Updated: May 17, 2021
"It was a feeling of being out of my depth. The negative voice in my head had appeared, and for the first, and certainly not the last time, the doubts settled in. I was too inexperienced. I berated myself. I wasn't up to it. Everyone around me appeared to be veteran climbers with years of experience under their belts."
This is an excerpt from Up: My Life's Journey to the Top of Everest by Ben Fogle and Marina Fogle. Read this quote again, but instead of 'climbers' insert the job you do, or the activities you take part in, your hobbies or even relationships. Our doubts and fears can present themselves as very real, even though they are usually void of fact or evidence. I wrote about the inner critic in my last blog post, and it seems from reading this book and many others, we all have a negative voice that calls out to us, usually with doubts masked in some form of reality.
This book is an excellent read and I couldn't put it down. Each page draws you into the visceral nature and power of the highest mountain in the world. The challenges, risks and sacrifices taken by each attempt to scale and reach the top of Everest demonstrate the importance of positive thinking and the power of the mind in facing our fears. From the start, Ben allows the reader to witness his vulnerability, heartache and emotion, tempered with displays of courage and determination throughout this breath-taking journey.
I believe courage is not 'feeling the fear and doing it anyway', rather courage is seeing the value and worth in the fear, the meaning and purpose, and then basing your actions from a place of that worth. In facing our fears, big and small, we grow, change and transform. If we are open to learning, fear is an excellent teacher, and there is a gift in every opportunity we take to step out of our comfort zones.
I consider courage to be like an iceberg. The tip is what is seen - the courageous act. However, it is the small steps, tiny choices and micro habits that build over time that help to form and enable courage. We do not suddenly become courageous overnight, it takes time, sometimes years. With each choice to be honest, generous and true to ourselves we add another layer to the iceberg. We grow in confidence each time we challenge ourselves, we develop our courage muscles and test them out with each small decision we make towards truth, love and life. Others may see the tip, but only we truly know the steps we have taken, the cost, the trial and error. Inching, little by little, forward towards courage.
Ben writes "It has taken me more than 25 years to learn the power of positive thinking...Pessimism breeds negativity and throughout my childhood I created a toxic attitude of failure. Failure was such a big part of my childhood. I failed in almost everything I turned my hand to...Failure loomed over me like a big black cloud. In retrospect, I could see that I was creating most of the gloom myself. My mind was set to negative. I had approached everything with the expectation of failure. The result was a fearful acceptance of failure that dogged me for years."
A life filled with fear is a life of survival rather than fulness. Fear has the ability to cast a shadow over areas of our lives, holding us back from fully living, of being ourselves and experiencing the length and breadth of our emotions. The root of fear can be many things, it can stem from childhood or later in life. It can be a single experience that changes everything. Once I had been bitten by a dog, I was fearful of all dogs. It took me years to learn from this fear, through positive experiences with friendly dogs, and ultimately owning my own. Now I'm no longer afraid of dogs but have a better understand dog behaviour and their relationship to humans.
Ben's wife, Marina, also writes with candid honesty about her own journey back at home. The everyday routines of being a mum, wife and daughter during a time of waiting, uncertainty and the inevitable tensions of watching this perilous journey from such a distance. What struck me about Marina's story is how wonderful it is to have the support of a loved one when we face our fears, hopes and dreams. The other person, the one not scaling the mountain, has an integral part to play. They cheer us on, give us meaning and purpose in the risks we take and the challenges we face. To have someone on the other end of the phone, to call them and say the words "I did it", is so important and a gift to be cherished.
I have no desire to climb Everest, but I do have my own mountains in my life that I would like to summit. I do not think you conquer Everest, that statement appears full of ego and dominance over a force of nature beyond our comprehension. The mountain can change in a heartbeat, thick cloud descending, devastating snowstorms raging or clear blue crystal skies which take your breath away. To summit a physical or metaphorical mountain is to work with it, to walk with the fear, to hold its hand and embrace what it has to offer. By reaching the top, the goal is not to overcome, but to change your point of view, to experience an alternative vista and see from a new perspective.
I'd love to hear about the mountains in your life, how you are preparing for the summit or the new points of view you have experienced from reaching the top. Let me know in the comments here or on my Instagram feed @iamsarahalexcarter