24 Incredible Life Lessons Climbing Kilimanjaro Taught Me
I honestly believe that we can extract valuable lessons from even the simplest experiences in life, that can be useful not only to us but the others as well, of course, if we are willing to share our personal stories.
As a trainer, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to share this story with many young people, but this is the first time I’ve decided to put it in writing.
I’ve intentionally postponed publishing it for two years.
My idea was to see whether or not the things I’ve learned back then, still have the same impact on my life today, and they do.
These are the lessons I’ve learned every since I got the idea to climb Kilimanjaro, up to the point when we came back home.
Some of these lessons (as you will see) reflect maybe on the big truths about life, while other consider the joy of showering with hot water (or just showering at all).
So, without further ado, in chronological order.
24 Incredible Life Lessons Climbing Kilimanjaro Taught Me
1. Experience doesn’t matter (Desire does)
The thing is, before Kilimanjaro I had zero climbing or hiking experience. It was one of these things in life I decided to do because I wanted to prove something to myself.
Some climbers were giving me advice on how to prepare and what should I do. They were saying that lack of experience and just one year for preparation is not enough and that I should postpone it.
In most cases, they would be right but in this one my desire to do it was much stronger. Maybe even a big dose of foolishness and arrogance.
But my belief was that if my desire to do it was strong, with learning and preparation, there’s nothing I can’t tackle.
2. Be arrogant and ignore naysayers
Almost 95% of the people in our environment were telling us that we cannot do it.
I have, to be honest here, that’s not motivating, having so many people discourage you when you are pumped up.
That’s like with everything in life, the bigger your dream is, the more people will try to stifle you down.
Not because they are bad, but in most cases, because they don’t understand.
That’s just human nature, anything that’s different, most people push it away.
My take on this is that you should use, every single person that thinks you cannot do it. When you switch your frame from haters to supporters, it suddenly becomes my easier.
Just do your thing, believe in yourself and go for it.
3. Good company is rare
In the beginning, my idea was to do this by myself; I knew that not many of my friends had the money or the desire to attempt something like this.
In March 2014, I bought a ticket to Tanzania and posted it on Facebook.
Not an hour later, a friend of mine called me and asked me why I am going there.
This is the exact conversation:
Him: “Yo, what’s up with the ticket to Tanzania?”
Me: “Well I want to climb Kilimanjaro?”
Him: “No shit, I knew it. Can I come?”
Me: “I was like hell yeah (especially, knowing that having somebody I knew would make my mom euphoric)”
He was like: “I just got to ask my girlfriend, I’ll let you know.”
Two hours later.
Him: “She said yes, let’s start.”
Three days later, he bought the ticket next to me on the plane.
Of course, on the mountain we had our ups and downs, but having a support, even in those moments when you can barely walk and breathe, was priceless.
So, never forget those people that have been there for you, when you needed them
4. Don’t overexert yourself before the start
My friend and I had different ways of physical preparation.
He had a private coach, while I decided to create my workout program.
We worked out for about 3-4 months, before the climb.
And about two weeks before, I sprained my ankle. Even my doctor told me that I shouldn’t go. But the desire was too strong, and the tickets were non-refundable.
Because of this, it is so much more challenging; we had to take it slow.
The main point is simple. If I have taken it just a bit easier on myself, I wouldn’t have sprained my ankle, and I would have still reached the top.
5. Expect the best, be prepared for the worse
Going to Tanzania is like going to another world, is a true cultural shock, from people, food and the environment itself.
The main problem is that there are so many factors that are not in your control.
So you have to be flexible and open-minded and try to deal with them as they come. The important thing is that in most situations you are not alone, there will always be someone that will help you out.
Just remember to breathe, and see what you can do about the given situation.
6. Hakuna Matata (Swahili for No worries)
Before coming to Tanzania, I’ve only heard this in The Lion King.
But, in Tanzania, and in particular on the mountain, this is something people repeat a lot.
For them, it’s not just another sentence, its a way of life.
Tanzanian’s are so relaxed and friendly, even though they have less than most people I’ve met up until that point.
Somehow this quote started to make sense because dwelling on the problems makes no sense.
