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"Alan, are you rich or what" began the e-mail from a random visitor to the web site ... Two years in row to go on a two month expedition. How can this be? This story is primarily from my experiences in 2002 and 2003.

"What happens if something goes wrong while you are away?" my boss asked with the attitude of a scorned spouse. "I have confidence in my team and they can handle anything that may occur during my trip." I replied looking him straight in the eye. As my German boss considers his next move, I made mine. "I'll resign if something happens that they cannot handle." He looked at me with a mixture of fear and hope as he moved his eyes to the table. With the crisis over, we enjoyed a conversation about New Zealand and my three week trip. Thus an American's breakthrough in vacations, European style!

That 1994 event changed the way I look at time away from work. If you let it happen, you will never take your time off. And in the end not only will you suffer, but your work will as well. We often become so involved in 'important' projects that we view ourselves as indispensable and the critical path. What a mistake. People quit their jobs every day. They get sick. They die on the highway. And work goes on. How is it that we, especially Americans, have developed this attitude?

Living in Europe, I learned that it is not only acceptable, but also encouraged to take time off. Really take the time. A two week holiday is like a long weekend in the US. Europeans have learned to balance the demands of work with the opportunity of life. By the way, my direct experience is that Europeans have an extremely strong work ethic that is second to none. They live the saying of 'work hard, play hard'.

Ever since New Zealand, I have taken annual holidays of three to seven weeks - at one time. And my career? Well it has been good but I am sure I paid a price. However, my personal life has never been better. So, my strong belief is that you must take care of yourself AND your work. Actually, I live my life trying to balance three areas: family, work, and myself. If I put too much into one of these at the expense of the others, then I soon have problems. For the "myself" part, this includes religion, community, children, parents, career, and other specific interests.

So, back to Everest. I was very nervous about taking TWO MONTHS off - even with my experience and confidence. Two months is a lifetime in my industry of high tech. I hold a Senior position where I am expected to manage a business and make serious decisions daily. But I also have a life outside of work. I guess that I could have ignored the call of Everest and focused on shorter trips. Or I guess that I could have selected another interest outside of work that would be more conducive to my work demands. Or I can answer the call from within to do what I need to do and accept the consequences.

"I have three topics to cover." I said to my Boss. "Two business and one very personal." He looked at me with interest, wanting to get the third topic quickly. I covered the first two and took a deep breath. "I have been working towards Everest for several years and have a slot on a team next Spring." With relief, he relaxed now knowing the subject and interrupted me with: "Go."

But I wasn't finished. I needed to tell him that I had a great team that could handle anything. He needed to know about my planning and backups and who would be in charge. He needed to know ... Actually all he needed to know was when I would leave because he trusted me knew my team and believed, as I did, that we are put on Earth to do more than work. I smiled with relief at his response and we moved on to another topic. I will always remember this exchange as a moment of personal courage at some level.

Now for money - the question everyone wants to ask but few actually do. I remember when it was an insult to ask how much you paid for a car or a house, but times have changed. The short answer is: (drum roll ...) the same price as a really nice car.

You can climb Everest with a 'commercial expedition' or on your own. I have seen prices quoted between $15K and $100K. You have to be careful about what is included in the price: food, oxygen, Sherpas. Climbing any big mountain is expensive. In Nepal, Everest climbing permits are around $10,000 per climber. Oxygen bottles cost $300 each plus another $250 for the regulator and mask. There is food for 2 months and while the wages for Sherpas, porters and yak herders are not high, there are a whole bunch of them! On many top notch expeditions what you are really paying for is logistical expertise. Someone to plan the menus, buy the food, arrange the yaks, bring the group equipment (tents, stoves, etc.). Often this is the difference between success and failure in that the climber is allowed to focus on the climb.

Professional climbers like Ed Viesturs climb alone or with another person but never in a big team like ours. He is very experienced and does this for a living. It is really apples and oranges. There are also small teams that are often arranged by one individual. I don't know the success rate of these teams, but I bet they have fun since often they are friends who climb together all the time. Still someone has to handle the details. Finally, in my experience, and those of people I know, is that as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

2003, a year later, I went back to Everest to try to complete what I started, you know "unfinished business". So the question I often get is how can you take two months off two years in a row and the other question I don't get but people want to ask is how can you afford it? Let's once again start with time.

Working in corporate America has become an amazing challenge of politics, personalities and pressure. While on Everest in 2002, my company underwent a major reorganization. I got caught up in it and was replaced. I didn't lose my job but I definitely took a step down. I sent emails from Base Camp, made phone calls via the satellite and lobbied my best to a decision maker who didn't even know me. I can only surmise that he felt I was somehow not committed to my work or didn't have the energy, ambition or skills to lead the business. He will never know how far off he was.

I returned to my new position and focused on learning the new rules, new players and how to make the best contribution possible. After a few months it became obvious that I was being grossly under-utilized and had limited prospects of turning it around. As life often does, at least for me, another door opened as that one closed. A new opportunity became available that was more exciting, required less travel and captured my imagination like no other job I have had in 20+ years.

Six months after my return from Everest in 2002, I found myself discussing the job offer with my new Manager. After a couple of items, I nervously brought up my return to Everest. "You know that this year I got close to the summit of Everest but turned back. Now I have a spot on an expedition to try to summit Everest in 2003." Silence was the response. Damn, I thought, am I blowing a great opportunity just to climb a mountain? Is it that important? How could I ask for two months off in the first six months of a new job? I waited.

"How long would you be gone?" he asked. "About seven weeks." I answered. After a brief silence he said in a relaxed voice "I guess I can cover for you." And it was done. Once again, life worked out. Once again, a Boss who supported my dreams. If I hadn't asked, I would have never known. If I didn't go back, I would never know.

I am not rich by any means. What Cathy and I do is manage our money the best way possible. We pay cash for cars and keep them longer than average. We refinance the house for the lowest interest rate. We don't carry credit card balances. We don't waste money eating out at expensive restaurants every week. We buy reasonable clothes when we need them. We are blessed with excellent health. We live within our means.

I have come to appreciate what I have and to take advantage of open windows in my life. I am extremely grateful when the 'stars align' for me for any big climb: health, sufficient vacation, money, support from my employer, support from my wife and family and an intense desire to succeed on the mountain.

Yes, spending enough money to buy a really, really nice car is a choice we make. But the key is living a life that allows those choices to be available. I often hear people say that they wished they could do one thing or another. I believe you can, if you focus on making it happen. Money is the enabler, your choices throughout your life are the key.