The Power of Story
Since a brief introduction to climbing in Switzerland age sixteen, I’ve known I wanted to climb Everest. From then on I became obsessed with the notion of how man can push boundaries beyond what our mind would have us believe. And especially intrigued by whether a once 11 year old with severe chest Asthma, could ever stand at a place above the clouds that has less than a third of the amount of oxygen at sea level. It was all about the challenge, and the mental and physical toughness. It was about braving the harsh elements and withstanding extreme cold. It was a thing about glory and pride.
When I finally stood on top of the world, I returned home for what I thought then would be a short stay to see friends and family as well as fulfil obligations to sponsors. I had accomplished what I set out to do twelve years prior and also had a job waiting for me in a London based brand management consultancy firm. Until that fateful day I received a phone call only a week after my return, asking if I would present to a group of outdoor enthusiasts about my Everest expedition. I wasn’t much of a public speaker but I admit the Leo in me could not turn down an evening of admiration. All I had to do was not screw up.
Throughout the talk I seemed to stumble as if the evening was one excruciatingly long obstacle course where I made every possible mistake. Half of me was trying his best not to panic and the other half was already among the audience mocking me. I knew I felt passionate but had it shown? I was worried it might not be the case but then again, so what. After all, I still had 7 years of history and my cushy job waiting for me in London.
The audience seemed to linger in their seats right after my talk, then disperse. Surprisingly, only a couple of people darted out of the door. Others spoke among themselves but the majority seemed to gravitate towards me in a surprisingly orderly line through the one aisle between the auditorium seats. Then the questions began; tackling every topic from what spiritual wisdom one could uncover at to the top of the world to how do you answer the call of nature at minus forty degrees Celsius. Two hours later my mouth was dry and legs fatigued; but the exhaustion came with an ominous sense of satisfaction that I could not quite grasp then.
Days later, I began to receive more invitations to talks and emails from strangers telling me about promises they had made to themselves and broken. One was from a gifted ballerina who didn’t fight when her dad ordered her to stop dancing and almost all were from people who admitted to believing in those who doubted them. While I could not understand why they picked me, I felt that by responding to each and every one, I was finally making a difference in my own small way. I turned down the London job offer and stayed in Egypt with a newfound realization that all of these years, it was never just about getting to the summit, but it was about climbing down to tell the story.