Yes, shit happens, but you have the full freedom to decide where will you go from there.
Which brings me to my next point.
7. Be grateful
If you have clean water, food, education and a house, you have much more than the rest of the world, especially people in Tanzania.
If you are reading this, be grateful for the chance that you can. Not everyone has that opportunity. I am truly glad that I was able to write this.
Be thankful for the experiences you’ve had, good and bad, because they’ve shaped you into the person you are today.
Be grateful for the people around you.
Just, be grateful
8. Drink a lot of water
This is not a philosophical advice, but it’s a practical tip, that we were told that we need to pay attention to.
If you can’t remember the last time you’ve had a glass of water, stop, and have one. Take one before you go to sleep and one when you wake up. You will thank yourself.
Enjoy it just because you have access to it.
9. Be humble
If you have a normal job, or the opportunity to do what you are passionate about be happy and grateful.
These guys, porters, are one of the reasons we’ve reached the top.
They carry your clothes and food for all of you. And they do it in the same time as you, but with 20kg (more than 40 pounds) on their heads.
Every time I complained about something while I was there, it was just enough to look at them, and it would make me a bit more humble.
They are superhuman in a way, and even today (2 years later) I have the utmost respect and humility for these guys.
Plus, have in mind they only get 5$ per day to do this.
10. Respect nature
We often forget that we depend so much on nature and that nature sets the rules on how we will live our lives.
When you are in a place like this, if you are not playing by the rules that nature has set, you will lose.
You can’t fight it. You just have to adapt.
And enjoy it while it lasts.
National Park of Kilimanjaro was probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve had the opportunity to visit. It’s astonishing in every way.
Which leads me to the next point.
11. Listen to your body
No matter how fit you are, or how-how much you’ve prepared, you have to listen to your body.
Our guides told us that famous athletes and people, tend to think that rules don’t apply to them, and they overdo it, which leads to their body collapsing because of the altitude sickness.
Just take a look at these names:
- Nine-times Wimbledon champion, Martina Navratilova
- Billionaire and owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich
- Superbowl Champion, Ray Lewis
I’ve had the similar experience, just before the summit, I started getting altitude sickness.
A pounding headache, red eyes, blue lips, dizziness, disorder. And it wasn’t my decision whether or not I will continue.
It was purely on my guide. He examined me, and gave me a pass, but only if I take it slow.
12. Pole, Pole (Swahili for: “Slowly, Slowly”)
Man, I’ve probably heard this about 200 times in those six days.
Everything is pole-pole in Africa.
The thing is, you have already paid for the experience, you have already committed, whether you arrive an hour earlier, or 2 hours later, it won’t matter. But if you push yourself too much, it can mean the slight difference between success and failure.
So my dear friend, pole-pole, your goals will not run away, but by the time you get to them, you will be wiser, because you took it slow.
13. Be persistent
I’ve had three stages in my climb to the top.
The first stage was:
“Let’s rock this! I can do it!.” – phase.
The second stage was:
Man, there’s no way. I am tired, hungry, sleepy, cold, my foot hurts, my nose hurts (I’ve had simultaneously sunburn and frostbite). Maybe all those people were right that we cannot do it. How can I go back home and say that I didn’t make it?
The third stage was:
Nothing. Just automation. Not a single thought. One
If I think about it, something similar to meditation.
And on the way up, these three phases regularly switch. But the thing about it, each one of them is natural for us humans, and should be accepted if they come.
Of course, if you are in the second one, try to find a way to get out of it faster, because it’s not a warm feeling.
14. Don’t trust the technology
I downloaded workout songs, speeches, and put them on my iPod.
Two songs in, on the summit night, and because it was -20 degrees my iPod dies, while playing Imagine Dragons – Bleeding Out (not that motivating if I am honest)
GoPro failed us. Both of our phones Failed us. Ipod failed me.
The only thing that remained was an old Olympus camera that my uncle gave me, that was wrapped in 3 pairs of socks and one pair of dirty underwear, and put close to my chest to keep it warm.
So, no matter what, be sure that you don’t rely too much
15. Age is nothing but a number
The youngest person to climb Kilimanjaro – Keats Boyd, at the tender age of 7 years old.
