5 Things I learned in the Himalayas about business - Thing #4
Updated: Nov 1, 2022
4. Climbing Tall Mountains is an experience in deep loneliness and intense camaraderie.
Business Translation: The most difficult business decisions and the longest work hours are often faced alone, but other people around you doing the same and working toward a shared goal brings strong relationships that can last a lifetime.
I still stay in touch with people from an expedition to the Himalayas I was part of 4 years ago. And we were only together a couple of weeks. They were from all over the world and with one exception, I didn't know a single one of them until we met in Kathmandu to start the expedition. It’s surprising how connected you get with people when you’ve got a shared challenge everyone wants to achieve. To this day I follow them on various social media platforms, smiling every time I see a new post. I’ve got upcoming mountain climbing plans with two of them and I know when I see them it’ll be like catching up with old friends, even though I’ve only known them for a few days some years ago. It was great camaraderie then and it still is today.
But along with the camaraderie, mountain climbing is lonely, which is surprising. You’re either trekking or climbing every day and there is a physicality of doing that for hours on end particularly as you get higher up. At extreme elevations where the massive Himalayan mountains are, it becomes so exhausting to take the next step that before long, you can’t both speak and climb at the same time, so you just climb. That leads to a very strange and unexpected loneliness. There are times when you really want to say something; like when you made it across that creaky ladder stretched over a deep crevasse, or when you’re climbing in the middle of the night and you come to a house-sized boulder on the side of a steep mountain and you’re not sure how to get over it. Not being able to talk to somebody makes you feel very lonely.
So, it’s a strange dichotomy: great camaraderie and deep loneliness at the same time. Seeing this dynamic in the Himalayas reminded me it’s exactly the same in our day-to-day work life.
What I learned about business from this is that work has long hours of lonely work mixed in with great camaraderie. The jobs I remember with the greatest sense of pride and accomplishment are those jobs where it seemed like everybody was working towards the greater good and we all had a shared purpose we wanted to achieve.
In a recent corporate role I was helping lead an organization that was being created as a global team. People were tranisitioning out of other teams to join our team. It was a messy, fraught process with a lot of political arm-wrestling as leaders around the world did their best to hold on to their people. We got it done but all the wrangling pushed the transfers up against deadlines for people's compensation and reporting structures that had to be met if they were going to be on our team that fiscal year. So I set up calls to nail down final details for each person moving to our team. I started the transition calls East Coast time in the US, then moved to Pacific Coast time as the East Coast team was winding down and the Pacific Coast team started their work day, then I moved on to Sydney time, Singapore time, India, Dubai, Europe,......you get it - all the way around the world's timezones. It was long and lonely. And there were plenty of other long and lonely hours of work, particuarly when I was traveling.
But I knew my boss was making similar sacrifices to stand up other aspects of our organization, so when we talked or met somewhere on the planet, it was a great time of shared accomplishment, celebration, and pride. I could fill pages with the laughing, jokes, and just all around good times we had. To this day we remain great friends and talk frequently. Truthfully, the business we've started together is mainly an excuse to work together again.
So when you find yourself in a stretch of long, lonely hours working, recognize that's the way jobs are - it's why it's called "work" and not "fun". Pace yourself so you don't burn out. And when the camaraderie comes your way, embrace it. Take time to enjoy your work friends. Laugh together, celebrate, cry, think deep thoughts, it doesn't matter. Just enjoy the camaraderie of shared purpose, knowing you've got a great job.
And if you find yourself in a job that has only long, lonely work hours and no camaraderie, have a look around. There's a great job out there just for you.