'Success Or Failure You Learn By Participating & Then Move On To Something Else'
Cathy O’Dowd, the first lady in the world to summit Everest from both south and north sides, talks about her movie EVEREST and more
Cathy O’Dowd, the first lady in the world to summit Everest from both south and north sides, talks about her movie EVEREST and more
DR :Could you tell us a little about yourself ?
CO : I am South African . I have been climbing mountains since I was 18 . Started with rock climbing . Slowly got higher , harder & colder along the way . I got an opportunity to join the South African Everest Expedition . That turned out to be a fairly controversial expedition . We had some issues with the team . It also turned out we were in the famous season of 1996 . A movie - Everest - was made about that last year . So that was my introduction to high altitude mountaineering as well . It was also an introduction that went on to open lots of doors . Having successfully reached the top I got opportunities to raise sponsorships, to give speeches to corporate clients , to write a book, to travel extensively & since then I have gone on to do many other mountains . I now live in Europe in a tiny country called Andora & travel the world which is how I came to India
DR : Talking more about the movie EVEREST . I have seen the movie - movies - both of them 1998 & 2015 . I ve also browsed through John Krakauer ’s book - Into Thin Air . It made me very curious about how veteran climbers like Rob Hall & Scott Fischer died inspite of their experience & wisdom
CO : I think I would say 2 things . One is - it is ultimately a deeply unpredictable environment . When people are asked what they think - the most terrifying thing they may face in their lifetimes, they would probably say a terrorist attack . We powerfully underestimate how powerful nature is when it really goes wrong . As to specific circumstances , I think a lot of very small mistakes were made and I don’t think that’s particularly a huge negative against them . We are human . It is almost impossible to make no mistakes . I am lucky . Those particular set of mistakes with those specific weather conditions made it a perfect storm in terms of things going wrong . The biggest risk that experienced climbers face is complacency . We don’t have statistics about what we do but I have heard some apparently from airline pilots - the most dangerous is the first 200 hours flying alone . After that once you cross 1000 hours you re so good you re doing it automatically . Same thing happens to climbers . Over confidence , complacency , beginning to feel you ‘re so good , you ‘re so experienced that you can shortcut safety procedures & I think that may have happened
DR : Now that you have climbed Everest twice , how do you avoid life going downhill from here ? What’s the next high ? What’s your next dopamine fix ?
CO : That’s not how it works . This is not a dopamine rush . You spend weeks climbing mountains . You ‘ re not doing it because you’re looking for an adrenaline rush . Everest is the highest in the world, but there are so many other mountains in the world that are more beautiful , more challenging , less travelled . I climb mountains. I ‘ve done it for thirty years & occasionally they are 8,000 mt peaks . Most of the time they are mountains in my back yard or neighbouring countries . I am interested in the journey . I am interested in the challenge of managing the risk & solving the puzzle of how to travel safely through these wild remote unpredictable environments , deeply beautiful environments & to hopefully do the goal as in the summit & achieve the bigger goal which is always coming home alive & learn from the experience . Success or failure you still learn by participating & then move on to something else
DR : Why would anybody so something as life threatening as climbing Everest ? If its for the thrill or to show one’ superiority there are safer avenues like winning an Olympic medal
CO : I got bad news for you . You ‘re going to die , so am I , so is everybody
DR : Yes but longevity is important
CO : Yes , until you get hit by a bus . You don t know you have no idea what life’s going to be . Your challenge … my challenge is to make as much as we can with the potential we have with each new day . So I don t climb mountains to prove something to other people . This is not about trying to be superior . I am interested in the process . I am interested in what I learn by taking part in the journey of the expedition . I have learned so much , about myself , about teams , about challenge - not just from the success but failures too . Failing at things is an interesting experience & there’s a great deal to learn . I have found myself enriched as a person I have found deeply heartfelt friendships out of these shared experiences . My life is better for having climbed mountains . My attitude towards business , my confidence in every aspect is better because of the challenges I have succeeded on the mountains . So for me yes, there ’s risk involved but its worth it
DR : Could you tell us about your India visit & your work as a speaker ?
CO : This is my first visit to India. Its been 4 days . Energy is overwhelming . It is kind of what I expected which is busy & bustling & vibrant & pushy & business gets done & wild ideas get turned from nothing into a project in a space of 24 hours. You try to catch up . So in all those ways it's a great country . I wanted to visit India for a long time & do 2 things . I wanted to try & share some of my stories in the Indian market & see if if that will resonate . It’s going pretty well so far . I also wanted to climb in India . I hope that’s going to happen in 2018 . This is also the beginning of some exploration of raising sponsorship for big climbing explorations . Because it’s a climb & also a business project . The stories - as you can tell from some of my answers - I like thinking about this stuff. Why do we do it - what’s the point , what do we learn And I like sharing those ideas. I think climbing works very well as a metaphor for corporate leadership & team building . Because mountains are effectively just project management .It’s simplified & exaggerated . Its high risk, high stress , big egos , big goals but its also reasonably simple . Short time line , obvious goal , small teams . Key issues are both simplified & exaggerated & it makes it quite easy to see . So you can take a mountain climbing team & say let’s talk about what the real issues are . Let’s talk about how people actually create their own disasters whether its Rob Hall or Scott Fischer or the South African team falling apart or whatever it is. The biggest problem is not the storm . The biggest problem is us . Let’s talk about why that happens . & then what a really good leader or a high performing team member can do to make their team better in this very difficult environment . That’s where the message - the crossover lies with corporate teams & that’s the kind of insight I m interested in thinking about
DR : What has been your experience with mind mapping ?
