Dear Why Team member,
I hope this week’s message finds you well and encouraged about your trajectory.
The week before Thanksgiving week, I was in Mexico climbing two volcanos: La Malinche at 14,636 feet and two days later IXTA at 17,160 feet. The lessons I learn on climbs like these keep me coming back, nothing like extreme difficulty to help awaken one to oneself.
We awoke to climb La Malinche on Wednesday at 3:00am, beginning our ascent at 4:00am. With head lamps on, we moved through the forest speaking little to no words as the six of us worked to establish a consistent pace - we had a long way to go and even though this was not my first climb, the excitement of the experience pushed me to a more aggressive pace, for which I paid later. The steepness of the slope and of course the altitude made the journey difficult. Just like on any past undergo, so much of the climb was just to keep moving, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
As we were emerging from the forest above the tree line, our guide Matt Walker stopped us all to stress the importance of the rest-step. None of my previous climbs had required the necessity of the rest-step, so it was the first I had heard of it, but without it, I certainly would not have been able to summit both mountains in three days.
I do love a good metaphor and thought the teaching I received regarding the rest-step might serve you as an optimal way to reach new heights in your own life and work.
Of course we all know the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. But apparently how we take those steps can significantly affect our endurance, our longevity and thus our outcomes.
Both climbs required long periods of intense difficulty. Imagine being so exhausted knowing you still have hours of climbing ahead of you and all you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. Frankly, it’s best not to think of the distance, but rather to focus on the next step. You may know the pain of having to concentrate on something repetitive that’s of short duration. High-achievers accomplish the task and ask What’s next?, then they finish the next task and ask What’s next? Imagine having to focus on “just” the next step for hours to come; it’s draining as we’re generally built to explore and try new things; we’re not built for monotony. Remember the Chinese saying “dripping water wears away stone”? Sometimes, our intellect has to prevail over emotions to know that consistency, patience and focus can help us conquer difficult tasks.
Our guide, Matt Walker, was looking after me and would often remind me to find my pace.
“Find your pace Steve”
where very deep breathing, a consistent high heart rate and my steps were working in a kind of rhythm.
What was so very crucial for me was the all important rest-step. It never occurred to me that there was a more efficient use of my energy, that a rest could be taken in the midst of forward movement.
The rest-step leverages our physiology to accomplish more than we could without it; with each step we take there is a transfer of our weight and an opportunity to rest momentarily on our skeletal system in the midst of a step. The rest-step can be taken when we transfer our weight from one leg to another and stand fully upright on that leg as the other leg is brought forward placing our next step in front - but not yet transferring the weight - a quick rest can be taken on the back leg, leveraging the skeletal system for support - and then leaning forward onto the next step, transferring your weight to the forward leg and bringing the back foot forward - again, a very short rest on the back leg and then shifting weight forward to repeat again. Even though monotonous, the excitement of having learned something new and working on perfecting it, propelled me to keep going for seven hours until I reached the Summit!
Never before have I thought more about the optimal and most efficient way to move forward up a mountain - sometimes our paths can be so steep, and we find ourselves searching for where to place our next step; will that small outcropping of rock support me, is there too much loose rock and dirt on it, will it give way? And then, after the Summit, the long descent that lights your quads on fire - the front leg muscles taking the hit as opposed to the back of the leg muscles on the ascent.
La Malinche was thoroughly exhausting and we were to climb IXTA in two days; that thought alone, knowing we were to go much higher and farther was in itself a thought to overcome. Another common line from Matt is “trust the process”. Confidence in the leader is crucial when you haven’t the confidence on your own.
At 5ish pm we hit the sack on Thursday night - the sack literally being our sleeping bags for a midnight wake-up and a 1:00am begin to our climb. The next 14 hours were to be the most physically demanding of my entire life. A cool clear night and the first full lunar eclipse in 580 years lined up perfectly with our morning ascent - a beautiful welcomed distraction.
The ascent was so steep at times we were using our hands to climb up around and over many rocks. We reached the glacier and had to switch to crampons, spikes on the soles of our boots, to spike and hold us on the ice and snow - switching from our hiking poles to ice axes and adding layers as we were higher and the wind stronger.
As we celebrated the gorgeous sunrise from the Summit of IXTA, we jokingly laughed at how much we were each willing to pay for a helicopter to come get us. We were faced with the brutal truth of a very long descent that took us another 7 hours to accomplish. It seems so much of mountains climbing is oriented around the summit, but it is equally important to get back down, to recover, to reflect, to share what was learned - to train and to climb again. Welcome to life no matter the mountains we climb!
It occurred to me of course that the rest-step could be leveraged in our daily lives. We’ve been led to believe that running hard is the best and fastest way to achieve our goals, but I know from experience, having burned out time and again over many years, that the rest and reflection is so important if we are to reach peak after peak. If I had not found my own rhythm, run my own race, as the saying goes, I would not have achieved my objective. And had I not signed up, leaning into the confidence my guide had in me, I never would have done what many think impossible. It’s amazing what we all can achieve one rest-step at a time.
With a New Year to start shortly, I invite you to practice the rest-step, where you stand tall and take a moment, literally, of rest before you make the next move towards accomplishing your goal.
Make it a great week!