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3 Business Lessons I Learned While Summitting Mt. Everest Without Supplemental Oxygen

You never forget a lesson learned when it means the lives of you and your expedition are at risk.

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As the owner of an outdoor adventure guide company, I’m in the unique position of learning many of my business lessons the hard way: out in the field in the face of physical adversity. Mistakes in such extreme environments are costly, and sometimes even fatal, but one thing is for sure, you never forget a lesson learned when it means the lives of you and your expedition are at risk.

Austin Turner (RXR Sports)

I am recently back from an expedition to the top of Mt. Everest and, this year, I joined the ranks of a small group of climbers who have summited the world’s highest peak without the aid of supplemental oxygen. It was the toughest goal I have ever set for myself -- and one I came very close to missing out on, except for the fact that my failed summit attempt, just one year before, had taught me several valuable lessons.

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Now safely back at sea-level altitudes, I reflect upon these experiences on the mountain and realize that these lessons can apply to most anyone that’s trying to reach a business goal. And so below is a recap of the important lessons my two recent Mt. Everest summit attempts have taught me.

Don’t let your ego sabotage your success.

Summiting Mt. Everest without supplemental oxygen had been a dream of mine for the past 25 years, and it took a two-year long project to finally make it happen. On my first attempt last year, I believe my ego got in the way of my success.

As a professional sponsored climber that has lead over 100 expeditions around the world, I’ve always thought of myself as the expedition leader. This climb was no different. I wanted to be the leader in every way on this no supplemental oxygen summit attempt. I wanted to be the fastest. I wanted to be the one making all of the critical decisions. I wanted to be the one setting up camp, capturing our experience on Snapchat and taking care of my other team members on the mountain.

But, instead what I did was sabotage my own success. My climbing partner Cory Richards is inherently faster on the mountain at the extremely high altitudes. That is his strength. But I, on the other hand, need to go slow to succeed. By pushing myself to be the front running climber, I burned out all my physical resources and failed that year. This year, Cory left two hours after me, allowing us to come together on the top in a perfectly synchronized effort. This was only possible when I let my ego take a back seat to ensure our success.

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Surround yourself with a team you would trust with your life.

I know it may sound silly, because in most businesses you rarely find yourself in a life or death situation like we do on the mountain, but the truth is, the most successful partnerships, even in the New York boardroom, are those where there is a deep-rooted trust among members of the team. Without that, at some juncture, the team will fall apart. So choose your partners carefully -- every one of them.

This year, I would not have summited, maybe not even survived, if I didn’t have the team I had with me. My partner Cory, who summited without supplemental oxygen last year, but wasn’t feeling it this year, actually put oxygen on several hundred feet before the summit just to cheer me on and help me achieve my goal. On the descent from the summit, I was literally falling asleep from the lack of oxygen and my Sherpa and guides were keeping me alert, making sure I utilized the rope safety systems correctly, and making sure I made it down the mountain safely. It was an extraordinary team effort built on trust and love for one another. We rarely have that deep of a connection in a traditional office situation -- but maybe we should.

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Don’t ignore the warning signs.

It’s so easy to ignore warning signs when we so want to achieve a specific goal. For me, those warning signs were small and subtle last year (like my speed slowing down higher up on the mountain, or my inability to keep myself warm), so I pushed on and put myself in a dangerous situation. Thankfully, I turned back before it was too late. But this year, no sign was too small for me to consider.

It’s just like our health; when something feels different or wrong, it can’t be ignored. Very early on in our trip this year, my climbing partner was having some physiological setbacks that were showing up on daily health monitors. So he sat out of a few acclimatization climbs early on in the expedition until he felt better. That ultimately helped him join me on top!

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