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Be your Personal Best: How I conquered Mount Elbrus

Published on 17 August 2018

Be your Personal Best: How I conquered Mount Elbrus

Back in April at our flagship conference, I did my first end note, thinking about being your personal best and what I thought that was, based on my professional career as a contact centre manager for over 16 years but also as a mountain climber about to embark on the highest mountain in Europe- Mt Elbrus in Russia.

I knew this mountain would be hard and I knew it had its dangers – Summit night is a 15-hour glacier climb in crampons with ice axes and the threat of avalanches and crevasses. It’s not to be undertaken lightly and it’s not for the faint hearted.

Reflecting now, on this expedition, with all its highs and lows, trials and tribulations, I’d like to review my initial thinking.

I can safely say this is the most mentally and physically exhausting thing I’ve ever done… and I wonder how I did it! To this point I’m still not sure how I summitted and what invisible pot of emotional, mental and physical energy I pulled from.  But I do know that I did it! And I do know that I wouldn’t have done it without sheer will and the full, unconditional support of the most amazing team I’ve ever climbed with.

So here is my review of being your personal best and how you get the best out of you, whatever you do personally or professionally.

I talked in April about several principles;

  • Purpose

  • Motivation

  • Plan

  • Practice

  • Hard Work

  • Pain

  • Impact

  • Continuous Improvement

  • Beyond your personal Best

I also talked about knowing your strengths and taking these into consideration, not letting emotions cloud your judgement, putting ego aside, avoiding impulsive decisions and being confident.

I still believe in those initial 9 principles.  You do need a purpose, you must be motivated. A plan and practicing what it is you want to do are fundamental to getting the best out of you.  Hard work is essential… I think you are an incredibly lucky person if ‘being your personal best’ comes easy and you will inevitably go through an element of pain either physically or emotionally in your quest.  To continue to be your personal best you need to review and learn from your initial plan to enable you to carry on however, it’s the things I suggested you shouldn’t do that I’d like to revisit… with caution 😊

Whilst starting the climb on summit night I had a panic attack… for those of you who are lucky enough to have never experienced one, they are horrible, almost debilitating! I couldn’t breathe (which is hard enough at altitude) I felt like I was having a heart attack and the overwhelming sense of fear is enough to send anyone screaming for the hills. As I was on one, (albeit covered in ice) I felt I was on safe ground when the fight or flight response kicked in 😊

If I had of adhered to my initial suggestions this would have been the time to quit… I talked about putting ego aside and being confident… Well, it was my ego driving me at this point… nothing else and I wasn’t feeling in the slightest bit confident about my decision to carry on regardless. I actually wondered if I was putting the rest of the group in jeopardy?

After a few hours, when the sun rose at around 4am the panic attack subsided, and I was fine. I felt invigorated, I’d had food and water and felt I had the energy to carry on. I could finally see my colleagues and fellow climbers and have a conversation as well as some comical banter. It was good.

Four hours later when we hit the traverse (the most dangerous bit) I felt really out of sorts. There was threat of avalanche and falling down a crevasse on this part of the climb! Despite our ‘ice axe arrest training’ where I had incidentally broken my hand, I did not feel in the least bit confident that I would be able to do this. It was raging heat, I was exhausted and leading a rope with 4 other climbers and friends. If Id remotely adhered to my initial thoughts and advice I would not have continued.  I knew my strengths… and they were depleted. Emotions were totally clouding my judgement because I wasn’t going to let any one of my friends and fellow climbers down. My ego wasn’t put aside…she was centre stage doing a ‘hula’ dance screaming “look at me I’m not going to quit” and I was absolutely making impulsive decisions on a minute to minute basis.

When we finally reached ‘the saddle’ the last 20-minute stop before the push to summit, I was depleted of everything mentally and physically and had nothing left to give! But I saw my climbing friends… who at that moment had become my everything, who seemed to be feeling worse than me start to climb to summit.  They were spurring me on and in that moment, there was no way I wasn’t going to summit because they were! My ego had totally taken over along with sheer ‘bloody mindedness’! Nothing else was driving me… I had nothing left to drive me and yet 2.5 hours later I summitted Elbrus, with 6 of my climbing friends who had pushed me on, who had driven the best and worst in me but had helped me achieve my personal best.

So, as I sit here now and reflect on this journey, I’d like to add to my initial principles:
Let emotions cloud your judgement, not all the time but ultimately you know what you’re capable of and sometimes it means deviating from the plan. Your emotions, particularly if its personal, can play a very important part in you being your personal best. 
Your ego drives a lot of who you are, the decisions you make and how you handle situations in your life personally and professionally. On reflection, I think it’s really hard to put it aside (Unless your Eckhart Tolle). I’m really glad I didn’t for the last 200 metres of the summit because I would never have made it. Therefore, if it helps don’t put it aside.

Impulsive decisions can lead to success, particularly if they are personal (and you are not putting any one else in danger) Be mindful, but my advice is sometimes you’ve just go to do it! Sometimes thinking things through too much can lead to fear and procrastination.  Impulsive ones can lead to great things! Also, confidence isn’t everything… sometime bravado can help! I was full of that on summit night.

The final point though, and one that wasn’t in my initial end note or set of principles is team work. Being your personal best isn’t all about you! I could not have done this without the constant support of the fantastic group I had around me. They got me to the summit whether they realise it or not and I will be eternally grateful for that.

Author: Dee Chapman

Date Published: 17/08/2018

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