Lessons Learned From The Mountains


I don’t care who you are or what difficulties you face in your life, you should make great plans for your future. It is said modesty is a virtue. I believe modesty is not a virtue when it comes to self-assessment and goal setting. There is no limit to what you can accomplish in life if you dream big, commit yourself to success and work hard.

Robert Browning wrote, “ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Dream big and set large goals for your life.



There will be people who will tell you that you can’t accomplish your goals. “It’s too hard.” “You set your sights too high.” “That’s not possible.” I hate those words! Follow the advice of Mark Twain who said: “keep away from small people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Never allow yourself to be fenced in by the doubts or expectations of others.

Sometimes your worst naysayer is yourself. At some point during every climb of an alpine mountain, I reach a point where I feel overwhelmed by the difficulty of the task and I want to give up and try another time. That’s where my commitment to success kicks in and I summon the reserves to continue moving up. You too will hit those hard patches during your life journey and will think about giving up on your dream. Banish those thoughts from your mind and stay the course.



In order to accomplish great things in life, you need a game plan. With the help of others, create that game plan. You may want to make adjustments along the way, but stick to the game plan. Sometimes it is best to focus just on the short-term goals so you are not overwhelmed with the enormity of the task. For example, when I climb big alpine mountains, I often just think about getting to the next rock or ice wall up the mountain, and I focus on that as a short-term goal. Then, when I reach that rock or ice wall, I find another landmark and set that as my next target. Inch-by-inch, I make my way up the mountain, and eventually, I stand on the summit.



Anything is possible if you work hard and are mentally committed to success. This requires short-term sacrifice for long-term gain. I told my children when they were young, and I now tell my grandchildren: if you work hard now and sacrifice some fun in the short term, you will enjoy a lifetime of happiness and satisfaction.

In preparing for my climbs, I work out in the gym 6 days of the week. It is a grueling 2-hour workout. To be very honest, I hate going to the gym for that workout. I don’t consider it fun, and there are lots of others things I would rather be doing. But, I go anyway because I know it is the key to my success in reaching the summit.



Mental preparation is far more important than physical preparation in big mountain climbs. A positive mental attitude gets me past those tough times when those demons sit on my shoulder and beg me to give up. It is the same way with all of the big goals we set for ourselves in life. If you want to achieve those goals, it is critical that you mentally commit yourself to success and believe that you will succeed.

An important part of mental preparation is to visualize success. Just beyond the South Summit of Mt. Everest there is a knife-edge ridge called the Cornice Traverse. It is also known as the “Death Traverse” because the fall on one side of the ridge is 8,000 feet into Nepal and the fall on the other side of the ridge is 10,000 feet into Tibet. One misstep, and the climber takes what mountaineers call the “big ride.” When I first saw the Cornice Traverse, I visualized in my mind a safe and successful crossing and I kept that mindset until I safely made the crossing. You should do the same when fear of failure tries to overcome your commitment to success.



You will experience setbacks, disappointments and failures. When that happens, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, figure out what went wrong, make the necessary adjustments and get on with the journey.

It took me 2 attempts to summit Mt. Everest. In the first attempt, I turned around less than 300 feet from the summit. What was I thinking when I made my turn and started down the mountain? “I could have made it?” “I should have made it?” “Woe is me?” No. I was planning my trip for the following year. I was asking myself these questions: What have I learned from this expedition? What can I do differently? What adjustments do I need to make to succeed next year? How can I train harder for success? What do I need to do to get better so I will achieve my goal?

This method of dealing with setbacks works every time, and it will work for you.



Trust in yourself and your ability to succeed. Trust in others, for example, your family, friends, teachers, pastors and teammates.

Most important of all, place your full trust in the Lord. Most of us have a gps device. You all know how it works. You dial in the address and the gps directs you to your destination. These devices can even talk to you and can detect obstacles along the way (such as traffic jams, accidents and road closures) and change your course to avoid the obstacles. The system works based on a satellite in outer space that can look down on planet earth, see the big picture and easily chart the course.

There is a spiritual gps available to us for free. Here is how it works. Dream big, dial your intended destination into your future through prayer, and allow the Lord to act as your heavenly gps. The Lord will look down, see the big picture and figure out the best way to get you from where you are right now to the goal you have set for yourself in life. When you hit those tough obstacles in life, the Lord will re-route you around them and make sure they don’t knock you off course. But, remember you need to listen to the Lord every step of the way and trust in the directions you receive for your life journey.



Savor the positive experiences on your life journey. In all of my climbs on the seven continents, I have taken time to enjoy the mountain, the region, the people and their culture. This enriches the experience and helps me endure the hardships along the way. There is no life journey that is so difficult that you cannot find nuggets of gold along the way. Find the best in every situation and hold on to those great memories.



Always remember to thank the people who have supported and helped you realize your dream. In 2012, I was asked to give a speech in Kathmandu on Sagaramantha (Mt. Everest) Day. I devoted most of the speech to thanking the people behind the scenes who make it possible for us to climb this great mountain. This includes Sherpas, Sirdars, Lamas (Buddhist Priests), guides, expedition outfitters, cooks, porters, medical doctors, helicopter pilots, line fixers and many others.

As you pursue your dream, be sure to take time to thank the people who have helped you, including family, friends, teammates, teachers, guidance counselors and clergy. Most of all, thank the Lord who loves you the most and keeps you solidly focused on the path to happiness and success.



It has been wisely said that every true success is a mankind joint venture. Live by those words. Help others, just as you have been helped. The Bible teaches “for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom, much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” Luke 12:48 The smallest act of kindness can set in motion events that transform lives and benefit society. Do your part to lift up those in need and help them reach their full potential. Your life will be enriched by random acts of kindness. In Nepalese and Tibetan culture and religion this is known as Karma. I believe in Karma.

If you follow these ten steps, I can give you this guarantee: your dream will come true, and some day, soon enough, you will stand on top of your own Mt. Everest.

Bill Burke