What Climbing a Mountain Taught Me About Confidence

climbing a mountain

Even though my Kilimanjaro summit was 18 months ago, I still remember that final ascent like it was yesterday. I had been told prior to my climb that it would be a life-changing experience, but I shrugged it off as, “it’s a 19,000 foot mountain – just how life-changing can it be?” But, as I took those final steps to the summit I couldn’t stop the tears from streaming down my face. As the only female in the group, I sniffled and mumbled something about the cold and the wind, and pretended it wasn’t happening.

And it would have been one thing if the tears had only been that day – but they weren’t. I found myself spontaneously bursting into tears that night, the next day, and the next day. As a matter of fact, those tears continued on for a full two weeks (at which point, I assure you, it was getting old).

I couldn’t make sense of it – at all. They didn’t seem to be either tears of joy or tears of sadness. They were just … tears. But then one evening I was describing it to a friend, and he said to me, “Jen, that trip was a big deal. In accomplishing that, it fundamentally shifted your belief in who you are.” As I sat there in stunned silence, I realized he was right.

To someone who had a mental image of themselves as an athlete, summiting Kilimanjaro might not have been a big deal. But, for someone who grew up an extremely sick little kid, didn’t consider herself athletic, and whose previous physical accomplishments included marathon shopping sessions – Kilimanjaro was a big freaking deal.

By accomplishing something that was squarely outside of my belief system of who I was, my belief system had no choice but to change – radically.

Massive Accomplishment = Massive Confidence

My big takeaway from my climb (other than 9 days without a shower is way overrated) was that when you accomplish an audacious goal your belief in who you are – and what you are capable of – shifts in almost direct proportion with the size of the goal. I came home with a new confidence in who I was and what I could accomplish, not only physically, but in my business and personal life as well.

While I summited with ease, things could have just as easily gone in the other direction – after all, I was the only person in my climbing group to summit. I’m not sure if or how my confidence would have taken a hit had I NOT summited, but I’m glad I never had to find out.

3 Tips to Improve Your Odds at Succeeding

1. Be realistic.

An audacious goal is one thing, an unrealistic goal is another. I still can’t tell you why I needed to summit Kilimanjaro at all, but at the same time I wasn’t crazy enough to try Everest. I specifically picked a non-technical climb (meaning no ropes, crampons, or other climbing gear) that was challenging, but not impossible, for me.

2. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

While a cliche, it’s totally true. I put close to a year of planning into the trip and several months of very specific training in. This was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for me, and I wasn’t about to screw it up because of something stupid I failed to do.

3. Commit.

Planning is half the battle, and execution is the other half. Once you have your plan, you actually need to do the work. Not doing the work gives you a mental out if things don’t go as planned, because it’s easy to say, “well, I just didn’t have time to train the way I planned.”No, you either planned poorly or subconsciously sabotaged your efforts by not doing the work.

What audacious goal do you have that you’ve been procrastinating on or not giving your 150% to?

Photo by Trekking Rinjani

19 thoughts on “What Climbing a Mountain Taught Me About Confidence”

  1. Hello Fellow Adventurer and First of all CONGRATULATIONS – YOU did it!

    I read this and even if I haven’t climbed a mountain I have climbed my own mountains. I have been living and travelling all over the United States. All my things are in storage and I have been residing in places where people go vacation. I live there from 4-6 months and then pick another place. My own mountain climbing – I do it alone, no one at my side and I go to places where no one knows my name. I make new “friendships” and as I leave I bring each one with me to my new adventure (in spirit)…..

    So there is my story – thank you for sharing YOURS!

    In gratitude,

  2. Nancy, what a great story. To do something like that is quite an adventure. I’ve started over a few times in my life, but never anything quite like that.

    We all have our own mountains to climb – literal or metaphorical.


  3. Hi Jen,

    Firstly, well done to you! That is a great story, and the line about fundamentally shifting your beliefs is very powerful. I think we all need to do something so we can experience that shift.

    A motivating and inspiring post. I am off to find and climb my Kilimanjaro :)


    1. Keith,

      Thanks! I think we all have our own Kilimanjaro inside of us, whether we know it or not – just waiting to come out. And, I don’t think we can ever know what it will be, but as long as we don’t stop trying new things, we’re constantly open to that possibility.

  4. An accomplishment so dear and powerful that it causes me to cry… I honestly don’t know what that would be for me, at least for right now. But you – Congratulations!

    Not only did you do something awesome, it felt awesome to you, which is awesome! I’ve done ‘awesome’ stuff before, but because my motivation to do it never came from the heart, it never felt awesome.

    1. Amit, the surprising thing about it is that I didn’t see it coming either. Sure, I thought it would be cool, but I had written it off as just another thing on my bucket list.

      Although, as I type this response to you, I’m realizing that a part of me must have known what it would mean. It was the first overseas trip I’d ever taken by myself — I had a friend who was going to go with me, she ended up backing out, but something said that I just HAD to do it. So, I went.

  5. Great article Jen and well done!!

    I have climbed that mountain and it certainly is an accomplishment. I didn’t summit that easily …. I almost didn’t make it, but somehow or another I just kept taking another step and got there.

    One of the things that kept me going was that I had told a LOT of people that I was doing it (all my subscribers!) and I couldn’t let myself or them down.

    Never, ever, EVER give up …. and you’ll get to that audacious goal…

    So Well Done Jen…. that mountain will live within you for ever…..

    1. Thanks, Kirsten. And congratulations to you, too! It’s nice to have something like that that no one can ever take away from you.

      I told relatively few people I was going – I just couldn’t face the prospect of having to come back and not having accomplished it. And, that’s probably part of that belief in who I was that got erased in the following weeks.

  6. Congratulations!!! It is said that “there is no mountain anywhere in man’s life; each man’s ignorance is his mountain”. By climbing Mountain Kilimanjaro, you have succeeded in demystifying whatever fear, and for that matter, ignorance that surrounds an unprecedented adventure and that had changed your psychic about life. Keep it up.

    Thanks for the sharing. It is very motivating. This is because there is no mountain in man’s life other than man’s own ignorance of the any circumstance that confronts him. And in so far as you were able to break that ignorance which is causing you the fear, your life should indeed change. Bravo!!!!

  7. This is a great example of how flexible and malleable our beliefs are. Our perception of ourselves changes all the time. For the good and bad.

    For example, when we set ourselves a target and don’t meet it, that affects our self-perception. When we say: “tomorrow I’ll get up at 6am” and don’t make it until 8.30, that has a negative effect. Particularly if we start telling ourselves things like “I can’t even stick to this”. Our thoughts about our actions play a great role.

    So, we are in charge of our perception of ourselves and, to a large extent, of our belief system. Great news!

  8. Wow…The highest mountain in Africa…
    Great try I guess.
    I admire you for climbing it. It looks really harsh.

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