The oldest person to ever climb Kilimanjaro – Martin Kafer, standing firm at 85 years old.
No matter your age, you can always do incredible things.
So if that was your excuse, I am glad to take it away from you.
16. Summit happens long before you start climbing
The decision to climb and every step you’ve taken along the way to get to the place of your dream is what matters.
If you have firmly decided, and connected your goal strongly with emotion, you will reach it.
Everything is execution, but whenever your motivation drops, you can always remember why you have started, and take one step. And then another.
17. Celebrate your victories
I remember two specific thoughts when we reached the summit:
“This was physically and mentally the most challenging thing I’ve done thus far in my life.”
and the second one:
The last one is one of my biggest challenges in life.
Whenever I’ve accomplished something, I’ve always first asked myself this questions. What’s next?
I never learned how to celebrate these achievements.
So here, as I publicly say it, I will try to do it more.
I hope to remind you as well, celebrate those successes, no matter how small or big they might be.
But don’t let them pass without leaving a trail in your mind.
18. Stop and smell the rose
Today people are extremely busy; we tend to miss a lot of things, because of technology and our daily task.
Even on Kilimanjaro, your mind wonders because there are so many things to see.
I remember one moment vividly when we were going down the mountain, after just spent 7 hours on climbing to the summit.
We just say down.
No words, just breathing and trying to be present.
Even to this day, this is one of my most peaceful moments.
19. Going up is one thing, but don’t underestimate going down
Ascending Kilimanjaro was hard. But descending is what destroyed my body quite a lot (my hips, knees and my already screwed ankle).
It was because I thought the fight was over. That I did the hard part. I relaxed, and I didn’t take care of myself.
Yes, achieving your goal is awesome, but make sure that you finish the race entirely before you allow yourself to relax.
20. Showering is underrated
I will say just one thing.
Cleaning yourself with baby wipes for six days is not fun.
21. Enjoy the comfort of your bed
We often forget these small pleasures in life, such as a comfortable bed.
Even though my body was in pain when we came to the lodge, I was ecstatic to find a clean and comfy bed.
So if you are reading this from your bed, stop for a moment and just be happy that you have it, and that you don’t have to sleep outside, or without a mattress.
22. Anyone can do it
I’ve mentioned already the age part.
But whenever I told my story afterward, most people said that they could never do it.
I disagree. I think that Kilimanjaro is hard, but that anyone can prepare and do it, but I don’t think that anyone should.
Kilimanjaro was my dream; it doesn’t mean that
There are so many things we can accomplish, and we should choose the things that make sense to us and our path.
But in case you decide to climb Kilimanjaro, I think you can do it.
23. Appreciate the people that believed in you
Rare are the people that will support your goals, and we often forget about them. Not because we don’t care, but because we are focused on other things.
In my dream to the top, only several people gave me a lot of support, and to them, I will eternally be grateful.
One example is this badly photoshopped picture of me on Kilimanjaro by my day.
So my question to you is, is there someone that gave you a lot of support when you needed it, but you haven’t expressed your gratitude in a while?
If yes, go ahead, call them. Say, thank you for the bottom of your heart.
24. Let The Dream Motivate You In Good And Bad Times
The reason why I decided to climb Kilimanjaro was to have criteria.
In my head, it represented something that if I manage to achieve it will serve me in good and bad situations in life.
Let me explain this.
Whatever dream you accomplish it becomes a standard for everything else.
For me, it meant that if I ever go into a slump or become depressed, I can always say:
“Dude you climbed fuc*ing Kilimanjaro, pull yourself out of it, and take it one step at the time.”
And it also becomes criteria for the good things, so I don’t become stagnant in life.
Whatever I do in life I can always ask myself:
“Is this on the same level that Kilimanjaro is?”
If not, I gotta do better.
I love competing with myself, and it works.
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Author: Zdravko Cvijetic
Zdravko Cvijetic, the founder of Zero To Skill, creates practical content, ranging from articles, e-guides, and courses, that will help you become a top performer, by gaining clarity on your life path, mastering your habits and becoming 3x more productive. With a degree in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning, he was able to create content that has influenced more than 100.000 people.