For Viridiana Álvarez, Mountaineering Teaches Several Key Lessons That Every Leader Should Know
The Guinness World Breaker recently shared how conquering three of the world's most difficult mountains has prepared her for entrepreneurship.
Viridiana Álvarez had been working in the automotive industry for 10 years, but she was not satisfied. She was an expert in her field in her native Aguascalientes, where the sector is very strong, but she felt that something was missing: passion. She began to think about what filled her and the first thing that came to mind was her mountaineering hobby. So, one day, she just gave up and went to climb Manaslu Mountain in the Himalayas.
"It was a decision that led to another milestone in my life, but I was aware of the cost that has to be paid for dreams, it was not really such a great sacrifice, but rather putting certainty aside," explains Álvarez in an interview with Entrepreneur en Espanol.
The change was worth it because, today, Álvarez is a Mexican and Latin American mountaineer who has conquered the top of the four highest mountains in the world and also holds the Guinness Record for the time in which she ascended Mount Everest (8,848 meters), K2 (8,611 meters) and Kanchenjunga (8,586 meters).
"My last expedition was to Kanchenjunga, which is the third highest mountain in the world in May 2019 and where I achieved the Guinness Record," says Álvarez.
Viridiana Álvarez at the Kanchenjunga / Image: Courtesy
The first mountain was the Pico de Orizaba in Mexico, and, from that moment on, she has not stopped. After 10 months, she decided to go to Aconcagua, because she considered the next stage in her career was to conquer the highest peak in America. With this expedition, she managed to mix what until then was a hobby with a professional job in mountaineering.
“The gratification of climbing mountains comes in the way I live mountaineering. For me, the mountain is a space where I have been able to grow, develop, find God and myself,” says the mountaineer, who explains that she finds satisfaction in the passion she feels despite the high risk that exists in mountains like the Himalayas.
"If I don't do something for my dreams, no one else is going to do it."
Álvarez says, “passion for me is not in reason. That is, in analyzing these risk factors in a cold way. Passion is an emotion that is lived in the guts, in the most intimate of each one, and makes each of us do different crazy things.”
Besides dedicating herself to mountaineering, Viridiana has a consulting company called Liderazgo de Altura and says that hosting talks is a very rewarding and exciting part of her job because it positively changes people's lives.
"Sharing all those learnings that I have had throughout these years in mountaineering and that someone else can use them, be inspired or motivated to be able to fulfill their own goals for me is a way to transcend through others," he says. Alvarez.
Some of the topics she discusses are values that apply to all areas of life — whether personal, professional or sporting — such as breaking paradigms, trusting oneself, paying the cost and having a positive attitude.
Have control over fear
Viridiana is one of the few women who has conquered the summit of K2. The mountaineer herself points out that the mountain made her know all her limits, from her control of her own fear to going through many obstacles and continuing upward. For her, conquering these peaks is not only about climbing to the top because that is only half the way.
“Fear is an emotion that has helped us survive throughout the history of human beings. I have been afraid in those mountains, because if I did not have fear, I would not be measuring the risk. The challenge is to be able to cope and have that self-control of fear. Each one lives it differently. It is an emotion that is required, but we do not have to let it overtake us. We must control it.”
Álvarez says that when she got off K2 and was aware that she had survived, it was a very great moment of empowerment and understanding that she could achieve anything with effort, passion and determination. "It is a mountain that for me represents breaking with all paradigms," she says. According to her, one out of every four people who manage to reach the top of K2 do not climb back down.
At that time, everything was going against Álvarez because she barely had four years of experience when she went up to K2. Her companions, on the other hand, had up to 20 years of experience in mountaineering and were on their third or fourth attempt, while she was there for her first. Still, she managed to overcome the great challenge and come out successful.
“I make a lot of comparison between an entrepreneur and mountaineering because it always means swimming against the current. There is no formula for success. Everyone has their own path and their times,” Álvarez mentions.
"There is no book that tells you, 'If you do this, you will do it.' If we search the internet for a book that talks about success, we can find many of this style, but they are not personal visions, but strategies, methodologies, thoughts. There is no single path,” adds the mountaineer.