CO : Mind mapping has been with us forever. I was taught mind mapping towards the end of high school & then retaught it when we entered University & I still use it . If I am right at the beginning of a project & all I want to do is an idea dump & I don’t yet know how those ideas are going to be sorted & I am just grasping for new possibilities - I ve always used mind mapping as a way because its the thing about the network of links the associations that let you start . You start here , by the time you’re done , you ‘ve ended up over there . So I ‘m like now that’s an interesting idea . Like I just did this afternoon - we’re at the Pitch CMO Summit ( Organised by Exchangeformedia ) . Its all about branding & authenticity . I am a mountain climber . Why am I here ? Because we are personal brands as climbers . Everest is increasingly a brand . We are operating in a world that’s all about money & media & sponsorships & frankly if you hit the summit - fortune & opportunities & fame to some extent & people are beginning to fake Everest ascents. We’ve had photoshop . I personally mind mapped this presentation .Its like brand… Everest…How on earth do I get these 2 to match & you start to spider web the mind map & then you go - oh look - they overlap beautifully
DR : What is your advice to Everest Wannabes ? There are plenty of people out there looking at inspirational figures like you , like Tensing Norgay ( & Edmund Hillary ) & thinking “ oh these guys have done it & achieved fame , money , respect , a great career as a speaker or an author . They probably fail to realise that people have limited brains . They have a space in their minds for the first Everest climber or the first lady to climb Everest from both sides , but they don’t have the mindspace for Everest Climber # 15 or # 21 . So those guys are unlikely to have the careers that you have had . What would be your advice to these wannabes ?
CO : I think the real problem is that people look at someone like me & they see one thing . They see the fact that I m on this big stage . I m touring around India & I ve spoken in 44 countries . I didn’t expect any of this . I ‘m a climber . I ‘m into climbing & people look at Tensing Norgay or Edmund Hillary & go like - I ‘m going to do what they did - no you’re not - Because what they did was not join a que , having paid a commercial guide to tell them what to do & a Sherpa to carry all their kit & put into a safety line along with 500 other climbers to await their journey for their summit selfie on Everest . What Hillary & Tensing actually did is a mountain that no one else had ever done .That’s what propelled them to fame & if you went & found that unclimbed mountain you may make a splash in the media . I agree with you ( Everest Climber # 15 or # 21 ) is not going to make much of an impact .Norgay & Hillary didn’t do it for the fame . We did it for reasons that were deeply personal because we love the activity . Fame was just a lucky side of it . So what you much better do is finding something you are truly passionate about That you are deeply personally committed to & do it well & hey maybe it ll catch fire & you ll become famous or maybe you won’t Either way you ll still be doing something you’re very passionate about
DR : You have recently written a book about your experiences with Everest . Could you talk about that ?
CO : I’m particularly excited about this because its just been released in India . We have a book launch happening in a couple of days time . I ve been to Everest 4 times . Failed a few times but each time was interesting . The first time success on the south side , the second time attempt on the north - failure because we got caught up in someone else’s tragedy - An American woman who died very high on the mountain - we tried & failed to save their lives so very emotionally traumatic Back a third time from the north side - got to the top & then one more time went to the east side to climb a new route & yes anyone wanting to make a name for himself there is at least one unclimbed side on the east side of Everest . So this book is the story of those 4 climbs & everything I have learned because I learned so much that set me up for everything I have done since then & I wrote the book just for the love of it . Partly because I was so sick of men writing books for the qualities . Men writing books called the death zone - killer mountain - the implication that they went & conquered - its like - ugggg . We do it because we enjoy it . Let me talk about that . & you don’t conquer Everest . It’s like an ant climbing up a refrigerator & saying they conquered the fridge . Of course they did ‘nt .We trip it up & try to get down in one piece . I wanted to talk about that . Why we do it ? What it feels like The real emotional honesty of that experience So just brought the book to India & I am hoping it will be well received . The name is “ Just for the love of it “
DR : After being such a super achiever do you wonder “ There are role models like you who are accessible through books , YouTube videos , maybe there will be a movie made on your life - Warner Bros I hope you are listening . Inspite of that there are so many losers who get angry because of a traffic jam, man goes into depression after his girlfriend ditches him , guy loses job commits suicide . Can t they get the message from you that you have conquered such a lot & compared to that their miseries are nothing ?
CO : No . With apologies that question makes me uncomfortable for 2 reasons . Our society gives kudos & rewards & attention to certain kinds of achievements Some of it is profoundly pointless . Climbing a big lump of rock & snow is profoundly pointless & there are lots of people achieving things - whether they are bringing up children in poverty , surviving cancer, working for a grassroots NGO to make people’s lives better . There are lots of people doing very important work getting very little recognition . We chase some funny things in our society . I don’t think that its fair to say only people who have been in the media or done good things only make worthy lives . The other thing that makes me uncomfortable is the impression that depression makes you a loser . I know what depression feels like. I know what it feels like to be in bed & not feeling like getting up & feeling life is not working for me . I ‘ve also climber Everest . One does not beget the other . & I don’t subscribe to the philosophy that says people in depression should pull themselves together & be motivated by someone else who has climbed a big lump of rock . Life is much more complicated
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