever reach a summit. To me the summit is my willingness to hike the trail in the first place. As the mountain’s biggest maestro, Edmund Hillary, once said, “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.”