For Álvarez, mountaineering represents the challenge where each one faces their own “demons.” K2 made her see part of her limits and luck in moments of great risk. She says the mind plays a lot and the self-control that must be had in the mountains is impressive.
Each expedition has held a special significance for her, as each one has given her a different experience and great feeling of achievement.
“Everest is always going to be a very special mountain for me because it is the highest in the world, and I think climbing it was a watershed moment in my life. Each mountain has its special moment, and, last year, in Kanchenjunga, I carried the flag of Mexico and I became the first Mexican to conquer it. Also, I reached the top on my birthday and surpassed the Guinness Record, ” says Álvarez with pride. "It was a precious gift."
Dream big to achieve big
Álvarez explains that to follow the path of mountaineering and any goal or dream, everyone has to overcome three mountains. “The first is that you have to dream big, to achieve big. I think that we limit ourselves when we don't believe we are capable of achieving something great.”
The second mountain, according to Viridiana, is trusting yourself. “When you trust yourself, you have certainty,” explains Álvarez.
“The third is to dare. Every human being has the ability to dream, yearn, wish, but not everyone dares to take that step to achieve it or make a mistake,” explains Álvarez.
The mountaineer says that when she went to the Himalayan mountains, she did not have that experience and certainty of being able to climb them, but she did have the confidence to try. She thought, “If I don't try, I won't know if I'm going to make it or not” — regardless of what might happen.
What's next after the mountains
“I am starting on winemaking since I have been certified as a sommelier since 2018. It was like a hobby, but now the members of the group with whom I certified have gotten together. We started to work on a project to put together everything that is required to produce red wine, and I am about to launch my own brand,” says Álvarez.
Likewise, Álvarez describes this area as a “new universe” where she feels the emotion of starting over. It is something that she enjoys very much and does not feel "stuck," where she perceives the need to learn and experience something that she loves. It has also become a passion.
Among her great feats are countries such as Nepal, Pakistan, India, China, Russia, Tanzania and Argentina. Also, her list does not end there, since she has many plans and one of them is to climb the 14 highest mountains in the world.
"I have been to five. Despite having already achieved great expeditions and being the first Mexican and Latin American to conquer the four largest mountains in the world, I still have a very long way to go," says Álvarez.
Be aware of the thoughts and choose which ones you need
The mind is a fundamental and very powerful tool for mountaineering, asserts the mountaineer. Other aspects are physical condition, technical knowledge, equipment and adaptability in the heights, the last of which is decided by the body.
“There are Olympic athletes who have gone to the Himalayas and their body does not adapt. It is not about physical condition, it is that you simply do not have that ability to resist the altitude and the lack of oxygen. For me, one of the most important is the mind. The mind is everything — the muscle can have a certain volume and certain strength, but it is the mind that moves it,” Álvarez says.
Álvarez highlights the importance of being aware of one's thoughts. Thoughts should be positive, since a negative thought can take you down. In all journeys, whether you are there for a long time, there are good days and bad ones. For this, you must have a lot of strength, understand the reason why you are there, remember why you do it and realize that what you get in terms of gratification weighs more than everything that has to be paid in sacrifices.
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"As far as those thoughts are concerned, an example is when I was on my way to the top of Everest. The days at the top are made at night and they call it the push to the top — it can be more than 20 hours at night during which you can only see as far as your lamp allows. You go with oxygen, and you only listen to your breathing and your thoughts. At that point, you are at minus 40 degrees, the body is already at its limit and thoughts are key. Thousands of times, I repeated that I could,” Álvarez explains.
On Everest, Álvarez spent an hour and 20 minutes at the top because she was the expedition leader. She waited for everyone to go up and down from the summit. For a moment, she thought it had only been 30 minutes, but when she looked at the time record in the photographs, she realized that it had been for more than half an hour, and it was an extraordinary moment. However, Álvarez says that she was lucky to stay there long because, at K2, she could only be at the top for 10 minutes since the risk was so great that, the less time she was at the top, the better.
Among her other goals, Álvarez wants to give talks, consolidate her consultancy and make a book to share these learnings — in order to continue breaking those paradigms.
"Having this Guinness Record, bringing it to Mexico and knowing that only 12 women in history have climbed these three highest mountains and being one of them and the fastest is one of the messages that fill me up the most and that I want to share," Álvarez says.