In 2007, my mom and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. October 3rd is the anniversary of the day we stepped off the mountain (actually a volcano) into a sidewalk cafe for a sandwich and an ice cold beer (Kilimanjaro Lager, of course.)
When I think now about what we did then, I am impressed with us! I was 37, and my mom was 56 years old! We weren’t hikers or climbers or anything close. Even thinking about doing that today at 48 I’m like, Nah.
When a memory post from a couple of years ago popped up on my FB feed recently, I started to re-share it on my personal Facebook page, but didn’t.
Every time I see this memory or pictures from the climb, I am reminded that I did not summit.
Every time I have mentioned that I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I have followed it up with “but I didn’t make it to the top.”
Whenever that trip floats across my mind, it is followed by an asterisk.
* = FAILED
WHY do we do this to ourselves?
Why do we tell ourselves these completely inaccurate stories? And why do we believe ourselves? Would I tell anyone else that they FAILED with the same set of facts and circumstances?
Um. No. Of course, we wouldn’t. Not only would we not tell someone else that – we wouldn’t even THINK it! We would THINK it was awesome that they put their mind to that kind of feat and went and DID it!
- …always wanted to go on a safari in Africa, so when a friend of our family threw this crazy idea out – that included a safari – I was game. (See what I did there?)
- …am more of an “athlete” now than I was then. Totally just laughed out loud. I am no athlete. Not now, not then. I had started kinda-sorta running about a year prior to joining the crazy climb team. But other than that I didn’t have any real athletic experience to fall back on.
- …made a reasonable attempt to train for about four months. At sea level.
- …spent seven days and nights camping in a tent on the side of the mountain (actually a volcano) with my mom, the three guys we went with and about twenty porters and guides to assist us.
- …had an altitude sickness medication with me (Diamox) – but decided (inexplicably) not to take it.
- …did not reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro due to altitude sickness (which you can see showing in my face in this picture <–). Our lead guide estimated that I turned around at about 18,000 feet. Kili is 19,341 feet.
My brain before the trip:
- I cannot WAIT to go on a safari. I have wanted to do that for as long as I can remember!
- Not long after I started running, I ran the flattest half-marathon there is (in Record. Slow. Time.) I can TOTALLY climb the tallest peak in Africa!
- You know, now that I think about it, I ran that half-marathon after my longest training run was 5 miles. I can TOTALLY train at sea level for a few months to climb the tallest peak in Africa!
My brain following the trip:
- It’s so super amazing that I went on Safari! Bonus: we saw the Big Five!
- Holy hell. That was hard. And cold. And dirty. But oh so cool! Good for us!
- What the HELL is wrong with me?? Why would I NOT take the Diamox? (The two people in the group who DID take it not only made the summit sign, they went to the crater rim!)
- I did not make the summit. I failed. My climb was a complete and utter failure.
Years later – cue the familiar, comfortable pang of failure
So when a memory pops up, like this picture of my mom and me at camp on the last day on the mountain, I tend to feel that old, familiar pang.
When I see that picture I am reminded that I did not make it to the top of that damn mountain. I failed. And since that same picture hangs in my kitchen, I see it every day. Instead of feeling psyched and proud when I look at it, I feel *proud. Proud with an asterisk. I’d say kind of – proud-ISH.
Why are we such liars when we talk to ourselves?
The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves are the most powerful influence on our own psyche. Whether it is about our appearance, weight, relationships, jobs, hobbies, abilities, worthiness, value, or contributions – we are not reliable when telling our own stories to ourselves.
So, no. Just NO. NO NO NO NO NO. Stop the asterisks. Rarely would we speak to others the way we speak to ourselves – so, nope. No more asterisks allowed.
I’m getting my stories straight
One of the stories I tell myself is that I don’t start things unless I will succeed. It is why I have so many ideas, so many projects, so many things I want to do, but don’t do. That may be partially true.
But I do start some things. So, maybe the problem is that I don’t finish things. Or that I don’t really put my ALL into things. Or maybe – it’s just life.
What I do know is that I am now rewording the stories I tell myself.
But those things do not negate my accomplishment any more than they negate the accomplishment for any other person.
So … New Story
I climbed Kilimanjaro. I climbed, with my own two legs, to approximately 18,000 feet of the tallest peak on the continent of AFRICA. No asterisk.
My lying, self-storytelling brain can just kiss my asterisk!
And if you are thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro yourself – DO IT!
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