"You don’t climb a mountain without a team... you don’t climb a mountain without being fit... you don’t climb a mountain without being prepared... you don’t climb a mountain without balancing the risks and rewards... and you certainly don’t climb a mountain by accident... it has to be intentional."
As of November 2013, there have been exactly 536 people from 38 countries who have flown into what is considered "outer space".
At the same time, there have existed only 44 people who have successfully completed the Explorer’s Grand Slam.
To be admitted into this exclusive club, a member must have climbed the highest peaks on each continent (including Antarctica) as well as cross-country ski to both the north and south poles.
While at a dinner a few weeks back, I happened to meet a member of this exclusive fraternity, Rob Follows, who had some incredible words of wisdom as it relates to goal-setting and pushing yourself to extreme heights (no pun intended).
Today I wanted to share some of Rob’s story as well as some of the lessons he passed on to me that evening...
Rob Follows is a Canadian entrepreneur, who at the age of 29, sold his advertising company to Maritz, Inc., a large private entity firm, for an undisclosed sum, estimated at several millions of dollars. From 1992 until 2003, Rob remained with Maritz as CEO of Canada, Latin America and Europe with responsibility of $1B in annual sales.
In addition to chairing a billion dollar enterprise, Rob created Altruvest in 1994, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping other charitable organization by providing them training and tools to create better governance and management with the idea that by helping non-profit to run better, they would be in a position to give more resources to their respective causes.
After leaving Maritz in 2003, Rob took a long vacation with his girlfriend, Katrina (later to be his wife) to Mexico to discuss their future goals and aspirations. They now had plenty of time, money and energy to do something truly remarkable with not only their own lives, but by touching the lives of other people as well.
Rob confessed to our dinner group that although he had accomplished many things at a relatively young age, his biggest fear was one day looking at himself in the mirror and wondering if he truly lived up to his potential while he was living here on earth. Did he stretch his limits to try and achieve something great or was he just focused on staying alive to muddle through another day creating another dollar of profit?
He decided at that time that he wanted no regrets... no excuses... and no "what ifs" and set off to do something great.
Imagine for a moment, if you had all of the money you ever needed... all of the free time to do whatever you wanted... and all of the health and energy as to not limit you...
...what would you be... and what would you become... and what would you do?
While sitting on a beach, looking out at the Pacific Ocean, Rob and Katrina came to a decision. The two of them would attempt to become the first male/female team to complete the Adventure Grand Slam and in doing so, raising money and awareness for Altruvest in order so that it can help more people change their lives.
Although they had never climbed a mountain before, they took on this challenge and made a commitment to each other and the world.
This new phase in their lives became their Dharma... their purpose... their reason for being.
The first step in their plan was to seek out expert advisors who have already done it. These people had practical experience and a wealth of knowledge that would be invaluable to Rob as he tried to complete his mission.
It was after much consultation with these experts, that he decided that they would take their first step in October of 2003, by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa (19,339’) where they learned some invaluable lessons about altitude and acclimatization (a lesson I recently learned while cycling in Colorado).
Three months later in January of 2004, the couple reached the summit of Mt. Aconcagua (22,840’) in Argentina, the highest peak in the Andes range. The great lesson learned from this climb was that in order to be successful, you need the right tools.
As it so happens, this particular assent was centered around walking along a mountain ridge instead of up the face of an ice glacier. Unfortunately, their boots were outfitted with toe spikes rather than sole spikes which were needed to complete this climb. Without the proper equipment, their possibility was doomed from the start. Despite the set-back, they managed to reach the summit.
By August of 2004, they were ready for peak number three, which happened to be Mt. Elbrus (18,481’) in the Ural Mountains of Russia.
Three months later, the couple scaled Mt. Vincent (16,067), the highest peak on the continent of Antarctica where nighttime temperature reached -40 degrees and 100 mile an hour winds created wind-chill of nearly -80 degrees.
After a hard afternoon climb in a relatively wind-protected area on the mountain, Rob found himself sweating vigorously despite the chilly temperatures, and took off several layers of clothing. It was then he climbed over a ridge where the cold gale-force winds ripped through his body creating an instant freeze effect. Before he could reapply his protective clothing, he nearly blacked out due to the numbing cold but due to his commitment and focus he was able to reach deep to find the inner strength to overcome the deadly situation and complete his mission.
By May of 2005, Rob and Katrina were ready to attempt Mt. Everest (29,209’), the highest peak in the world. Mt. Everest is unlike any of the previous climbs due to the extreme elevation. Acclimating to the high altitudes typically meant that you must train each day going back and forth from base camp to base camp for up to 3 entire months before attempting to summit the peak.
Despite all of the training, expertise, and equipment, the final say as to whether a summit can be made is still in the hands of Mother Nature and the ever-changing weather.
Bad weather conditions that year forced Rob to abandon their summit attempt on Mt. Everest choosing instead to return the following year with a better team and a base of knowledge that would help them to succeed. They didn’t quit their dream... but rather re-grouped for another attempt.
Since Rob and Katrina had spent the better part of three months acclimating on Mt. Everest, they immediately decided to attempt Denali (20,320’) in June of 2005, the highest peak in North America. Due to their superior conditioning (just having come from slopes of Mt. Everest) and with favorable weather conditions, they were able to quickly summit Denali while the rest of their team remained back at base camp (and ultimately failed due to adverse conditions). They made the best use of what they had been given at the time to find success.
While waiting for the following spring to again attempt an Everest summit, Rob and Katrina completed the one-day hike of Mt. Kosciuszko (7,310’) the highest peak in Australia in January of 2006.
In the Spring of 2006, with conditions much more favorable than the previous year and a superior Sherpa team, both Rob and Katrina completed the Adventure Grand Slam by summiting Mt. Everest.
Rob Follows summarized his quest of conquering the seven peaks with seven take-away lessons that we can all learn from:
- Always seek the advice of experts before setting out with a goal in mind.
- Ask for help along the way and be persistent. People will come to your aid.
- Make sure that you have the right tools and equipment before you start out.
- No matter what obstacles might be in your way, if you are focused and committed, you will find a way to reach deeper inside you to overcome whatever conditions you may encounter.
- When opportunity knocks, be prepared to answer the call. The knocking may not last long before it’s gone.
- Believe that you can get there. Keep visualizing the goal and never quit... even if it means that you sometimes need to postpone... but never give up.
- Turn your fears into energy and sharper focus carefully watching where you are going and being vigilant to stay on course.
Rob will be the first to tell you that ultimately his adventure was not about conquering Everest but rather it was about finding a goal and committing to it... a goal that inspires you and others to somehow make a difference...
Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we hope to encourage others to set their sites on something as big as a mountain.
Jim Kalb President
Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Website - www.optifuse.com
Blog - www.optifuse.blogspot.com
Twitter - @OptiFuse